The ancestral language of half the world reveals our shared culture


The hunt for the prehistoric mother tongue that gave rise to dozens of the languages we speak today reminds us of the scientific case for international identity


| Leader

23 November 2022

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WHEN it comes to communicating and connecting with others, language is the most important tool we have. But it isn’t always a unifying force. A survey of people in 14 high-income countries, for example, found that language was considered by far the most critical factor in defining national identity, which suggests we tend to think people who don’t speak “our national language” may not belong.

The reconstruction of prehistoric languages offers an intriguing antidote to this way of thinking. As we explore in a feature this week, “The hunt for the lost ancestral language of Europe and southern Asia“, many of the world’s tongues share …


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