New Indo-European Language Discovered

Jun 19, 2012 by Sci-News.com

A linguistics researcher at the Macquarie University in Australia has discovered that the language, known as Burushaski, which is spoken by about 90,000 people who reside in a remote area of Pakistan, is Indo-European in origin.

19th century photograph of a rajah and Burusho tribesmen from Hunza valley, Pakistan

Prof Ilija Casule’s discovery, which has now been verified by a number of the world’s top linguists, has excited linguistics experts around the world.

An entire issue of the eminent international linguistics journal the Journal of Indo-European Studies is devoted to a discussion of his findings later this month.

More than fifty eminent linguists have tried over many years to determine the genetic relationship of Burushaski. But it was Prof Casule’s painstaking research, based on a comprehensive grammatical, phonological, lexical and semantic analysis, which established that the Burushaski language is in fact an Indo-European language most likely descended from one of the ancient Balkan languages.

Prof Casule said that the language is most probably ancient Phrygian.

The Phrygians migrated from Macedonia to Anatolia (today part of Turkey) and were famous for their legendary kings who figure prominently in Greek mythology such as King Midas who turned whatever he touched into gold. They later migrated further east, reaching India. Indeed, according to ancient legends of the Burushaski (or Burusho) people, they are descendants of Alexander the Great.

Map of Burushaski speaking areas (llmap.org)

Tracing the historical path of a language is no easy task. Prof Casule said he became interested in the origins of Burushaski more than 20 years ago.

“People knew of its existence but its Indo-European affiliation was overlooked and it was not analyzed correctly. It is considered a language isolate – not related to any other language in the world in much the same way that the Basque language is classified as a language isolate,” he added.

The remoteness of the area that was independent until the early 1970s when it became part of Pakistan, ensured Burushaski retained certain grammatical and lexical features that led Prof Casule to conclude it is a North-Western Indo-European language, specifically of the Paleobalkanic language group and that it corresponds most closely with Phrygian.

Prof Casule’s work is groundbreaking, not only because it has implications for all the Indo-European language groups, but also provides a new model for figuring out the origins of isolate languages – where they reside in the linguistic family tree and how they developed and blended with other languages to form a new language.