How agriculture gave rise to one of the world’s most mysterious language families

A tiny grain of millet may have given birth to one of the most mysterious—and widespread—language families on Earth, according to the largest study yet of linguistic, archaeological, and genetic evidence from about a dozen countries across Asia. The Transeurasian languages, sometimes known as Altaic, include the languages of Siberia, Mongolia, Central Asia, and possibly Japan and the Korean Peninsula. The new study suggests the language family arose in northeastern China 9000 years ago, expanding with the spread of agriculture.

“It’s convincing,” says Peter Bellwood, an archaeologist at Australian National University who wasn’t involved with the work. “Languages don’t just go wandering off by themselves; they expand because the people who speak those languages spread.” Farming, he adds, is a strong reason for such an expansion.

The origins of so-called Transeurasian languages—about 80 at the highest count—are hotly debated. Some linguists believe they sprang from the same source, but others say extensive borrowing between ancient languages explains why certain sounds, terms, and grammatical features are common among many tongues, from Turkish to Tungusic. Some

— source | Michael Price | 10 Nov 2021

Nullius in verba

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