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Digging Into the Archeology of Language

Almost half of the global population now speaks a language that originated five to six thousand years ago on the steppe lands of the country we now call Ukraine.
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March 21, 2022 2:24 p.m.

From the outset of the Ukraine Crisis, Ukraine’s relationship with Europe and potential integration into Europe via the European Union has been a, perhaps the, cornerstone issue. I got to thinking about this over the weekend since almost every European language originated in the country we now call Ukraine. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t argue that what I’m describing has any particular relevance to the current crisis. But it’s a fascinating prism through which we can look at our connections to the distant past. The language which I am now writing and which you are now reading originated on the steppeland just north of the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. In other words, in the region we now call Ukraine and some adjoining parts of Russia and perhaps Romania. This is true of English — a loose hodgepodge language — but not only English. All European languages except Finnish, Estonian, Hungarian and Basque start there. (Maltese, an official EU language, is derived from Arabic, a Semitic language. Turkish is an Altaic language so it depends what you count as “Europe.”) And not just Europe. This is also the origin point for the languages of Iran, much of Central Asia and northern India (including Hindi and Urdu). This is not to mention the Spanish, Portuguese and French that are spoken in the Western Hemisphere outside of Anglophone Canada and the United States.

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