Linguists found an Indo-European language hiding in rural Pakistan. Learn its story here.

At some point you’ve heard about the concept of language “families.” Generally, common sense defines how language relationships work: geographic neighbors often share a common ancestor. If this story were consistent, however, there wouldn’t be anything interesting for us to talk about. Take for example, this amazing discovery stemming from 20 years of research.

Linguist Ilija Casule tied a language spoken in Pakistan called Burushaski to the Indo-European family line, which includes Spanish, English, German and many others. Until Casule’s recent hypothesis, Burushaski was considered a language isolate like Basque. Language isolates cannot be connected to any other language. Their vocabulary, syntax and morphology are just too different to draw logical connections to other known languages. Most linguists believe that the languages connecting language isolates from known language families have gone extinct. Just like in the animal kingdom, we don’t always know what ancestor two animals share.

How do linguists draw connections between distant languages? In this case, Casule traced the development of core vocabulary (such as words for body parts) and other lexical analysis. He found that the components of Burushaski shifted in systematic ways from Indo-European languages spoken 3,000 years ago to today.

Is this hypothesis historically possible? It certainly is. According to Casule, Burushaski is most closely related to Phrygian – the language spoken in what is now Turkey about 3,000 years ago. King Midas of the fabled Golden Touch was a Phrygian king in 800 BCE. After the collapse of Phrygian rule, other kingdoms alternately ruled the land, including the Persians and Alexander the Great. It is not inconceivable that the Phrygian people moved as far east as India. And, in fact, the Burusho people claim that they are descendants of Alexander the Great.

A language spoken in Siberia was recently tied to a Native American language family. Learn the story of Ket here.

Do you think this hypothesis is correct? Does it change your view of language development?

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