|A (very) small representation of the "family tree" of Proto-Indo-European languages|
I love talking languages almost as much as I like talking genealogy (sometimes it's a dead heat). One thing I enjoy using when talking about language is my first name, Starr. There is no language that I know of that doesn't have a word for "star". So it's a perfect way to illustrate the connectivity of language. And I can use that to illustrate some of the concepts of genetic genealogy that you need in order to set expectations and choose the right tests for your research. You'll note in the pictures above and below that some words are in red. Each is the word for "star" in the neighboring language. If the large tree above is too small (click to enlarge), Proto-Indo-European has the word H'ster. As you follow the branches, you'll see similarities follow through to almost every connected language. Because of accent, slang or some other mutation due to unique environments, each language changes the word just a little bit. But PIE still lives inside.
|I put Persian and Urdu in their alphabet so you could see the spelling similarities and the other three in Roman characters to show a similarity of pronunciation.|
Naturally, no one speaks PIE now. In fact, PIE existed (if it did exist) long before written word and we speak offshoots that have small similarities to PIE. So how do we prove PIE? Well, linguists noticed that Spanish, Italian, French and Romanian (and many others) all had similar words. This branch was easily connected to Latin (the language of Roman conquerors who tore through most of Europe all the way to England), because scholars and churches still used Latin. the gradual change from the mother-tongue to what's called the Romance Languages was documented by their written records. Knowing when a document was created, researchers were able to identify when a spelling or total word change (mutation) happened and connect it to an earlier form of the language until they reached the purer form of Vulgar Latin (there is a so-called Church Latin that is a bit more formal). Scientists took other languages and studied their words, grammars and date of first recorded use to help group the languages together and link them to similar but now dead languages. Parent languages were determined by having the same or similar words as all their resulting languages, but missing the differences of invented words. If 3 languages have the same or similar word for bicycle, but different words for car, then their parent language had no word for car, but a similar word for bicycle. As I point out in the photo above, Sanskrit uses the word Tara for "star". Vedic Sanskrit must have a similar word, because Sanskrit's sister, Prakrit, has children that use the same sounds in their words (Sitara and Takara). Also note that Persian is Urdu's 2nd cousin once removed, but their spelling for the word star is very similar. To be that close, linguists argue, Proto-Indo-European (or an intervening now dead language) had to have had a similar word and alphabet. By tracing when the differences pop up, linguists can get a rough guess of when a population diverged from it's siblings.
|Compare this to their Latin and Greek "cousins". Also note, Irish and Scot Gaelic have another name for "star" that is Seren or close to it. I wanted to show a variant that also has a similar "cousin".|
|These are so close to each other, they might as well be the "John Smith" of language!|
|Albanian and Armenian have changed a bit from their beginnings, but have no siblings. All Proto-Anatolian and Proto-Tocharian languages are now extinct, but notice how close they are to others like Welsh!|
Geneticists are also trying to find our origins, but have the same problems. Humans move and mate a lot. It's difficult to detrmine if the markers in a group's DNA are exclusive to them or a larger group. It's near impossible to be definitive on whether it proves a connection to nearby neighbors or indicates a deeper, older connection to a long dead group. All reasonable research shows a common origin point of Africa and a general migration patern from there, but genealogists want something more definitive. And it's just not there yet. It really is more guess than science right now. Should we give up on it? Not at all! The more tests taken by more people, the more information we have to narrow down the results. The science, just like humans, is in constant evolution.
And I just realised I also illustrated why no one can define an origin point for a surname either. Dang, I'm good.