In historical linguistics, the term homeland (also Urheimat
/ˈʊərhaɪmɑːt/; German pronunciation: [ˈʔuːɐ̯ˌhaɪmaːt];
from a German compound of ur- "original" and
Heimat "home, homeland")
denotes the area of origin of the speakers of a proto-language, the
(reconstructed or known) parent language of a group of languages
assumed to be genetically related.
Depending on the age of the language family under consideration, its
homeland may be known with near-certainty (in the case of historical
or near-historical migrations) or it may be very uncertain (in the
case of deep prehistory). The reconstruction of a prehistorical
homeland makes use of a variety of disciplines, including archaeology
1 Limitations of the concept
1.1 Time depth
1.2 Language contact and creolization
2.4 Western Indo-European
7 Eurasian language isolates
18.5 Other groups
19 See also
Limitations of the concept
Further information: Language change
The concept of a (single, identifiable) "homeland" of a given language
family implies a purely genealogical view of the development of
languages. This assumption is often reasonable and useful, but it is
by no means a logical necessity, as languages are well known to be
susceptible to areal change such as substrate or superstrate
Further information: Behavioral modernity, Origin of language, Origin
of speech, Proto-Human language, Borean languages, Nostratic
Over a sufficient period of time, in the absence of evidence of
intermediary steps in the process, it may be impossible to observe
linkages between languages that have a shared urheimat: given enough
time, natural language change will obliterate any meaningful
linguistic evidence of a common genetic source. This general concern
is a manifestation of the larger issue of "time depth" in historical
For example, the languages of the New World are believed to be
descended from a relatively "rapid" peopling of the Americas (relative
to the duration of the Upper Paleolithic) within a few millennia
(roughly between 20,000 and 15,000 years ago), but their genetic
relationship has become completely obscured over the more than ten
millennia which have passed between their separation and their first
written record in the early modern period. Similarly, the Australian
Aboriginal languages are divided into some 28 families and isolates
for which no genetic relationship can be shown. 
The urheimaten reconstructed using the methods of comparative
linguistics typically estimate separation times dating to the
Neolithic or later. It is undisputed that fully developed languages
were present throughout the Upper Paleolithic, and possibly into the
Middle Paleolithic (see origin of language, behavioral
modernity). These languages would have spread with the early human
migrations of the first "peopling of the world", but they are no
longer amenable to linguistic reconstruction. The Last Glacial Maximum
(LGM) has imposed linguistic separation lasting several millennia on
Upper Paleolithic populations in Eurasia, as they were forced to
retreat into "refugia" before the advancing ice sheets. After the end
of the LGM,
Mesolithic populations of the
Holocene again became more
mobile, and most of the prehistoric spread of the world's major
linguistic families seem to reflect the expansion of population cores
Mesolithic followed by the
Nostratic languages theory is the best-known attempt to expand the
deep prehistory of the main language families of Eurasia (excepting
Sino-Tibetan and the languages of Southeast Asia) to the beginning of
the Holocene. First proposed in the early 20th century, the Nostratic
theory still receives serious consideration, but it is by no means
generally accepted. The more recent and more speculative ""Borean"
hypothesis attempts to unite
Austric, in a "mega-phylum" that would unite most languages of
Eurasia, with a time depth going back to the Last Glacial Maximum.
The argument surrounding the "Proto-Human language", finally, is
almost completely detached from linguistic reconstruction, instead
surrounding questions of phonology and the origin of speech. Time
depths involved in the deep prehistory of all the world's extant
languages are of the order of at least 100,000 years.
Language contact and creolization
The concept of an urheimat only applies to populations speaking a
proto-language defined by the tree model. This is not always the case.
For example, in places where language families meet, the relationship
between a group that speaks a language and the urheimat for that
language is complicated by "processes of migration, language shift and
group absorption are documented by linguists and ethnographers" in
groups that are themselves "transient and plastic." Thus, in the
contact area in western
Ethiopia between languages belonging to the
Nilo-Saharan and Afroasiatic families, the Nilo-Saharan-speaking
Nyangatom and the Afroasiatic-speaking Daasanach have been observed to
be closely related to each other but genetically distinct from
neighboring Afroasiatic-speaking populations. This is a reflection of
the fact that the Daasanach, like the Nyangatom, originally spoke a
Nilo-Saharan language, with the ancestral Daasanach later adopting an
Afroasiatic language around the 19th century.
Creole languages are hybrids of languages that are sometimes
unrelated. Similarities arise from the creole formation process,
rather than from genetic descent. For example, a creole language
may lack significant inflectional morphology, lack tone on
monosyllabic words, or lack semantically opaque word formation, even
if these features are found in all of the parent languages of the
languages from which the creole was formed.
Some languages are language isolates. That is, they have no well
accepted language family connection, no nodes in a family tree, and
therefore no known urheimat. An example is the
Basque language of
Northern Spain and south west France. Nevertheless, it is a scientific
fact that all languages evolve. An unknown urheimat may still be
hypothesized, such as that for a Proto-Basque, and may be defended by
archaeological and historical evidence.
Sometimes relatives are found for a language originally believed to be
an isolate. An example is the Etruscan language, which, even though
only partially understood, is believed to be related to the Rhaetic
language and to the Lemnian language. A single family may be an
isolate. In the case of the non-Austronesian indigenous languages of
Papua New Guinea and the indigenous languages of Australia, there is
no published linguistic hypothesis supported by any evidence that
these languages have links to any other families. Nevertheless, an
unknown urheimat is implied. The entire Indo-European family itself is
a language isolate: no further connections are known. This lack of
information does not prevent some professional linguists from
formulating additional hypothetical nodes (Nostratic) and additional
homelands for the speakers.
Part of a series on
List of Indo-European languages
Phonology: Sound laws, Accent, Ablaut
Old Irish glosses
Alternative and fringe
Paleolithic Continuity Theory
Chalcolithic (Copper Age)
Domestication of the horse
Nordic Bronze Age
Painted Grey Ware
Northern Black Polished Ware
Peoples and societies
Religion and mythology
Copenhagen Studies in Indo-European
Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture
The Horse, the Wheel and Language
Journal of Indo-European Studies
Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch
Indo-European Etymological Dictionary
It has been suggested that this section be split out into another
article titled Indo-European migrations. (Discuss) (January 2018)
Early efforts to identify the homeland of the Proto-Indo-European
language speakers focused on the presence or absence of geographical
indicator words. For example, such words as beech and salmon indicated
a location within the range of those genera in the north temperate
zone. The word for "ocean" was missing, suggesting an inland location.
Words that did not fit this geographical location, such as lion, could
be explained by more recent borrowings.
Many hypotheses for an urheimat have been proposed. Mallory said,
"One does not ask 'where is the Indo-European homeland?' but rather
'where do they put it now?'" He also states that current discussion of
the Indo-European homeland problem is largely confined to four basic
models, with variations:
The Baltic-Pontic(-Caspian) region in the Mesolithic. The Funnel
beaker culture, the Globular Amphora culture, and the Corded Ware
culture are possible archaeological representatives of the
proto-language speakers, in this theory as it is commonly expressed.
Anatolia: Early Neolithic, 7000–6000 BCE. Not only is there no
supporting archaeology, but archaeology and word archaeology are to
Central Europe-Balkans: Early Neolithic, c. 5000 BCE. At least part of
Linear Pottery Culture
Linear Pottery Culture is within the range.
Pontic-Caspian: Eneolithic, c. 4500–3000 BCE. Typically the
collection of similar cultures called the
Kurgan culture are presented
as supporting the reconstructed Indo-European customs.
Other, less accepted models select the Indian subcontinent:
Indigenous Aryans Theory
Some minor hypotheses are:
Armenian hypothesis was suggested by Soviet scholars in the 1980s.
Paleolithic Continuity Theory
Paleolithic Continuity Theory was suggested by Italian
Mario Alinei in the 1990s.
Earlier Indo-European phylogenies featured an initial split into
Centum and Satem languages, a distinction formally based on the word
for the number one hundred in each group's supposed proto-language.
Today, one phonetic character is hardly enough to define a
proto-language. Furthermore, languages studied better or discovered
subsequently (including Armenian, the extinct
Anatolian languages such
as Hittite and the extinct
Tocharian language of the
Tarim basin of
Asia) were not compatible with any such genetic distinction. Instead,
the former shared innovation became the
Centum Satem isogloss, which
did not have to conform to language boundaries or represent any major
change of language. It produced dialects instead.
Proto-Anatolian language and Indo-Hittite
Proto-Anatolian was the parent language of the Anatolian languages,
which are attested only by inscriptions found in
Anatolia and a few
exports. It is the only group to feature an explicit remnant of the
laryngeals, sounds that disappeared in late Proto-Indo-European. It is
therefore identified as the first branch, chronologically, which means
that the ancestral Proto-Anatolians were first to become isolated from
the Indo-European speech community.
Of the two ways separation could have occurred, the model of an entry
Anatolia from the north prevails. Indo-European culture featured
horses. They were at first hunted and then domesticated on the plains
of Asia, not in Anatolia. The other alternative, that all the other
Indo-Europeans left Anatolia, leaving a population behind, does not
account for the presence of a Hattic interface in Anatolian, but in
none of the others.
That same Hattic interface suggests that
Anatolia was not entirely the
Proto-Anatolian formed, but rather the latter encountered
the substrate on entering
Anatolia and adjusted itself accordingly.
The concept of
Indo-Hittite fits a
Proto-Anatolian outside of
Anatolia, but it was used primarily to refer to an early stage of
Proto-Indo-European, before the first separation. Anthony therefore
narrows the meaning of
Proto-Anatolian to "the language that was
immediately ancestral to the three known daughter languages that
Anatolia as Pre-Anatolian." He defines the language phases
Proto-Anatolian as Pre-Anatolian.
Main article: Tocharians
Because the so-called
Tocharian languages – the easternmost
Indo-European languages before the modern era – became extinct
during the first millennium CE, relatively little is known of the
peoples who spoke them, including their name/s for themselves and
their material culture. Due to their only known location, in the Tarim
Basin, the Tocharian-speaking peoples are often connected to the Tarim
Many scholars have also posited links to the preceding Afanasevo
culture (c. 3300–2500 BCE), located north of the Tarim, in Siberia.
Some scholars have also suggested that the Afanasevo or Andronovo
culture were responsible for the introduction of metallurgical
technology into China, by way of the Tarim peoples (Peng 1998,
Bunker 1998, Mei and Shell 1998,).
Main articles: Centum, Italo-Celtic, Italic languages, Celtic
Proto-Celtic language, and Celts
A likely candidate for the homeland of an
or dialect continuum is the
Urnfield culture and its predecessor, the
Tumulus culture of Central Europe (1600 BCE).
Candidates for the first introduction of
Proto-Italic speakers to
Italy are the
Terramare culture (1500 BCE) or the Villanovan culture
(1100 BCE), although the latter is now usually identified with the
non-Italic (indeed, non-Indo-European) Etruscan civilization.
Romance languages are all derivative of Latin, a member of this
Indo-European language subfamily, which was the common language of the
Roman Empire that had its roots in Italic dialect spoken in
and around the capital, Rome, until the empire collapsed in the 5th
Proto-Celtic homeland is usually located in the Early Iron Age
Hallstatt culture of northern Austria. There is a broad consensus that
the center of the
La Tène culture
La Tène culture lay on the northwest edges of the
Hallstatt culture. Pre-La Tène (6th to 5th century BCE) Celtic
Great Britain and
Ireland (Insular Celtic) and
Gaul. La Tène groups expanded in the 4th century BCE to Iberia, the
Po Valley, the Balkans, and even as far as
Galatia in Asia Minor, in
the course of several major migrations.
Pre-Germanic cultures were the bearers of the Nordic Bronze Age.
Proto-Germanic proper is hypothesized by some to have developed in the
Jastorf culture of the Pre-Roman Iron Age.
Map of the Nordic
Bronze Age culture, c. 1200 BCE
Approximate extent of the
Corded Ware horizon
Corded Ware horizon with adjacent 3rd
millennium cultures (after EIEC).
The Phrygian, Macedonian, and Greek proto-languages likely also
originate in the Balkans.
Proto-Armenian may also be
Balkans (Greco-Phrygian) derived, or at
least strongly influenced by a Phrygian substrate. The Phrygian
influence on [pre-]
Proto-Armenian would date to about the 7th century
BCE, in the context of the declining kingdom of Urartu.
Balto-Slavic languages, Proto-
Baltic languages, Balts, Slavic languages, Proto-Slavic, and Slavic
Balto-Slavic homeland largely corresponds to the common historical
distribution of Baltic and Slavic.
Proto-Baltic likely emerging in the eastern parts of the Corded Ware
Slavic languages experience a major expansion starting around the
6th century CE, in some cases supplanting earlier Indo-European
languages in the region to which they expanded.
The Slavic homeland likely corresponds to the distribution of the
oldest recognizably Slavic hydronyms, found in northern and western
Ukraine and southern Belarus.
Main articles: Proto-Indo-Iranian language, Proto-Indo-Iranians,
Indo-Aryan languages, Indo-Iranian languages, Proto-Iranian language,
Iranian languages, Proto-Iranian language, and Iranian peoples
Indo-Iranians are widely identified with the bearers of the
Andronovo horizon of the late 3rd and early 2nd millennia BCE, with
the various languages of the Indo-Iranian language family starting to
differentiate from Proto-Indo-Iranian around 2000 BCE.
There are three language families within the Indo-Iranian language
family that derived from the Proto-Indo-Iranian language: the
Indo-Aryan languages, such as Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, and other
Indo-European languages of South Asia; the Iranian languages, e.g.
Persian, Kurdish and Pashto of West Asia and Central Asia; and the
Nuristani languages spoken in eastern Afghanistan.
The oldest attested Indo-Aryan is loanwords in the
Mittani language of
northern Syria and western Anatolia, dating to ca. 1400 BCE. The
oldest Vedic hymns and sagas written in
Sanskrit are thought to be of
similar age, although these were transmitted orally and not written
down. Some scholars associate the
Cemetery H culture
Cemetery H culture of the Northern
Indus River Valley
Indus River Valley (specifically Western Punjab) ca. 1900 BCE with the
original Indo-Aryan population of South Asia. The community that
originally utilized the
Sanskrit language for poetry, liturgy and
religious purpose, which is also called the Vedic civilization after
their semi-legendary account of their community found in Hindu
scriptures called the
Vedas during the
Vedic period from ca. 1700 BCE
to ca. 320 BCE. The archaeological cultures in South Asia described as
Black and Red Ware
Black and Red Ware (10th century BCE) and the later Painted Gray Ware
(starting ca. 900 BCE) and subsequently the Northern Black Polished
Ware (ca. 500 BCE) are all commonly associated with the Sanskrit
language speaking Indo-Aryans during the Vedic period.
Iranian languages split into Eastern and Western branches in what
are known as the Middle
Iranian languages around the 4th century BCE.
Avestan language of
Zoroastrian scripture was committed to
writing at about this point but was in existence and historically
attested long before a script was devised for it. The Median language
was the language of the Median empire of western and central Iran (ca.
700–559 BCE). The language of the
Scythian people of Central Asia,
whose interactions with the
Greeks in 512 BCE were attested by
Herodotus ca. 440 BCE, was also an Iranian language.
There is some dispute over whether the
Dardic languages (spoken in
northern Pakistan, eastern Afghanistan, and the Indian region of Jammu
and Kashmir, most prominently the Kashmiri language) are Indo-Aryan,
Iranian or part of the Nurustani languages. This issue of
classification is clouded by the nationalistic implications of such a
classification for the political affiliations of the contested Kashmir
region of South Asia and by the fact that the
Dardic languages are
spoken in an area that borders the region where each of the other
Indo-Iranian language families is spoken.
It has been suggested that this section be split out into another
article titled Dravidian homeland. (Discuss) (January 2018)
Modern Dravidian languages
Dravidian languages have been found mainly in South
India since at
least the second century BCE (inscriptions, ed. I. Mahadevan 2003). It
is, however, a widely-held hypothesis that Dravidian speakers may have
been more widespread throughout India, including the northwest
region, before the arrival of Indo-European speakers. A map
Dravidian languages are spoken today appears to the
Historical records suggest that the South Dravidian language group had
separated from a
Proto-Dravidian language no later than 700 BCE,
linguistic evidence suggests that they probably became distinctive
around 1100 BCE, and some scholars using linguistic methods put
the deepest divisions in the language group at roughly 3,000 BCE.
Russian linguist M.S. Andronov puts the split between Tamil (a written
Southern Dravidian language) and Telugu (a written Central Dravidian
language) between 1500 BCE and 1000 BCE.
Southworth identifies late
Proto-Dravidian with the Southern Neolithic
culture in the lower Godavari River basin of South Central India,
which first appeared ca. 2500 BCE, based upon its agricultural
vocabulary, while noting that this "would not preclude the possibility
that speakers of an earlier stage of Dravidian entered the
subcontinent from western or central Asia, as has often been
Speculations regarding the original homeland have centered on the
Indus Valley Civilization
Indus Valley Civilization or on
Elamite language was
spoken in the hills to the east of the ancient Sumerian civilization
with whom the
Indus Valley Civilization
Indus Valley Civilization traded and shared domesticated
species) in an
Elamo-Dravidian hypothesis, but results have not been
convincing. The possibility that the language family is indigenous to
the Dravidian area and is a truly isolated genetic unit has also not
been ruled out.
Asko Parpola (University of Helsinki), the Jesuit priest Father
Heras in the 1930s and other scholars (such as Indian and early Tamil
expert Iravatham Mahadevan and Prof. Walter A. Fairservis Jr.)
conclude that the Indus sign system represented an ancient Dravidian
language, a view that they assume is supported by Tamil artifacts
discovered in 2006. Thus, in Parpola's view, the urheimat of
Dravidian would be in the Indus River Valley. However, Harvard
Michael Witzel takes the view—that has received serious
academic consideration (ca. 2004)—which is critical of an Indus
Dravidian homeland and of the widely held view
that the inscriptions of the
Indus Valley Civilization
Indus Valley Civilization even constitute
a written language. In the essay "Substrate Languages in Old
Indo-Aryan" (with RV in this context referring to Rigvedic, i.e.
Indo-Aryan), Witzel says "As we can no longer reckon with Dravidian
influence on the early RV, this means that the language of the
pre-Rigvedic Indus civilization, at least in the Panjab, was of
Austroasiatic nature." There are no written examples of
Austroasiatic languages being spoken further west than Central India
during the recent historical era.
Recent studies of the distribution of alleles on the Y chromosome,
microsatellite DNA, and mitochondrial DNA in
India have cast
doubt for a biological Dravidian "race" distinct from non-Dravidians
in the Indian subcontinent; other recent genetic studies have
found evidence of Aryan, Dravidian and pre-Dravidian (original Asian)
strata in South Asian populations. Geneticist Luigi Luca
Cavalli-Sforza proposes that a Dravidian people were preceded in India
Austroasiatic people, and were present prior to the arrival of
Indo-Aryan language speakers in India. Partha and Majumder (2010)
stated that: "In general, the Central Asian populations are
genetically closer to the higher-ranking caste populations than to the
middle- or lower-ranking caste populations. Among the higher-ranking
caste populations, those of northern
India are, however, genetically
much closer (FST = 0.016) than those of southern
India (FST =
Turkic peoples share a common geographic origin in the
Mongolian Plateau of Inner Asia. Both groups expanded westward
founding vast semi-nomadic empires, occasionally creating a fusion of
Turkic and Mongol culture. Medieval Europeans referred to the
Turco-Mongol lands collectively as Tartary.
Some historians suggest that the people associated with the Slab Grave
culture were the direct ancestors of the Mongols. Slab Grave
cultural monuments are found in Mongolia, Inner Mongolia, Northwest
Qilian Mountains etc.), Northeast China, Lesser
Khingan Mountains and southern Siberia. The identity of the ethnic
Xiongnu has been a subject of varied hypotheses and some
scholars insisted on a Mongolic origin.
Xiongnu Empire (209 BCE
– 93 CE) became a dominant power on the steppes of Central Asia.
They were active in regions of what is now southern Siberia, Mongolia,
Xinjiang Province. Genghis Khan, starting
around 1206 CE, waged a series of military campaigns that, together
with campaigns by his successors, stretched from present-day
the west to
Korea in the east and from
Siberia in the north to the
Gulf of Oman
Gulf of Oman and
Vietnam in the south, after which the empire
ultimately collapsed with little long lasting linguistic impact
outside the core Mongolian area. Unlike the Mongol Empire, which
eventually withdrew back to its original Urheimat, the Turkic
migrations shifted the Turkic center of population and power westward
Black Sea region.
It has been suggested that this section be split out into another
article titled Turkic homeland. (Discuss) (January 2018)
The Countries and autonomous regions where a
Turkic language has
There is considerable dispute over the time and place of origin of the
Turkic languages, with candidates for their ancient homeland ranging
Transcaspian steppe to
Northeast Asia and
South-Central-Siberia. The lack of written records prior
to the earliest Chinese accounts, and the fact that the early Turkic
peoples were nomadic pastoralists, and hence mobile, makes localizing
and dating the earliest homeland of the
Turkic language difficult.
Attempts to localize the proto-Turkic urheimat are usually connected
with the early archaeological horizon of west and central
in the region south of it. Further attempts also include the Botai
culture and the cultural horizon of the
Kurgan cultures (see:
Paleolithic Continuity Theory).
Turkic peoples lived in the North
Eurasian Steppe including North
Xinjiang Province, Inner Mongolia,
Mongolia and West
Siberian Plain possibly as far west as
Lake Baikal and the Altai
Mountains, by the 6th century CE. After Turkic migration, by the 10th
century CE, most of Central Asia, formerly dominated by Iranian
peoples, was settled by Turkic tribes. Then, the Seljuk Turks from the
11th century invaded Anatolia, ultimately resulting in permanent
Turkic settlement there and the establishment of the Turkish nation.
The Turkic languages are now spoken in Turkey, Iran,
Central Asia and
The inferred population genetic contributions of Turkic populations
show a cline from a high point in the East to the a low point in the
West. In Turkey, the Turkic contribution to the local population
genetic mix is about 30%.
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Korea in 576 CE.
It has been suggested that this section be split out into another
article titled Koreanic languages. (Discuss) (February 2018)
Korean language is spoken in
Korea and among emigrants from Korea.
Conservative historical linguists tend to classify the Korean language
as a language isolate, although other suggest a relationship to the
Altaic language family or to Japonic languages.
Old Korean is attested in Chinese histories, in the Three Kingdoms
Korea (ca. 0 to 900 CE), when the
Silla Kingdom (in Eastern
Baekje Kingdom (in Southwestern Korea), and
(in Northern Korea) were simultaneously present on the Korean
peninsula, although Korean was not a literary language until later;
the hangul script of Korean was invented in the 15th century CE (the
Idu script dates to the 6th century CE).
There was a group of similar languages called the
Buyeo languages in
the northern Korean Peninsula and southern
Manchuria and possibly
Japan, which included, according to Chinese records, the languages of
Buyeo, Goguryeo, Baekje, Dongye, Okjeo, —and possibly Gojoseon, but
was different from ancient Manchu languages like Mohe language.
Gojoseon was a kingdom in Northern
Korea that is said by tradition to
have been founded in 2333 BC (archaeological evidence and Chinese
histories support a cultural civilization from around 1500 BCE and a
kingdom fused from a federation of smaller states around the 7th
century BCE), that was conquered by Han Dynasty
China in 108 BC, and
re-emereged from Chinese rule as the Kingdom Buyeo. The Three Kingdoms
era kingdoms of
Baekje were successors to the Kingdom of
Dongye was a vassal state of
Goguryeo in Northeast Korea
founded in the 3rd-century BCE that was eventually absorbed by
Goguryeo around the 5th century CE.
Okjeo was a minor state in
Korea to the North of
Dongye that was a subordinate unit of
Gojoseon from the 3rd century BCE to 108 BCE, then came under Han
rule, and then was a subordinate state of Goguryeo. None of these
Buyeo language family kingdoms ever included the Kingdom of Silla,
which was just a small kingdom on the Southern coast of
the Three Kingdoms period during which it expanded and conquered the
other two kingdoms.
Christopher Beckwith argue for Japanese as a
descendant of Goguryeo, and for Korean as a descendant of the Silla
language, based on lexical similarities between
Goguryeo and Japanese,
and based upon Silla's ultimate triumph in the quest for political
control of Korea. Other linguistists, including Kim Banghan, Alexander
J. Marshall Unger argue that Japanese is related to the
Goguryeo language of the central and southern part of Korean
peninsula, including what would become the Kingdom of Silla, and that
Old Korean is
Goguryeo with a pre-
Goguryeo Japonic substrate, in part,
because Japanese-like toponyms found in the historical homeland of
Silla were also distributed in southern part of Korean peninsula, and
are not found in the northern part of Korean peninsula or
south-western Manchuria. None of the extinct languages is attested
in writing well enough to reach definitive conclusions resolving the
It has been suggested that this section be split out into another
article titled Japonic languages#Origins. (Discuss) (February 2018)
Further information: Classification of the Japonic languages
Japonic languages are spoken in Japan and among emigrants from
Japan and is attested in
Japanese language writing from the 8th
century CE, and in imperfect Chinese transcriptions from the late 5th
century CE. Conservative historical linguists tend to classify a small
number of Japanese languages as a language family of their own. The
Ainu languages are a barely surviving family of languages or dialects
that are spoken by indigenous populations on the island of Hokkaidō
in what is now northern Japan as well as on the island of Sakhalin and
the Kuril Archipelago in what is now the Russian Far East at the time
of the oldest extant historical records concerning those
There are similarities between the
Japanese language and the Korean
language in lexicon and grammatical features, but there is dispute
over whether these denote a common origin, or mere linguistic
borrowing due to a sprachbund of neighboring languages that are
adjacent to each other. Samuel E. Martin, Roy Andrew Miller, and
Sergei Starostin are linguists who have argued that they have common
origins. In contrast,
Alexander Vovin has argued
for a regional borrowing model to explain the linguistic
One hypothesis proposes that Japanese is a relative of the extinct
languages spoken by the Buyeo-
Goguryeo cultures of Korea, southern
Manchuria, and Liaodong of which the best attested is the extinct
language Goguryeo. This proposal is attributed to Shinmura
Izuru, who proposed it in 1916. Modern Korean, in contrast, according
to proponents of this hypothesis, appears to have stronger connections
Silla language, spoken in the ancient kingdom of
Silla (57 BCE –
935 CE), one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, whose similarity to the
Goguryeo language is not clearly established.
The earliest Chinese historical records concerning the "Wa" in Japan
indicate that they were fractured into many warring states. But,
modern Japanese dialects show a common origin, rather than a "bushy"
one. So, it is possible that there were many Yayoi dialects in the
period before Old Japanese emerged, of which the dialect of the
warring states that ended up prevailing politically as the Japanese
state was unified superseded other early Yayoi languages or
After a new wave of immigration, probably from the Korean Peninsula
some 2,300 years ago, of the Yayoi people, the Jōmon were pushed into
northern Japan. Genetic data suggest that modern Japanese are
descended from both the Yayoi and the Jōmon. Tradition, as documented
by the Nihon Shoki, a legendary account of Japan's history, puts the
date of the Yayoi arrival in Japan at 660 BCE. Chinese historical
records mention the existence of the Yayoi (called "Wa") starting in
57 BCE. The existing
Japanese language has its origins at
approximately this point in time, if not earlier (to the extent that
Japanese derives primarily from either the language of the Bronze Age
Yayoi people, as it existed prior to their arrival in Japan, or
derives primarily from a language of the Jōmon at that point of time,
rather than being a creole of some sort). Skeletal remains suggests
that the two cultures had fused into a group with a homogeneous
physical appearance in Southern Japan by 250 CE. It is possible
Japanese language has roots related to the Ainu language, the
historical language of the Yayoi, whatever that may have been, or
could have been a creole of both. It is also possible the Japanese has
roots in a language spoken in Southern Japan that is lost and now
Location of Ezo
Ainu people are genetic descendants of the Jōmon, with some
contribution from the Okhotsk people. The
Ainu languages that are
now spoken by Ainu minorities in Hokkaidō; and were formerly spoken
in southern and central Sakhalin, and the Kuril Islands (an area also
known as Ezo), and perhaps northern Honshū island by the Emishi
people (until approximately 1000 CE), are associated with the founding
Jōmon people of Japan from than 14,000 years ago or earlier, and the
Satsumon culture of Hokkaidō, although the Ainu also had contact with
Okhotsk culture whose modern descendants include
Nivkh people (whose original homeland was mostly occupied by the
Tungusic peoples), which could have linguistically influenced the Ainu
language. Thus, as a result of this important outside cultural
influence, it is impossible to know with certainty how similar the
language of the original language of the
Jōmon people was to that
spoken by the
Ainu people today. Some linguists have suggested other
language family connections for the Ainu language: Shafer has
suggested a distant connection to the
Vovin, had viewed that suggestion as merely preliminary. Japanese
Shichirō Murayama tried to link Ainu to the Austronesian
languages, which include the languages of the Philippines, Taiwan, and
Indonesia through both vocabulary and cultural comparisons. There is
no consensus, however, that the
Ainu languages have sources in any
other known language, and the unique population genetics of the Ainu
people support the hypothesis that they were largely isolated from the
rest of the world for many thousands of years.
Yayoi people had strong physical, genetic and cultural
similarities to the Chinese during the
Western Han Dynasty
Western Han Dynasty (202 BCE- 9
CE) in the
Jiangsu province on China's Eastern Coast. The Yayoi
also have strong cultural similarities to the Koreans of that time
Location of Ryukyu Islands
Some linguists, such as Turchin, see a connection between Japanese
and Korean and an
Altaic language family or similar larger grouping of
languages, with those speakers coming from an area North of Korea,
based in part upon similarities in lexical roots. The statistical
method used by Turchin, however, would not discriminate between Jōmon
and Yayoi sources for any
Altaic linguistic affinities. Turchin's
analysis also did not look at the various proposed ancient
predecessors of the
Korean language in
Korea or the relationship of
those languages to any of the proto-
Altaic languages, despite the fact
that the hypothesis would require one of those ancient Korean
peninsular languages to be intermediate between Japanese and one of
Altaic languages. Old Japanese when first attested had eight
vowels, rather than the current five (which were lost within a century
of the oldest preserved writings) which was close to the vowel system
seen in Uralic and
Altaic languages. Old Japanese also had more
grammatical similarity to
Altaic languages than modern Japanese.
These classifications of the origins of
Japanese language origins
ignore significant borrowing from other languages in recent times.
Current estimates are that "wago" (i.e. words attributable to the
original Yayoi language) make up 33.8% of the Japanese lexicon, that
"kango" (i.e. words with roots borrowed from Chinese since the 5th
century CE) make up 49.1% of Japanese words (and in addition, the
Chinese ideograms used in the Japanese written language), that foreign
words called gairaigo make up 8.8% of Japanese words, and that 8.3% of
Japanese words are konshugo that draw upon multiple languages.
This account attributes only a small number of words in modern
Japanese to Ainu roots.
Ryukyuan languages spoken in the islands to the South of
Japan, are descended from Japanese but are not mutually intelligble
with Japanese with which they share about 72% of their words (or each
other) and started to diverge from Japanese around the 7th century CE.
these islands were united in a Ryukyuan kingdom from 1429 CE (prior to
that there were multiple divided kingdoms which were tributary states
China after 1372 CE); the kingdom was a tributary state of China
until 1609 when it became a vassal state of Japan, until it was
annexed by Japan in 1879. These languages were then suppressed and
while they have about a million native speakers, there are relatively
few native speakers under the age of twenty. They are effectively
minority languages in their own countries at this point.
It has been suggested that this section be split out into another
article titled Uralic_peoples#Urheimat. (Discuss) (February 2018)
The Uralic homeland is unknown. A possible focus is the Comb Ceramic
Culture of ca 4200 – ca 2000 BCE (shown on the map to the right).
This is suggested by the high language diversity around the middle
Volga River, where three highly distinct branches of the Uralic
family, Mordvinic, Mari, and Permic, are located. Reconstructed plant
and animal names (including spruce, Siberian pine, Siberian Fir,
Siberian larch, brittle willow, elm, and hedgehog) are consistent with
this location. This is adjacent to the proposed homeland for
Proto-Indo-European under the
French anthropologist Bernard Sergent, in La Genèse de l'Inde
(1997), argued that Finno-Ugric (Uralic) may have a genetic source
or have borrowed significantly from proto-Dravidian or a predecessor
language of West African origins. Some linguists see Uralic
(Hungarian, Finnish) as having a linguistic relationship to both
Altaic (Turkic, Mongol) language groups (as in the outdated
Altaic hypothesis) and Dravidian languages. The theory that the
Dravidian languages display similarities with the Uralic language
group, suggesting a prolonged period of contact in the past, is
popular amongst Dravidian linguists and has been supported by a number
of scholars, including Robert Caldwell, Thomas Burrow, Kamil
Zvelebil, and Mikhail Andronov. This theory has, however, been
rejected by some specialists in Uralic languages, and has in
recent times also been criticised by other Dravidian linguists like
the late Bhadriraju Krishnamurti.
As noted below, many notable linguists have proposed that the
Eskimo-Aleut languages and
Uralic languages have a common origin,
although there is no consensus that this connection is genuine. A
genetic relationship between Uralic and the Indo-European languages
has also been proposed (see Indo-Uralic languages).
The Yeniseian language family has been recently tied by linguist
Edward Vajda to the Native American
Na-Dene languages of North
American (e.g. Navajo), in a proposal named Dene-Yeniseian.
Several well-known linguists have reviewed the hypothesis as
favorable, although several linguists, such as Lyle Campbell, still
reject it. This family of languages is sometimes described as
Paleosiberian, a classification that rests on a belief that it
represents a stratum of Siberian populations that preceded the
speakers of the other modern languages of
Siberia (mostly of the
Altaic language families), possibly one that dates
back to the Paleolithic era when North America was initially
populated. However, Paleosiberian is usually considered a –
negatively defined – collective term of convenience, not a genetic
nor even areal grouping, similarly to Papuan. There is some evidence
that the speakers of the
Yeniseian languages (such as the Ket
language, which is the only surviving member of the moribund language
family) migrated to their current homeland along the
Yenisei River in
Siberia from an area south of the
Altai Mountains in the
general vicinity of
Mongolia or Northwest
China within the last 2500
years or so (although there is no evidence that the Yeniseian
languages are linguistically related to the Altaic
languages). One sentence of the language of the Jie, a
Xiongnu tribe who founded the Later Zhao state in Chinese history,
appears consistent with being a Yeniseian language. Other linguists
have suggested, with far less widespread acceptance in the linguistics
community, that the
Yeniseian languages have a genetic relationship to
one or more of the Caucasian languages and the Sino-Tibetan languages
(such as Chinese).
Eurasian language isolates
The only languages which are predominantly found in Europe, North Asia
and South Asia and are not part of the language families above are the
Basque language spoken in Northern Spain and Southwestern France, the
three living language families of the
Caucasus mountains (Northwest
Caucasian, Northeast Caucasian and South Caucasian, with the first two
sometimes proposed as members of a single North Caucasian language
Paleosiberian languages (the
Yukaghir languages of
Central Siberia, viewed by some linguists as a divergent branch of the
Uralic languages; and the
Chukotko-Kamchatkan languages of
Eastern Siberia, a grouping which sometimes includes Yenesian language
and the geographically adjacent, although sometimes treated as a
language isolate, Nivkh language), and a few South Asian linguistic
isolates, such as Burushaski, spoken mostly in isolated pockets of
Northern Pakistan, and the two indigenous language families of the
Andamanese people (Great Andamanese and Ongan), and perhaps Nihali
(spoken in West Central India). In each of these cases, the
languages are spoken in an area that is geographically compact, were
spoken in that area at the time that they were first attested
historically, and there is no definitive evidence of an origin for the
languages in question outside the area where they are spoken now.
Joseph Greenberg and Stephen Wurm have both noted lexical similarities
between the Great Andamanese language and the West Papuan languages.
Wurm noted that the lexical similarities "are quite striking and
amount to virtual formal identity [...] in a number of instances."
There is no agreement, even between these two linguists, on a
narrative that gave rise to these similarities.
Michael Fortescue, a specialist in Eskimo–Aleut as well as in
Chukotko-Kamchatkan, argues for a link between Uralic, Yukaghir,
Chukotko-Kamchatkan, and Eskimo–Aleut in Language Relations Across
Bering Strait (1998). He calls this proposed grouping Uralo-Siberian.
There have been determined efforts by multiple linguists from at least
the 19th century to link these languages to other language families,
particularly in the case of the Basque language, where numerous
connections to language families living and dead have been proposed by
linguists. Frequently, efforts to look for deeper linguistic origins
of these languages will also attempt to integrate them into attested
extinct languages of Europe, such as the
Etruscan language of Northern
Italy, the Ligurian language of Italy, the
Lemnian language of the
Aegean Island of Lemnos, the
Minoan language aka
Linear A of ancient
Sumerian language once spoken in
Mesopotamia (which is the
oldest attested written language), the language of the Indus River
Valley civilization, the
Elamite language of Iran, and the Hurrian
Hattic language of Anatolia. None of these efforts has
achieved wide support among linguists, although some have been viewed
as sufficiently credible to receive serious consideration from
Map showing the distribution of the major language families
represented in Africa.
Khoisan click languages of
Africa do not form a language family
and so do not, as a family, have a homeland. However, limited genetic
evidence from some Khoisan-language speakers in southern Africa
suggest an origin "along the African rift and a possible wider East
African range." Thus, the Bushmen of the Kalahari who occupy the
largest geographic region where click languages are spoken are viewed
as a relict population far removed from the place where click
languages probably originated. The Khoe languages, Tuu languages, Kx'a
Hadza language and
Sandawe language (the latter two being
Tanzanian language isolates) are frequently grouped together in the
Khoisan categorization, despite the lack of a definitive
recent common origin of these languages in a common language family.
However, for the Khoe-Kwadi group, a more recent origin by immigration
Africa (around the beginning of the Christian Era) has been
suggested by Tom Güldemann, based on his observation of similarities
Main article: Afro-Asiatic Urheimat
Afro-Asiatic languages include Arabic, Hebrew, Berber, and a
variety of other languages now found mostly in Northeast Africa,
although the exact boundaries of this language family are disputed in
the case of a small number of languages spoken by small numbers of
individuals in a few localized areas of
Sudan and East Africa.
The limited area of the Afro-Asiatic
Sprachraum (prior to its
expansion to new areas in the historic era) has limited the potential
areas where that family's urheimat could be. Generally speaking, two
proposals have been developed: that Afro-Asiatic arose in a Semitic
urheimat in the Middle East aka Southwest Asia, or that Afro-Asiatic
languages arose in northeast
Africa (generally, either between Darfur
Tibesti or in
Ethiopia and the other countries of the Horn of
Africa). The African hypothesis is considered to be rather more likely
at the present time, because of the greater diversity of languages
with more distant relationships to each other there.
There have been serious linguistic proponents of almost every
conceivable possible set of relationships of the Afro-Asiatic language
subfamilies to each other, although there is reasonably great
consensus concerning the subfamily classification of all but a few of
the Afro-Asiatic languages. Some of this difficulty in resolving the
Afro-Asiatic family tree flows from the time depth of these languages.
Egyptian language of ancient Egypt (whose latest
stage is known as Coptic) is one of the two oldest written languages
on Earth (the other being the Sumerian language, a language isolate)
dating in written form to approximately 3000 BCE, and the Semitic
Akkadian language was also attested in writing from a very early date
(ca. 2000 BCE). A common Afro-Asiatic proto-language is necessarily
older than these very old written languages which belonged to language
families that had already diverged from each other considerably by
that point. There is also no one genetic profile that is uniform among
Afro-Asiatic language speakers that clearly unites them. There are
also competing theories on whether the Afro-Asiatic language family
owes its expansion to the
Neolithic revolution that originated in an
area that includes the range of the Afro-Asiatic language, or was
already widespread in the
Upper Paleolithic era. Notably, the
Afro-Asiatic language family is spoken in most of the places that are
leading candidates for the origins of the modern human species and
most of intermediate species between modern humans and the Great Apes
in human evolution.
Main article: Proto-Semitic language § Homeland
There has been speculation regarding the specific Semitic subfamily of
Afro-Asiatic languages, again with the Horn of
Africa and Southwest
Asia—specifically the Levant—being the most common proposals. The
large number of
Semitic languages present in the Horn of
at first glance to support the hypothesis that the Semitic homeland
lies there. However, the
Semitic languages in the Horn of
belong to the South Semitic subfamily and appear to all have
relatively recent common origins in a single Ethio-Semitic
proto-language, while the East and Central
Semitic languages are
native solely to Asia. These features, and the presence of certain
common Semitic lexical items in all Ethio-
Semitic languages referring
to items that arrived in
Africa from the
Levant at a time after
Semitic languages were known to have been spoken in the Levant, have
lent weight to the Levantine proposal.
Hebrew is relatively closely related to the
Arabic language even
within the Semitic language family, being part of the same Central
The Maltese language, the only other Semitic language of Europe, is a
derivative of the
Arabic language as it was spoken in Sicily starting
sometime after the rise of the Islamic empire in North Africa.
Genetic studies of Nilo-Saharan-speaking populations are in general
agreement with archaeological evidence and linguistic studies that
argue for a
Nilo-Saharan homeland in eastern
Sudan before 6000 BCE,
with subsequent migration events northward to the eastern Sahara,
westward to the Chad Basin, and southeastward into
Roger Blench has suggested that the
Niger–Congo languages may be branches of the same
macro–language family. Earlier proposals along this line
were made by linguist Edgar Gregersen in 1972. These proposals
have not reached a linguistic consensus, however, and this connection
presupposes that all of the
Nilo-Saharan languages are actually
related in a single family, which has not been definitively
Razib Khan, based on analysis of the autosomal genetics of the Tutsi
ethnic group of Africa, suggests that "the
Tutsi were in all
likelihood once a Nilotic speaking population, who switched to the
language of the Bantus amongst whom they settled."
The homeland of the
Niger–Congo languages, which has as its
Benue–Congo languages, which in turn includes the
Bantu languages, is not known in time or place, beyond the fact that
it probably originated in or near the area where these languages were
spoken prior to
Bantu expansion (i.e. West
Africa or Central Africa)
and probably predated the
Bantu expansion of ca. 3000 BCE by many
thousands of years. Its expansion may have been associated with
the expansion of Sahel agriculture in the African Neolithic
According to linguist Roger Blench, as of 2004, all specialists in
Niger–Congo languages believe the languages to have a common origin,
rather than merely constituting a typological classification, for
reasons including their shared noun-class system, their shared verbal
extensions and their shared basic lexicon. Similar
classifications have been made ever since
Diedrich Westermann in
Joseph Greenberg continued that tradition making it the
starting point for modern linguistic classification in Africa, with
some of his most notable publications going to press starting in the
1960s. But, there has been active debate for many decades over the
appropriate subclassifications of the languages in that language
family, which is a key tool used in localizing a language's place of
origin. No definitive "Proto-Niger–Congo" lexicon or grammar has
been developed for the language family as a whole.
An important unresolved issue in determining the time and place where
Niger–Congo languages originated and their range prior to
recorded history is this language family's relationship to the
Kordofanian languages now spoken in the Nuba mountains of Sudan, which
is not contiguous with the remainder of the
speaking region and is at the northeasternmost extent of the current
Niger–Congo linguistic region. The current prevailing linguistic
view is that
Kordofanian languages are part of the Niger–Congo
language family, and that among the many languages still surviving in
that region these may be the oldest. The evidence is insufficient
to determine if this outlier group of
Niger–Congo language speakers
represent a prehistoric range of a
Niger–Congo linguistic region
that has since contracted as other languages have intruded, or if
instead, this represents a group of
Niger–Congo language speakers
who migrated to the area at some point in prehistory where they were
an isolated linguistic community from the beginning.
The prehistoric range for the
Niger–Congo languages has
implications, not just for the history of the
but for the origins of the
Afro-Asiatic languages and Nilo-Saharan
languages whose homelands have been hypothesized by some to overlap
Niger–Congo linguistic range prior to recorded history. If
the consensus view regarding the origins of the
which came to East
Africa is adopted, and a North African or Southwest
Asian origin for
Afro-Asiatic languages is assumed, the linguistic
affiliation of East
Africa prior to the arrival of
Afro-Asiatic languages is left open. The overlap between the potential
areas of origin for these languages in East
Africa is particularly
notable because includes the regions from which the Proto-Eurasians
who brought anatomically modern humans Out of Africa, and presumably
their original proto-language or languages originated.
However, there is more agreement regarding the place of origin of the
Benue–Congo subfamily of languages, which is the largest subfamily
of the group, and the place of origin of the
Bantu languages and the
time at which it started to expand is known with great specificity.
The classification of the relatively divergent family of Ubangian
languages which are centered in the Central African Republic, as part
Niger–Congo language family where Greenberg classified them
in 1963 and subsequently scholars concurred, was called into
question, by linguist Gerrit Dimmendaal in a 2008 article.
Further information: Bantu expansion
The Benue-Congo homeland
Roger Blench, relying particularly on prior work by Professor Kay
Williamson of the University of Port Harcourt, and the linguist P. De
Wolf, who each took the same position, has argued that a Benue–Congo
linguistic subfamily of the
Niger–Congo language family, which
Bantu languages and other related languages and would be
the largest branch of Niger–Congo, is an empirically supported
grouping which probably originated at the confluence of the Benue and
Niger Rivers in Central Nigeria. These
estimates of the place of origin of the Benue-Congo language family do
not fix a date for the start of that expansion other than that it must
have been sufficiently prior to the
Bantu expansion to allow for the
diversification of the languages within this language family that
There is a widespread consensus among linguistic scholars that Bantu
languages of the
Niger–Congo family have a homeland near the coastal
Nigeria and Cameroon, prior to a rapid expansion from that
homeland starting about 3000 BCE.
Linguisic, archeological and genetic evidence also indicates that
during the course of the Bantu expansion, "independent waves of
migration of western African and East African Bantu-speakers into
Africa occurred." In some places, Bantu language, genetic
evidence suggests that Bantu language expansion was largely a result
of substantial population replacement. In other places, Bantu
language expansion, like many other languages, has been documented
with population genetic evidence to have occurred by means other than
complete or predominant population replacement (e.g. via language
shift and admixture of incoming and existing populations). For
example, one study found this to be the case in Bantu language
speakers who are African
Pygmies or are in Mozambique, while
another population genetic study found this to be the case in the
Bantu language speaking Lemba of Zimbabwe. Where Bantu was
adopted via language shift of existing populations, prior African
languages were spoken, probably from African language families that
are now lost, except as substrate influences of local Bantu languages
(such as click sounds in local Bantu languages).
It has been suggested that this section be split out into another
article titled Sino-Tibetan homeland. (Discuss) (January 2018)
The Sino-Tibetan languages
According to the Sino-Tibetan Etymological Dictionary and Thesaurus
project of the
University of California at Berkeley
University of California at Berkeley (2011), the
Proto-Sino-Tibetan (PST) homeland may have been in the general area in
the east of the Tibetan Plateau. Regarding the time depth of
Sino-Tibetan separation, they estimate an age of at least 6,000 years,
comparable to the age of Proto-Indo-European.
Some scholars place the Tibeto-Burman homeland in the area
encompassing western Sichuan, northern
Yunnan and eastern Tibet.
Population genetic evidence, favors an origin for Proto-Sino-Tibetan
languages in the upper and middle
Yellow River basin, with part of
that source population branching off to settle in the Himalayas, with
the split of the population that would provide the genesis of the
Chinese language from the population that would provide the genesis of
the larger Sino-Tibetan language family in the East Asian Neolithic
"[T]he closest relatives of the Tibetans are the Yi people, who live
Hengduan Mountains and were originally formed through fusion
with natives along their migration routes into the mountains. The
Tibetan and Yi languages belong to the Tibeto-Burman language group
and their ancestries can be traced back to an ancient tribe, the
Di-Qiang . . . After the ancestors of Sino-Tibetans reached the upper
Yellow River basin, they divided into two subgroups:
Proto-Tibeto-Burman and Proto-Chinese. . . . The ancestral component
which was dominant in Tibetan and Yi arose from the
Proto-Tibeto-Burman subgroup, which marched on to south-west
later, through one of its branches, became the ancestor of modern
Tibetans. Proto-Tibeto-Burmans also spread over the Hengduan Mountains
where the Yi have lived for hundreds of generations. Taking the
optimal living condition and the easiest migration route into account,
we favor the single-route hypothesis; it is more likely that their
migration into the
Tibetan Plateau through the Hengduan Mountain
valleys occurred after Tibetan ancestors separated from the other
Proto-Tibeto-Burman groups and diverged to form the modern Tibetan
One of the earliest
Neolithic cultures of
China in the upper to middle
Yellow River basin was the
Peiligang culture of 7000 BCE to 5000 BCE,
so the population genetic reference in the quoted material is to a
date on or after this time period. The
Neolithic era concluded in the
Yellow River around 1500 BCE. This is not inconsistent with the
linguistically based estimate from the Sino-Tibetan Etymological
Dictionary and Thesaurus project. By the early and middle Zhou Dynasty
(1122 BCE–256 BCE), the language spoken in the Zhou court had become
the standardized dialect for that kingdom.
In contrast, four of the other main language families of East Asia and
Southeast Asia outside the Sino-Tibetan language family,
Austroasiatic, Austronesian, Hmong–Mien and Tai–Kadai, are
generally believed to have at origins at some stage of their
development in Southern China.
It has been suggested that this section be split out into another
Austroasiatic languages. (Discuss) (February 2018)
The homeland of the
Austroasiatic languages (e.g. Vietnamese,
Cambodian) which are found from
Southeast Asia to
hypothesized to be located "the hills of southern
Yunnan in China,"
between 4000 BCE and 2000 BCE, with influences from Aryan and
Dravidian languages at the Western edge of its expanse in India, and
influence from Chinese at the Eastern edge of the regions where it is
found. The disjoint distribution of
Austroasiatic languages suggests
that they were once spoken in most of the areas where the Tai–Kadai
languages are now dominant.
Paul Sidwell has recently advocated a homeland in Southeast
Asia instead, preferring a late date of dispersal of about 2000
There is a strong correlation between the population genetic
distribution Y-Chromosomal haplogroup O2a1-M95 and the distribution of
Austroasiatic language speakers.
The most likely homeland of the
Hmong–Mien languages (aka Miao–Yao
languages) is in Southern
China between the Yangtze and Mekong rivers,
but speakers of these languages may have migrated from Central China
either as part of the
Han Chinese expansion or as a result of exile
from an original homeland by Han Chinese. Migration of people
speaking these languages from South
Southeast Asia took place
ca. 1600–1700 CE. Ancient
DNA evidence suggests that the ancestors
of the speakers of the
Hmong–Mien languages were a population
genetically distinct from that of the
Tai–Kadai and Austronesian
language source populations at a location on the Yangtze River.
DNA phylogeny evidence supports the proposition that people
who speak the Hmong-Mien languages are descended from the population
that now speaks
Austroasiatic Mon-Khmer languages.
Main article: Austronesian homeland
The Austronesian Expansion
The homeland of the
Austronesian languages is widely accepted by
linguists to be in what is now Taiwan. On this island the deepest
divisions in Austronesian are found, among the families of the native
Formosan languages. According to Blust (1999), the Formosan languages
form nine of the ten primary branches of the Austronesian language
family. Comrie (2001:28) noted this when he wrote:
... the internal diversity among the... Formosan languages... is
greater than that in all the rest of Austronesian put together, so
there is a major genetic split within Austronesian between Formosan
and the rest... Indeed, the genetic diversity within Formosan is so
great that it may well consist of several primary branches of the
overall Austronesian family.
Archaeological evidence (e.g., Bellwood 1997) suggests that speakers
of pre-Proto-Austronesian spread from the South Chinese mainland to
Taiwan at some time around 6000 BCE. Evidence from historical
linguistics suggests that it is from this island that seafaring
peoples migrated, perhaps in distinct waves separated by millennia, to
the entire region encompassed by the
Austronesian languages (Diamond
2000). It is believed that this migration began around 4000 BCE (Blust
1999). However, evidence from historical linguistics cannot bridge the
gap between those two periods.
It is possible that the ancient
Taiwan aborigines were related to the
ancient Minyue, derived in ancient times from the southeast coast of
Mainland China, as suggested by linguists Li Jen-Kuei and Robert
Blust. It is suggested that in the southeast coastal regions of China,
there were many sea nomads during the
Neolithic era and they may have
spoken ancestral Austronesian languages, and were skilled seafarers.
The specific origins of most far flung member of this language family,
Malagasy language of
Madagascar off the coast of Africa, are
described above in the part of this article concerning African
Austro-Tai hypothesis suggests a common origin for the
Austronesian languages and the
Tai–Kadai languages whose
hypothesized place of origin is geographically close to Taiwan.
Malagasy language of
Madagascar is not related to nearby African
languages, instead being the westernmost member of the
Malayo-Polynesian branch of the Austronesian language family. The
similarity between Malagasy and Malay and Javanese was noted as long
ago as 1708 by the Dutch scholar Adriaan van Reeland. Malagasy is
related to the
Malayo-Polynesian languages of Indonesia, Malaysia, and
the Philippines, and more closely with the Southeast Barito group of
languages spoken in
Borneo except for its Polynesian
Tai–Kadai languages today
Many scholars have addressed the question of the origins of the
There is a consensus that the
Tai–Kadai languages have their origins
China or on major nearby islands (such as
Hainan). The leading hypothesis is that the likely homeland of
Tai–Kadai was coastal
Fujian or Guangdong. The spread of the
Tai–Kadai peoples may have been aided by agriculture, but any who
remained near the coast were eventually absorbed by the Chinese. Weera
Ostapirat is one academic who articulates this position.
Laurent Sagart, on the other hand, holds that
Tai–Kadai is a branch
of Austronesian which migrated back to the mainland from northeastern
Formosa (i.e. Taiwan) long after
Formosa was settled, but probably
before the expansion of
Malayo-Polynesian out of
Formosa. The language was then largely relexified from
what he believes may have been an
Austroasiatic language. Sagart
Austro-Tai is ultimately related to the Sino-Tibetan
languages and has its origin in the
Neolithic communities of the
coastal regions of prehistoric North
China or East China.
Ostapirat, by contrast, sees connections with the Austroasiatic
languages (in Austric), as has Benedict. Reid notes
that the two approaches are not incompatible, if Austric is valid and
can be connected to Sino-Tibetan.
Robert Blust (1999) suggests that proto-
originated in the northern
Philippines and migrated from there to
Hainan (hence the diversity of
Tai–Kadai languages on that island),
and were radically restructured following contact with Hmong–Mien
and Sinitic. However, Ostapirat maintains that
Tai–Kadai could not
Malayo-Polynesian in the Philippines, and likely not from
the languages of eastern
Formosa either. His evidence is in the
Tai–Kadai sound correspondences, which reflect Austronesian
distinctions that were lost in
Malayo-Polynesian and even Eastern
Genetic evidence coroborates evidence from Kadai speaking people's
oral traditions that puts a Kadai homeland on Hainan. Ancient DNA
evidence also shows a connection between speakers of Tai–Kadai
speaking populations and Austronesian language speaking
populations, and a genetically distinct population at a different
location on the
Yangtze River as a possible source of Hmong–Mien
Further information: Australian Aboriginal languages
The only language isolates or language families predominantly spoken
in Southeast Asia, East Asia and Oceania that do not belong to one of
the language families above are the indigenous languages of Melanesia
(which number more than eight hundred or more in perhaps sixty
language families), which are described with a geographic term that
does not presume a genetic relationship between them as the Papuan
languages, and the
Australian aboriginal languages
Australian aboriginal languages (of which there are
about one hundred and fifty remaining in about ten language families,
all of which, except the languages of the
Pama–Nyungan languages are
largely confined to the central Northern coast of Australia). No
linguists have found a language family connection between indigenous
Australian aboriginal languages
Australian aboriginal languages and those of Asia, Africa,
the Americas or any other part of the world. Indeed, no linguistic
connection has been established between the indigenous languages of
Melanesia and the indigenous languages of the Aboriginal
Australians. This is consistent with the mainstream view,
supported by population genetics and archaeology, that Papua New
Guinea and Australia, as well as some of the islands neighboring Papua
New Guinea, were first inhabited by hominins (humans or otherwise) at
least 40,000 years ago in migrations that were either separate or
swiftly segregated, and that many of these populations have had only
limited contact with outside populations until the modern era. While
there are plausible reasons to infer that the Melanesian languages and
the aboriginal Australian languages, respectively, have common origins
in a small founding population with a single language, the linguists
have not been able to marshal lexical, phonetic and grammatical
evidence from these languages in their current form to support these
Indigenous languages of the Americas
Indigenous languages of the Americas and
Classification schemes for indigenous languages of the Americas
Area of the Na-Dene languages
Since 2008, linguist
Edward Vajda has been advocating, and attempting
to demonstrate, a genetic link between the
Na-Dene languages of North
America and the
Yeniseian languages of central Siberia, suggesting a
Siberia or a back migration of Na-Dene speakers from
Na-Dene languages are spoken by Native Alaskans and some
people from the
First Nations of Western Canada, in the Pacific
Northwest, and also includes the
Southern Athabaskan languages
Southern Athabaskan languages spoken
in the American Southwest (e. g., the languages Apache and
Navajo). The proposal, which does not originate with Vajda but is
considerably older, is not generally accepted among
linguists.[according to whom?]
Eskimo–Aleut languages are spoken by native peoples of the
Arctic regions of
Canada and Greenland, generally to the
North of Na-Dene linguistic areas (shown on the map on the left).
Current ancient and modern
DNA scholarship and archaeology supports a
three-layer paradigm in which first the
Saqqaq (Arctic Paleo-Eskimos)
which was present 2000 BCE, then the Dorset (second wave Arctic
Paleo-Eskimos), and finally the
Thule (proto-Inuit) from ca. 500 CE
– 1000 CE, successively sweep Arctic North America while having
little genetic impact on Native American populations further South,
that presumably have origins that date back to the initial
colonization of the Americas by modern humans from Asia (who are the
first hominins to live there), and ancient
DNA shows genetic
continuity from the
Thule to modern
Inuit (whose genetics are
remarkably homogeneous), dominated by the A2a, A2b, and D3 mtDNA
haplotypes, while "Haplotype D2 (3%), found among modern Aleut and
Siberian Eskimos, was identified at a low frequency in the modern
samples but not the ancient. This haplotype was recently identified in
Saqqaq individual from western Greenland. . .
. Whole genomic sequencing of the 4,000-year-old PaleoEskimo, "Inuk,"
indicated that the
Saqqaq sequences clustered with the Chukchi and
Koryaks of Siberia-suggesting an earlier migration from
the northern slope of
Alaska to Greenland." Evidence such as
bronze artifacts produced in East Asia from ca. 1000 CE, further
supports a proto-Eskimo-Aleut arrival in the polar regions of North
America ca. 500 CE – 1000 CE.
The proto-Eskimo-Aleut migration to North America, associated with the
Thule expansion in North America ca. 500 CE, took place much more
recently than the initial human population of North America, which
took place more than 14,000 years ago. Also, the modern Inuit
populations are genetically distinct from other indigenous populations
of the Americas. Thus, evidence from genetics and archaeology strongly
supports an East Asian origin for
Eskimo-Aleut languages sometime in
the last 1500 years that is distinct from most other indigenous
languages of the Americas. But there is no linguistic consensus on any
particular languages of East Asia with which this family of North
American languages is associated. It is entirely possible that
Eastern Siberian languages most closely ancestral to Eskimo-Aleut are
extinct. Many indigenous languages and cultures of this region have
died in the face of expanded Russian cultural and national influence
starting in the 18th century.
Michael Fortescue in 1998 proposed a group of Uralo-Siberian
languages, in which
Uralic languages like Finnish were related to
Eskimo-Aleut languages supported by lexical correspondences and
grammatical similarities, expanding upon a proposal of Morris Swadesh
in 1962 that itself reiterates similarities that have been noted since
at least 1746. Fortescue argues that the Uralo-Siberian
proto-language (or a complex of related proto-languages) may have been
Mesolithic hunting and fishing people in south-central
Siberia (roughly, from the upper
Yenisei river to Lake Baikal) between
8000 and 6000 BCE, and that the proto-languages of the derived
families may have been carried northward out of this homeland in
several successive waves down to about 4000 BCE, leaving the Samoyedic
branch of Uralic in occupation of the urheimat thereafter.
A 2005 proposal by Holst, also reiterating a proposal of Swadesh from
1962, suggests that the
Wakashan languages (map on right) spoken in
British Columbia around and on Vancouver Island, are part of the same
language family as the Eskimo-Aleut languages. This proposal, if
accurate, would suggest that
Na-Dene languages may have arrived in
North America after (although not long after) Eskimo-Aleut languages.
Eskimo–Aleut languages resemble other languages
of northern North America and far eastern Siberia.
Main article: Proto-Uto-Aztecan
Some authorities on the history of the Uto-Aztecan language group
place its homeland in the border region between the USA and Mexico,
namely the upland regions of Arizona and New Mexico and the adjacent
areas of the Mexican states of Sonora and Chihuaua, shown on the map
(below left) roughly corresponding to the Sonoran Desert. The
proto-language would have been spoken by foragers, about 5,000 years
ago. Hill (2001) proposes instead a homeland further south, making the
assumed speakers of
Proto-Uto-Aztecan maize cultivators in
Mesoamerica, who were gradually pushed north, bringing maize
cultivation with them, during the period of roughly 4,500 to 3,000
years ago, the geographic diffusion of speakers corresponding to the
breakup of linguistic unity.
Tupian languages are predominantly spoken in eastern South America,
Specially in Brazil and Paraguay with branches in neighboring
countries. They are believed by some scholars to be related to Carib
and Jê languages. The Tupian was once spoken by the powerful Tupian
nations of the coast encountered by the Europeans. And still spoken by
the tribes of Xingu and the Guarani to small nomadic peoples
uncontacted in the Amazon. The language was adapted and used by the
Bandeirantes who spent most of their lives among the natives. These
armies of explorers and raiders from
São Paulo who explored the then
unknown interior of Brazil in search of gold and slaves. and
transformed it in dialects who later become the Nhéngatu or Lingua
Geral and made it the most widelly spoken language in Brazil until the
Marquis of Pombal imposed the use of Portuguese in the Colony. Many
branches are probably lost or were never recorded as the Tupian
peoples don't have a writing system, And some dialects were spoken by
groups were probably wiped out or enslaved by other groups or the
José de Anchieta
José de Anchieta a Canarian jesuit priest active in the
Brazilian coast during the early Portuguese settlement, Was the first
person to write and translate the tupi language. Rodrigues (2007)
considers the Proto-Tupian homeland to be somewhere between the
Guaporé and Aripuanã rivers, in the Madeira River basin. Much of
this area corresponds to the modern-day state of Rondônia, Brazil. 5
of the 10 Tupian branches are found in this area, as well as some
Tupi–Guarani languages (especially Kawahíb), making it the probable
urheimat of these languages and maybe of its speaking peoples.
Rodrigues believes the Proto-Tupian language dates back to around
Further information: Models of migration to the New World
Other than Dene-Yeniseian, and a possible connection between the
Eskimo-Aleut language family and the Uralic language family, no
proposals of genetic relations between languages of North or South
America and languages of Eurasia, Africa, or other parts of the world,
have been backed by credible evidence. There is not, for example, any
indication that the Vikings who had a brief presence in North America
around 1000 CE left any linguistic trace.
Population genetic evidence suggests that the non-circumpolar
indigenous peoples of the Americas have origins in a small common
founder population in the
Upper Paleolithic era that arrived via a
Berginian land bridge from Asia. This population
genetic data point suggests the possibility that all indigenous Native
American languages of non-circumpolar indigenous Americans (i.e.
neither Inuit-Aleut nor Na-Dene) have genetic origins in a single
language of the founding population of the Americas, and hence, as
controversially proposed by Greenberg, that they all ultimately belong
to the same linguistic superfamily, which Greenberg called
Amerind. But, there is not clear evidence of this from efforts to
use traditional comparative linguistic methods to classify indigenous
Native American languages. The process of identifying linguistic
origins with traditional linguistic methods begins with the process of
classifying languages into families.
In general, more progress has been made in identify language family
relationships in North America, where the just under three hundred
attested languages are grouped into twenty-nine language families and
twenty-seven language isolates (some of which are simply incapable of
being classified because they are extinct and were not sufficiently
well attested to classify). Two (super-) family proposals, Penutian
and Hokan generally along the Pacific coast of North America that are
gaining currency among linguists, would reduce the number of language
families in North America to about fifteen. However, in large portions
of the Southeast United States where it is known that there was
considerable pre-Columbian linguistic diversity, there are no attested
indigenous languages and the populations in question either left no
survivors, or all remaining speakers of relocated tribes with
diminished numbers underwent language shift as their ancestral
languages became moribund.
Mesoamerica was home to one of the most developed succession of
farming societies in the Americas in the pre-Columbian era.
Mesoamerica's attested languages are likewise quite well systematized
into six main language families and four other language isolates or
small language families, as well as a few unclassified extinct
languages, encompassing all of the languages in the region.
Mesoamerica is also the only part of the Americas in which written
languages were in use in the pre-Columbian era.
In South America there are about 350 living indigenous languages (in
addition to many creoles) and an estimated more than one thousand
extinct languages, grouped into more than 140 categories, only ten of
which have more than five languages which have been demonstrated to
belong to the same language family. This is about three times as much
linguistic diversity at the language family/language isolate level as
North America and
Mesoamerica combined. The naïve expectation from
population genetics would have been that there would be less
linguistic diversity, because the entire indigenous population of
South America appears to derive genetically from only a subset of an
already small indigenous founder population of the Americas as a
whole, something illustrated, for example, by its lack several of the
less common genetic haplotypes found in indigenous America outside
South America (although genetic diversity has accumulated in these
populations over time through mutations distinguishing these
populations from the founder population genomes). Some of the lack of
classification of indigenous South American languages may be simply
attributable to the small number of linguists devoted to the task and
the limited amount of information available about many of the
languages. But the languages of the region may also simply be
particularly diverse due to separation by great time depth and
geographic isolation. The only other place in the world with
comparable linguistic diversity that has not been reduced to a small
number of language families is Papua New Guinea, which also
experienced many millennia of isolation from the rest of the world
that ended only relatively recently.
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