Solving a Linguistic Mystery

Spoken by the Burusho of Pakistan, the Burushaski language has puzzled scholars for decades. Like Basque, it is considered to be a language isolate, not related to any other language in the world.

Now, that may have changed. Linguistics professor Ilija Casule, of Australia’s Macquarie University, claims to have determined that Burushaski is, in fact, an Indo-European language. What’s more, his claim looks solid, as it has now been backed by other respected linguists and is due to be published in the Journal of Indo-European studies.

In an article on Sci-News.com, Professor Casule explained the problem he faced:

“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.”

By carefully and comprehensively examining every aspect of the language, including its grammar, phonology, lexicon and semantics, he has been able to prove that it most likely descends from Phrygian, the same language spoken once upon a time by King Midas. Originally from Macedonia, the Phrygians emigrated to Anatolia in ancient times, then continued to move east.

It’s tempting to see this discovery as a confirmation of the Burusho people’s ancient legends, which claim they are descended from soldiers in Alexander the Great’s army. However, by the time Alexander was born in 356 BC, the Phrygians would have been gone for centuries. Plus, according to Wikipedia, a 2006 study found only a small amount of Greek DNA among Burusho males. So, that’s still up in the air.

In any event, it’s always interesting to see a long-standing mystery finally get solved. As Sci-News.com notes, Prof Casule’s methodology could be used to solve similar mysteries, as well:

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.

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