By Keerthi Chandrashekar ( | First Posted: Aug 23, 2012 10:51 PM EDT

Indo-European languages can now be traced back to Anatolia, or today's Turkey. (Photo : Radboud University Nijmege)

What do English, Russian, Spanish, and Punjabi all have in common? They're all Indo-European languages. Spoken by more than three billion people on our planet, Indo-European languages make up the largest language family and have now been traced back to modern-day Turkey.

To figure out the Indo-European origin, a team of researchers led by Quentin Atkinson from the University of Auckland in New Zealand used a geography-based computer model much like the ones epidemiologists use to track down the origin of a virus outbreak.

They compared words such as 'mother' and 'sky' from different Indo-European languages and concluded the language family originated in Anatolia, or present-day Turkey 7,800-9,800 years ago.

"Archaeologists and linguists have had different favorite theories on the language origins," said linguist Michael Dunn, a co-author of the recent paper. "But now, new research like ours provides linguistic support for the Anatolian hypothesis."

This study contradicts the more common theory that Indo-European languages came from the Pontic steppes in Ukraine around 6,000 years ago. This theory used associations between the words 'wagon' and 'wheel' to end up at this conclusion.

"These things take a lot of time in science, but in the long run, I would bet on our theory," Dunn said. "You just can't explain away the data."

Atkinson had proposed this theory back in 2003, but did not have the geographical data that he has this time around.

"This paper provides strong statistical evidence that unequivocally supports the Anatolian hypothesis," said Andrew Kitchen from Pennsylvania State University.

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