'Birthplace of Welsh Was Talk in Turkey'

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), November 27, 2003 | Go to article overview

'Birthplace of Welsh Was Talk in Turkey'


THE GRANDPARENT of the Welsh language may first have been spoken in Turkey more than 8,000 years ago.

Turkish farmers may have uttered the first Indo-European words, suggests new research. And, one of Indo-European's daughters is Celtic, from which Welsh emerged in around 500 AD.

An analysis of 87 languages, including English, Lithuanian and Gujarati, indicates they originated at a crossroads between Europe and Asia at a time when agriculture first took root.

The findings fit a controversial theory put forward by archaeologist Colin Renfrew that Indo-European speech - one of many language families in the world - had its roots in Anatolia, in modern-day Turkey. But the theory has received little support from linguistic experts, who believed Indo-European's origin was open to question.

Research has been carried out by Russell Gray, of New Zealand's University of Auckland, who borrowed biological tools to construct an evolutionary language tree. He used a controversial technique called glottochronology, which relies on the premise that, in common with DNA, language undergoes verbal mutations at a constant rate. Its advocates say this makes it possible to track changes back to a common origin at a certain time.

His findings appear to contradict a rival theory that the first Indo-European language emerged from nomadic Kurgan horsemen, who rode out from the Asian steppes about 6,000 years ago.

But the language tree also revealed evidence of a period of rapid divergence giving rise to Italic, Celtic, Balto-Slavic and possibly Indo-Iranian languages at about the time of the Kurgan expansion.

Kurgan nomads may therefore have played a major role in the spread of language, without being its source.

Patrick Sims-Williams, Professor of Celtic Studies at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, is putting together an atlas of the Celtic language in ancient Europe and Asia Minor. …

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