Figure The Distribution Of Eurasiatic

The family of Indo-European languages, according to the linguist Joseph Greenberg, belongs to a more ancient superfamily called Eurasiatic. Other members include the Uralic and Altaic families, the Korean-Japanese-Ainu group and the Eskimo-Aleut languages of North America. The best-known member of the Eurasiatic superfamily is the language family known as Indo-European, which itself has 11 branches:

1. The Anatolian group, not well known because all its member languages are now extinct. Its principal member is Hittite, the language of the Hittite empire that was centered in Anatolia (now Turkey), and reached its height between 1680 and 1200 BC.

2. Armenian

3. Tokharian, a pair of languages known as Tokharian A and Tokharian B and spoken in northwest China in the second half of the first millennium AD. Though at the east of the Indo-European range, Tokharian seems more closely related to languages of the west; the origin and history of its speakers is unclear.

4. Indo-Iranian, which includes the ancient Sanskrit as well as many modern Indian languages such as Urdu and Hindi, along with the ancient and modern languages of the Iranian region.

5. Albanian

6. Greek

7. Italic, which includes Latin and its modern descendants, such as Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian.

8. Celtic, which includes Irish and Scottish Gaelic.

9. Germanic, including Danish, Swedish, Norwegian and Icelandic; German, Dutch and Yiddish; and English.

10. Baltic, including Latvian and Lithuanian.

11. Slavic, the branch comprised of Russian, Polish, Czech and Serbo-Croatian.

The second major family of Eurasiatic is Uralic-Yukaghir, a far flung family that includes Hungarian, Finnish and Estonian in the west and many Siberian languages in the east. This family, in Greenberg's view, includes Ket, a hard to classify Siberian language that may be the source of Na-Dene, the second of the three language families of the Americas along with Amerind and Eskimo-Aleut.

Third is Altaic, which includes the Turkish and Mongolian language groups.

Fourth is Korean-Japanese-Ainu, a grouping that has no generic name; Ainu is the language spoken by the original inhabitants of northern Japan. Fifth is Gilyak, the language of a dwindling number of people who live in northern Sakhalin, the large island north of Japan, and in a small region opposite Sakhalin on the Siberian mainland.

Sixth is Chukotian, a language family of eastern Siberia that includes Chukchi and Koryak.

Seventh is Eskimo-Aleut, a family spoken from Siberia to Greenland. Eighth is Etruscan, an extinct language of the Romans' adversaries in ancient Italy.

Greenberg's book on the grammar of his proposed Eurasiatic family was published in 2000; the second volume, on shared vocabulary, appeared posthumously in 2002. His grouping was developed independently of Nostratic, the superfamily advocated by a Russian school of linguists, but overlaps with it to a great extent. Nostratic differs from Euroasiatic in that it includes Afroasiatic, at least in early versions, and some Nostraticists exclude Japanese and Ainu. An important difference of methodology is that Nostraticists insist proto-languages be reconstructed as the basis for comparison, a procedure that Greenberg skips. To English speakers, it may not be instantly obvious that their language has anything whatsoever in common with Finnish, Turkish, or Inuit, let alone Japanese, as the Eurasiatic hypothesis asserts. Given the speed of language change, and the 10,000 years or more that separate all these daughter tongues from the assumed proto-Eurasiatic, only a few echoes would be expected. As Greenberg's critics rightly point out, it is hard to be sure that the signal of these faint echoes rises above the noise of chance resemblance.

But consider the comparison of English with, say, Japanese. Given that wakaru means understand in Japanese, guess the meaning of wakaranai. Apart from the oddity of putting a negative at the end of the verb, it seems natural that wakaranai should mean don't understand, and so it does.

In many Indo-European languages, questions are expressed with words starting with "k" or "kw" sounds, though the "kw" has become a "w" in English. French has quoi (what?), Italian come (how?) and Latin quando, quis, and quid pro quo. So wakaranaika? Don't you understand? It could be just by chance that the Indo-European and Japanese families use "k" sounds for question words. But an interrogative in k is found in

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