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Languages ​​spoken in the NE hills may have originated 4,500 years ago | India News


The millets, the hot climate and the impossible terrain of the Himalayas may have unleashed a chain of events that gave rise to the languages ​​spoken in the hills of Northeast and North Bengal.
A study by anthropologists at University College London has traced the origins of Sino-Tibetan languages ​​back to the early Neolithic period, 8,000 years ago, some 1,500 years earlier than previously thought. And by broadening the scope of the languages ​​they studied, they discovered that those spoken in the hills of Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, and West Bengal may have begun to evolve around 4,500 years ago.
“Our study found that these languages ​​form distinct subgroups. For example, all Naga languages ​​are descendants of a common ancestor, ”lead author Dr. Hanzhi Zhang told TOI. “Some of these groups were thought to be close relatives of other Sino-Tibetan subgroups. Bodo-Garo was believed to be related to the Chinese languages. The Naga, Kuki-Karbi, and Karenic languages ​​were believed to be closely related to each other. Our findings do not support these groupings. ”
So far, there are three widely accepted theories about how Sino-Tibetan languages ​​spread. The North China theory believes that when the first North Chinese growers traveled west to the Himalayas 6,500 years ago, millet farming and languages ​​followed. Sichuan theory envisions a different route for this: west to the lower Brahmaputra basin and then east to the Yellow River basin about 8,000 years ago. More recent is the Eastern Himalayan theory, which proposes that the first speakers of these languages ​​were foragers in the Eastern Himalayas around 9,000 years ago who migrated west to the high Tibetan plateau 7,500 years ago and then to China 5,000 years ago.
For the study, published in ‘Scientific Reports’ by Nature two weeks ago, the researchers used machine learning and statistical analysis to reconstruct all these branches and see how the 131 languages ​​in the group are related to each other.
While it is difficult to get to the exact timeline and origin of these languages, the analysis estimated that the Naga languages ​​may have originated around 4,500 years ago. The Tani languages ​​branched out about 4,200 years ago. Bodo-Garo languages ​​about 4,000 years ago, around the same time as the Kiranti languages ​​(Limbu, Lepcha, etc.). It is also then that the Kuki-Karbi languages ​​separated from the Naga languages.
There is a reason this happens around the same time. “The linguistic continuity of the Himalayan subgroups around 4,000 years ago probably reflects long-term geographic isolation. The mountainous terrain of the Himalayan regions greatly limited opportunities for social contact and cultural outreach for groups living in the vicinity, ”Zhang said.
That is why every small area of ​​human habitation in the northeastern hills seems to have gradually developed its own language. When the speakers of a language are no longer in frequent contact and separated by distance and ecology, they innovate. This is how cultural diversity takes shape. Zhang explained: “The Himalayan region is one of the last havens for linguistic diversity, in stark contrast to linguistic uniformity in the eastern region of the Sino-Tibetan family, where large-scale expansions of the Sinitic and body languages ​​in history had erased much of history. of diversity “.
The 8,000-year starting point they identified coincides with the origin of millet-based agriculture in the Yellow River region. It was also when the cold-dry climate that began 12,000 years ago turned into a hot and humid one. It is the way in which the evolution of languages ​​responds to geography and the physical environment.
“Languages ​​spread more slowly in unfamiliar settings,” Zhang said. When ancestral Bantu populations expanded from their savanna homeland in West Africa 5,000 years ago, for example, they avoided the “strange” rainforests and took over the savanna corridors through the Congo rainforest. So did their language.
The migration stories contain narratives of roots. And these networks of languages ​​shed light on the links between cultures that were now thought to be so distant from one another. “Unfortunately, it is a race against time. Traditional languages ​​are dying fast as their speakers assimilate into the global economy and nation states, ”said Dr. Zhang. “There is great academic interest in the linguistic and cultural diversity of the Himalayas, which is not matched by funding institutions that prefer research with tangible impact rather than the preservation of intangible cultural heritage. The recent development of geopolitical events has also made it extremely difficult to conduct field work in the area. ”

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