Scientists at the University of Reading in Britain said they based their claim on a common origin for vocabularies as varied as English, Urdu, Japanese and less common languages such as Itelmen, spoken in northeastern Russia.
The researchers, led by evolutionary biologist Mark Pagel, suggest the ancestral language spoken at the end of the last ice age gave rise to seven more that formed an ancient Eurasiatic "superfamily" of languages that in turn, over the next 5,000 years, split into languages now spoken all over Eurasia, from Portugal to Siberia, The Guardian reported Monday.
"Everybody in Eurasia can trace their linguistic ancestry back to a group, or groups, of people living around 15,000 years ago, probably in southern Europe, as the ice sheets were retreating," Pagel said.
Pagel used a computer model to predict words that changed so rarely that they should sound the same in the different Eurasiatic languages, then checked their list against a database of early words reconstructed by linguists.
"Sure enough," Pagel said, "the words we predicted would be similar, were similar.
"The very fact that we can identify these words that retain traces of their deep ancestry tells us something fundamental about our language faculties. It tells us we have this ability to transmit highly complicated and precise information from mouth to ear over tens of thousands of years."