Europe and SE Asia's ancient languages reveal huge migration

Historical linguists are reconstructing the common ancestral languages spoken across SE Asia and Europe.
Sade Agard
A love poem written in the ancient 'Tocharian B' language.
A love poem written in the ancient 'Tocharian B' language.

Wikimedia Commons 

Historical linguists have embarked on an ambitious endeavor to reconstruct the common ancestral language that underpins the tapestry of languages spoken across Europe and South Asia today. 

From English to Hindi, Greek to Urdu, these languages share an intriguing origin—the ancient Proto-Indo-European (PIE).

This linguistic precursor, believed to have been spoken between 4,500 BC and 2,500 BC, forms the root of a diverse linguistic family.

Who were the proto-Indo-Europeans?

While no written records of PIE endure, its echoes continue to resonate through the ages. 

The PIE homeland is believed to have been nestled in what is now eastern Ukraine, a cradle from which various groups splintered over time, giving rise to languages that sprawled from the Irish shores to the Indian Ocean

The Tocharian language, an extinct branch of the Indo-European family, traversed over 4,000 kilometers from Europe to the Tarim Basin in northwest China. 

This journey, carried out by the Tocharians, whose origins remained veiled in mystery, captivates researchers seeking to unveil the intricacies of their migration.

Enter "The Tocharian Trek," a pioneering European research project funded by the EU and coordinated by Professor Michaël Peyrot from the University of Leiden. 

The project, set to conclude in December 2023 after nearly six years of exploration, aims to decode the Tocharian migration route and their linguistic evolution.

Piecing together the puzzle, researchers scrutinize the Tocharians' whereabouts between 3,500 BC and 400 AD, weaving a narrative from their ancestral homeland to their eventual settlement in the Tarim Basin. 

The journey illuminated a dynamic interplay between the Tocharians' dialect of PIE and various languages encountered en route.

This interaction led to linguistic adaptations, influencing the development of their recorded languages.

The project unearths linguistic gems that hold clues to the past. Borrowed words serve as a testament to interactions between different language communities. 

The Tocharian language

An illustrative instance emerges in the Tocharian B dialect: the word for "sword," "kertte," was borrowed from "karta" in Old Iranian, offering a tangible link to the intricacies of language contact.

Contrary to previous assumptions, the research team has pinpointed the Tocharians' arrival in the Tarim Basin around 1,000 BC. 

This revelation recalibrates the Tocharians' historical significance in the region, spotlighting the role of Iranian languages and cultures that played a pivotal role in shaping the linguistic landscape.

In the twilight of their project, the researchers discerned that the Tocharians likely departed from the PIE family later than anticipated. They departed following the Anatolians, ancient languages spoken in present-day Turkey.

As the Tocharian language narrative threads are woven into a coherent tapestry, the research underscores the potent influence of language on human history. 

In this way, it reveals tales of migration, contact, and adaptation that have left an indelible mark on the world's linguistic fabric.

Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron
Job Board