Linguists recently found an Indo-European language hiding in rural Pakistan. Learn its story here.

At some point you’ve heard about the concept of language “families.” Generally, common sense defines how language relationships work: geographic neighbors often share a common ancestor. If this story were consistent, however, there wouldn’t be anything interesting for us to talk about. Take for example, this amazing discovery stemming from 20 years of research.

Linguist Ilija Casule tied a language spoken in Pakistan called Burushaski to the Indo-European family line, which includes Spanish, English, German and many others. Until Casule’s recent hypothesis, Burushaski was considered a language isolate like Basque. Language isolates cannot be connected to any other language. Their vocabulary, syntax and morphology are just too different to draw logical connections to other known languages. Most linguists believe that the languages connecting language isolates from known language families have gone extinct. Just like in the animal kingdom, we don’t always know what ancestor two animals share.

How do linguists draw connections between distant languages? In this case, Casule traced the development of core vocabulary (such as words for body parts) and other lexical analysis. He found that the components of Burushaski shifted in systematic ways from Indo-European languages spoken 3,000 years ago to today.

Is this hypothesis historically possible? It certainly is. According to Casule, Burushaski is most closely related to Phrygian – the language spoken in what is now Turkey about 3,000 years ago. King Midas of the fabled Golden Touch was a Phrygian king in 800 BCE. After the collapse of Phrygian rule, other kingdoms alternately ruled the land, including the Persians and Alexander the Great. It is not inconceivable that the Phrygian people moved as far east as India. And, in fact, the Burusho people claim that they are descendants of Alexander the Great.

A language spoken in Siberia was recently tied to a Native American language family. Learn the story of Ket here.

Do you think this hypothesis is correct? Does it change your view of language development?


  1. Thora Bora -  May 13, 2016 - 7:00 am

    The population of Burushaski is mixed with local, and now hardy peoples know the name of this this language.

  2. javid iqbal -  May 23, 2015 - 5:15 pm

    I am a native Burusho (Burushaski speaker, also ethnonym). I have been contemplating and working on this language very closely for the last fifteen years. I have worked with Nasir Uddin Hunzai, commonly know as ‘the father of Burushaski’ (Baba-e Burushaski – Huza dialect). After I read Casule’s articles two years ago, I became curious about Burushaski’s IE orgin theory. I have tried to find lexical correspondences in European languages. I have found such correspondences in hundreds.

    I know it takes more than only lexical correspondences to prove a language’s origin. Loan words into Burushaski from Persian, Urdu, Hindi, Sanskrit and other regional languages is easily justifiable due to geographic and cultural affinity, but can some historical linguist please explain the existence in Burushaski, of words with roots going into Hebrew, Arabic, English (much older substratum than colonial or modern), Albanian and other European languages? How Burushaski acquired from these languages if this language has been confined to the present geographical location? How Burushaski comes to contain lexical correspondences with Phrygian, a language now extinct and which existed thousands of miles away from Burushaski region?

    • Susan T -  October 3, 2016 - 2:50 pm

      Hi, would widespread DNA testing of the Burusho people be helpful determining affinity with other populations? Autosomal testing (from saliva samples) shows admix heritage from the last 800-100 years) I would be most interested in this because when tracing my own origins here in the UK Leeds area, having never known my father, I was recently DNA tested and delighted to learn I have a high percentage of DNA from the Burusho. I am now researching this aspect with a view to tracing relatives.

  3. sakii -  April 13, 2013 - 1:19 pm

    m from Pakistan and Brushaski is my mother tongue. It usually speaks in the northern area of Pakistan especially in Gilgit.

  4. Jan Henrik Holst -  September 3, 2012 - 5:21 am

    I am a linguist from the University of Hamburg and I have taught Burushaski in the last three years. I have also published on Indo-European languages, e. g. in Historische Sprachforschung. Already many years ago, I came across Casule’s claims, and, unfortunately, they are extremely flawed and nonsensical. In order to make such a case, one would have to know Burushaski well and the research on it, know Indo-European linguistics well, and be competent in the methods of historical linguistics in order to make such a connection. But that’s not the case with Casule; his publications are full of mistakes in all of these areas, they are horrible. Burushaski is of course not an Indo-European language; it is something entirely different. There are many layman claims like this around, and they are just a nuisance. The story shows that anything can get onto the internet.

  5. Meean -  August 11, 2012 - 10:37 am

    yaien la bs mas aapaiban ?

  6. Muhammad Wazir Shafi -  July 11, 2012 - 9:24 am

    I have been very much upset to see the comments and contesting point of professor Casule. I am a native Burushaski speaker, and I also can speak and have grip in English how much Casule has in Burushaski language. An Idea about a fact can not be built on the basis of just claims. Casule has presented only one example of brow, which also wrong to match with ahl-pur (means achline bur) bur means a sing hair stick. you can justify that there are many such examples which draw our attention towards a thinking that Burushaski might be the mother language of Indo-Aryan and Indo-European, there are most of hidden words which are very much basic and there are words exist in Indo-Arian and Indo European languages in the shape of distortion like sa in Burushaski means sun, in ancient Indo-Arian the word for sun is Sa raj(sun’s upperness) which has been change into suraj where as in IE it has been changed into su’n, this page is very much short to explain how many words exists in such nature which can confuse one to think. I could not find any such part of body as Indo European because it’s very much distinct language that their impossible to refer a part of body of a person without refereeing him like aren (my hand), iren (his hand), uren( their hand), muren(her hand) . You can take help from my own book Burushaski Razhun” A book on Burushaski Grammar available in Congress Library. Hence reasons presented by Mr. Casule are very much poor to justify to link Burushaki with Indo Arian family.

  7. Pakistani 1414918 -  July 7, 2012 - 10:54 pm

    From the looks of it, it seems it’s cropped up to satisfy the whole “Alexander’s living descendents” myth which was also cooked up by Greek and Macedonian nationalists. I strongly suspect it’s a load of pseudoscience with the political agenda of Greece’s and the Republic of Macedonia’s governments behind it.

  8. An Old Black Marble.com -  June 27, 2012 - 12:44 pm

    There is no surprise in finding an Indo-European language in the lands between India and Europe since that’s where the name originates but it is interesting that it might be related to Phrygian especially since some scholars speculate that the Phrygians originated(the balkans) in Europe and originally spoke a pre-Indoeuropean language. Hmm, what a mess this linguistics history can be.

  9. That's right -  June 25, 2012 - 3:01 pm

    Good one, Nabarun!
    I was always under the impression that Maya was “Illusion” which fits nicely with what you are saying. With this being, I believe, the fifth world which is supposed to be changing sometime soon; to realize that this world is illusion and that we are “blind” because of being rooted here by our sensory organs, is a goal that all should strive to attain. To think that gross matter is the ultimate creation is silly. Basically we are wallowing around on a mud ball (illusions) while our real selves are blocked off from us.

  10. Moon -  June 25, 2012 - 12:52 pm


    The Crusades took place AFTER Christ (or the Common Era, as it is now refered).
    Alexander the Great, as the article mentions, occured BEFORE The Common Era (BCE).
    So, no. The Crusades were not involved.

  11. kthxbai -  June 25, 2012 - 12:03 pm

    Yeah, there’s so much left to discover in this world…

  12. spider -  June 25, 2012 - 11:36 am

    1. This is sensationalist at best. As others have pointed out, the region is full of Indo European languages. http://www.ethnologue.com/show_family.asp?subid=3-16

    2. Stop with the Hebrew. The whole study of linguistics was created to find the common ancestor, and Hebrew isn’t it. That was, of course, the first place they looked, back in the 19th Century.

    3. The Tower of Babel answers a grand total of zero linguistics questions, so please don’t make the rest of us Christians look bad by throwing that out.

  13. José M -  June 25, 2012 - 8:15 am

    Please, do not say “Babilonia”…

  14. DYA -  June 25, 2012 - 7:48 am

    It’s ludicrous to ask lay people for their opinion on this issue. “Do you think this hypothesis is correct?” I’m not even approximately qualified to answer that – I’m at best a well-informed amateur. Of the previous seven comments, one is by someone whose understanding of history conflates events that took place a couple of millennia apart, three are content-free, one makes an empirically false assertion, one makes a (presumably frivolous) reference to a well-known crackpot, and one is written by a religious nutter. Let’s stick to the facts, please.

  15. Language Guy -  June 25, 2012 - 7:45 am




    It’s not that “European” numbers have their roots in India; it’s that Sanskrit, Greek, and Latin, as well as the Germanic and Slavic and Indo-Iranian languages, are all, in the words of Sir William Jones, “sprung from some common source” (i.e., they share the same ancestor).

  16. eighth . -  June 25, 2012 - 6:29 am


  17. See Elle Oh -  June 25, 2012 - 6:28 am

    The hypothesis could be correct, and not because the Phrygians “moved” to the region, but because the Indo-European language family includes Sanskrit, which is the mother language to most of the modern languages spoken in India and Pakistan (it is to Urdu, Hindi, etc. what Latin is to Italian, Spanish, etc. and Germanic is to English). Alexander the Great did not “bring” Indo-European languages to South Asia; they were already there.

    The Crusades, by the way, were probably far too late to have anything to do with this. We’re talking about linguistic roots that go back thousands of years.

  18. john -  June 25, 2012 - 5:33 am

    Most of the languages spoken in Pakistan come from Indo-European roots. It is a very mountainous country. It is not surprising that a language could be isolated for so long, as to seemingly bear no resemblence to the neighboring languages.

  19. Lama 2000 -  June 25, 2012 - 5:06 am

    !!That is pretyy cool! mAN i GOT TO CHECK IT ouT

  20. k.g.parthasarathy -  June 25, 2012 - 3:20 am

    I feel it is possible. To prove this an elaborate research which may take years, will have to undertaken

  21. ugvytykj -  June 25, 2012 - 1:00 am

    wow interesting article

  22. anonymous -  June 25, 2012 - 12:31 am

    @Nabarun Ghoshal:
    ‘Five’ in Sanskrit and in Hindi is not ‘pancha’; its ‘panch’. And also, ‘Indian’ isn’t a language; it’s a nationality!! Goodness! People don’t understand!! -.-

  23. Zack Paps -  June 24, 2012 - 9:31 pm

    @ GalacticPresident,
    The common background of all languages is the human brain! We understand the patterns in language unlike any other animal. That’s why we can’t make anything of cat meows or dog barks but we can still realize there is meaning when a person using a completely different language. Although we may not know the exact meanings of the words, we still recognize it as language and not gibberish.

  24. Socrates -  June 24, 2012 - 6:23 pm

    According to Quintus Curtius Rufus (Roman historian ca. 50AD), the Scythian (not Phrygian) king residing in the area of today’s Afghanistan met with and persuaded Alexander the Great in 329BC to spare his people and become friends with them, instead. The Scythian tribes ranged from the Black Sea through Afghanistan, Pakistan to the Middle Kingdom of India. Some historians even propose they were the Iro-Scottish and Anglo-Saxon ancestors. Their language was certainly consistent with the indo-european circle of languages (Sanskrit). So, no surprise to find “an Indo-European language hiding in rural Pakistan”.

  25. B Chen -  June 24, 2012 - 6:17 pm

    Over 3000 years ago ==> nothing to do with the Crusades

  26. Sonya -  June 24, 2012 - 5:52 pm

    So confusing,

  27. zweibarren -  June 24, 2012 - 5:50 pm

    “Naturally, the European numbers owe their roots to India.”

    We borrowed the symbols, not the names of the numerals.

  28. zweibarren -  June 24, 2012 - 5:34 pm

    I haven’t read Ilija Casule’s two very pricey publications yet, but have heard him giving some lexical examples on NPR. He cites ‘write’,'Ouranos’and’(eye)brow’ as having cognates in Burushaski. Terms for new technology and religion are frequently borrowed and he gives no inkling of how regular the correspondences of sounds in his list of 80 body parts is.

  29. Maurya -  June 24, 2012 - 4:10 pm

    This article is spot – on, concerning the ‘common linguistic ancestor’. If only these scientists looked to the Bible to find their answers, they could have been spared 20 years worth of research! Genesis chapter 11, verses 1 through 9 tell the account of the Tower of Babel and how God confused the language of the people. Those people all spoke the same language, and because of their arrogance and disobedience to God, He made it so they all spoke different languages. Only close families could understand each other. This forced each family to spread out over the face of the earth. Isn’t it amazing how science reaffirms what the Bible says to be true over and over and over! Praise God for His wisdom!

  30. Math Hater -  June 24, 2012 - 4:08 pm

    I find this article completely uninteresting…

  31. RedditROCKS -  June 24, 2012 - 1:11 pm

    :D Every morning I log on and scroll through Reddit /r/funny and always end up smiling. The stuff on the site is hilarious :3

    I know it’s odd that I’m spamming thesaurus dot com, but I just HAVE to spread the word of Reddit.

    You can enter a world of funny awesomeness….in exchange for your soul >:D

    *evil laughter*

  32. joy -  June 24, 2012 - 10:40 am

    does this have anything to do with the story of the tower of babel ?

  33. minimonk -  June 24, 2012 - 8:32 am

    THank you @Nabarun Ghoshal

  34. Eric Bowen -  June 24, 2012 - 7:50 am

    Given that MOST of Pakistan speaks Indo-European languages, it is not surprising that Burushaski belongs to that family. But regarding Phrygians: could they have descended from the Burushaski, instead of the other way around? I.e. could the path of migration have been from east to west, instead of west to east?

  35. Rustgold -  June 24, 2012 - 4:25 am

    Indian caste system anybody?

    And if anybody doesn’t know what I’m talking about, research its history.

  36. AHaemmig -  June 24, 2012 - 3:01 am

    I’m sorry, but this is a hoax. I’m an indo-europeanist and the Phrygian language is the topic of my PhD thesis, so I know the current state of research on it pretty well. There isn’t much to know: only a few hundred Phrygian inscriptions remain, most of which consist of only one personal name (and there’s much repetition). There are very few texts that consist of more than one word, and most of them are damaged so that the reading is not certain. The Phrygians mostly didn’t mark word boundaries, so that it is even difficult and often impossible to separe words. At present, we have almost no knowledge of the Phrygian language, we don’t know its words, even less their meanings, and we don’t know its grammar, either. Surely, there is a dozen of words or so which we do know, but in this situation it doesn’t make sense to claim that ANY language stems from Phrygian – this is not science, since for science, you need reliable data first. So please do me a favor and refuse being mislead by Casule’s claims. He has now produced a little media hype, that’s all. His “theory” is not new at all, and it has been disproved by several linguists with good arguments (most of which don’t even include Phrygian)! Yet he ignores all contrary evidence and goes on spreading his phantasy…
    The above article (based on Casule himself?) is furthermore simply wrong stating that the Phrygians moved away from Anatolia when their empire was defeated. The facts are that they remained in the same area as the subjects of other empires. This can be proven beyond any doubt by the archeological traces and the Phrygian inscriptions they left – the most recent ones date from the Roman empire period (3. century A. D.), i. e. almost 1000 years after the collapse of the Phrygian empire!
    There’s absolutely no archeological evidenve and no records in ancient texts of a migration of Phrygians to northern Pakistan. This would anyway be impossible, just try to imagine how a group, big enough to survive as a linguistic entity for 2000-3000 years, should have managed to move from Anatolia to northern Pakistan at that time (no electricity, no engines, no road maps…!) With your whole family and luggage, you hardly manage to move more than 20 kilometres a day, or 5 kilometres on difficult terrain. Between Anatolia and Pakistan there are several thousands of kilometers, consisting of deserts, very high mountains, and a lot of people who won’t be amused if you try to steal their food (which you will have to, since you will run out of food very quickly on your long journey). So if you’ve got a very big army consisting of elite soldiers, as Alexander the Great had, you’ve got a chance to reach northern Pakistan (while losing many of your soldiers, however). But if you’re a group of provisionarily armed peasants with their families, starving and tired, you can absolutely forget it!
    Ah, and there’s another startling mistake in what Casule “teaches”: Alexander the Great was not a Phrygian. Definitely not. So if the Burusho claim that they stem from him, this has nothing to do with the Phrygians. And this myth does not mean anything, it is a frequent phenomenon that people want to be descendants of great heroes of the past. For instance, the Romans claimed that they originate in ancient Troy, and that Aeneas, a hero and survivor of the Trojan war, made his way to Italy to found Alba Longa (an Etruscan city), from where the founders of Rome later originated. But that has nothing to do with reality…!

  37. princess-junaidi -  June 24, 2012 - 1:15 am

    I’m from Pakistan….. but I had never heard of such language before!
    well, it’s a interestingly helpful article…!

  38. nicole -  June 24, 2012 - 12:01 am

    i 100% believe in an ancient unified global language – this article referenced some of the unifying ideas – body parts. the finger, ie: number one, is a great place to start and has very similar origins in many of todays languages. ie; finger and the number one, are rooted in the same. I’m talking pre history, 10,000 years + ago. there’s some very interesting reference books on this. Genius of the Few is one.

  39. Laurence Bosma -  June 23, 2012 - 11:54 pm

    All languages point to Jerusalem, every language to the west writes left to right, every language to the east writes right to left. In english we have the alphabet, in hebrew it is the aleph bet, our a is their aleph our b is their bet, and so goes the whole comparison our m their mem etc. Linguists simply need to look to the bible and the tower of “Babel” (Babel means confusion as in english “quit babbling”). The bible tells us a donkey spoke to Balaam and a serpeant spoke to Eve, the book of Jubilees tells us that all the animals spoke before Eve ate the fig from the tree of good and evil and my research indicates that it was hebrew they spoke which is also the language of the angels by which letters God created the heavens and the earth and all that in them is. The very word “hebrew” has a pictographic meaning which says the purpose of the hebrew language is to “reveal the covenant- which is the cross of my son”.
    I would suggest your linguists study hebrew.

  40. Laura -  June 23, 2012 - 10:16 pm

    What’s with the need to be ‘first comment’?

  41. stalkergoaway -  June 23, 2012 - 7:35 pm

    nerd with the paragraph.

  42. jabin -  June 23, 2012 - 3:50 pm

    They didn’t named the region in which this language is spoken in Pakistan….

  43. Vanessa -  June 23, 2012 - 2:43 pm

    When is everyone going to get over the whole ‘first comment’ thing? Being first comment doesn’t make you special, and most of the time the people who think they’re first aren’t, so it’s kind of pointless.

  44. ZomgLolol!!!11!1!!oneone!! -  June 23, 2012 - 2:32 pm

    No no guys, I think I am first comment! Yippie!!!

  45. 2nd -  June 23, 2012 - 2:12 pm

    Wow! That hypothesis is crazy, but believable.

  46. JJRousseau -  June 23, 2012 - 1:14 pm

    Leever Ioccoca the Chrysler child. Woof.

  47. Buff -  June 23, 2012 - 1:09 pm

    You can all ignore Nabarun Ghoshal’s pseudo-scientific spiel about the etymologies and cognates of various numerals in language families since it’s mostly incorrect. As for Lily: this predates the Crusades.

  48. BURUSHASKI | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  June 23, 2012 - 11:05 am

    [...] ‘Burushaski’ sounds a Pole and So Can You.  — Or a ‘ShotnaBeer’in an old East Baltimore Bar. — Of course nothing we say is true. — But perception of who we think we are. — Is there funding — and Mayhap a car? — The Job Creator Inquisition. — The quest to be a linguistic germinator,   –  or one more Shining Star — Not some Middle Earth Terminator — But a request to get Back to the Garden — Before  should Oui wander too far. –L.T.Rhyme  “doodledee.” [...]

  49. Ole TBoy -  June 23, 2012 - 8:49 am

    “We are relieved of the mesmerism of this virtual world and know the truth.”
    Lovely concept from Nabarun Ghoshal. I had never thought of being “mesmerized” by this great, whirling action called life. Entrancing concept. Thanks for putting it up for contemplation.

  50. Cyberquill -  June 23, 2012 - 7:48 am

    Hiding in Pakistan? Let’s send in Special Forces and kill it.

  51. JimmyK1luv -  June 23, 2012 - 7:36 am

    European numbers do NOT owe their roots to India as Nabarun Ghoshal suggests above. The numbers of European languages are cognate with those of Sanskrit, etc., NOT derived from them. They are derived from Indo-European which was most likely spoken along the northern shores of the Black Sea about 6,000 years ago.

  52. LOL -  June 23, 2012 - 7:18 am

    2 people think they are 1st comment…

    This article is interesting!

  53. Diane -  June 23, 2012 - 5:54 am

    You’re not first comment. Get over it.

  54. Kwei -  June 23, 2012 - 5:53 am

    Yeah, what Nabarun said

  55. Midas -  June 22, 2012 - 9:33 pm

    I see it highly improbable to be related to Phrygian. First of all, from what I have previously seen by Casule about Burushaski being IE is not convincing. Phrygian seems to be very close to Greek. I doubt you would find similarities only to it and not notice similarities to Greek and other languages from the region. Generally, one should have a quick look on Burushaski and he/she will understand that you must really want it so bad to classify it as Indo-European. I cannot see the IE nature of the language, except of the loanwords from Aryan languages.

  56. roger -  June 22, 2012 - 8:22 pm

    what language is closely related to Tagalog or Filipino?

  57. Merry Andrew -  June 22, 2012 - 7:41 pm

    I dono’t quite understand why all the excitement. There are other Indo-European languages spoken on the Indian sub-continent. In fact, thet’s why they’re called INDO-European. So why on earth should it be surprising if there’s an Indo-European language still being spoken In Pakistan? Sanskrit is cognate with Latin, for Pete’s sake.

  58. parkinston -  June 22, 2012 - 6:49 pm

    two people think that they’re first comment, but they’re not
    people are off the subject
    interesting article, might add this to my “education note book” (169 pages)

  59. Nabarun Ghoshal -  June 22, 2012 - 6:25 pm

    The numerical system of the Aryan-Dravidian people is the basis of mathematics that later spread to Arabia and then to Europe. Naturally, the European numbers owe their roots to India. In Sanskrit, two is called Dwi, in Europe, it is Di. Three is Tri. Five is Pancha, In Europe, it has become Penta, Seven is Sapta, the Arabs spell ‘sa’ as ‘ha’, so it has become ‘Hepta’, and so on. In Trigonometry, Indian ‘Jya’ meaning the string of a bow, has become ‘Zine’ and then ‘Sine’ and now ‘sin’. Since the Aryans probably came from the Volga region, the Siberian language must have resemblance to ancient Indian language. Now, Since there is a very narrow gap between the north-east of Siberia and the north-west of Alaska, it is not surprising that the native American language will have some resemblance with this language. The Inca God “Veerakocha” is the supreme hero, and the word “Veera” means hero in Sanskrit. I do not know the meaning of “Maya” in American language, but in Indian culture, it is one of the most important words. It means the virtual world that God has created for us, and once we have the realisation of God, we are relieved of the mesmerism of this virtual world and know the truth.

  60. Gene Ray -  June 22, 2012 - 2:46 pm

    Ask Edo Nyland about Basque some time!

  61. GalacticPresidentSuperstarMcAwesomeville -  June 22, 2012 - 2:11 pm

    This hypothesis is totally :D SPOT-ON :D , ALL languages IMO share a common background and come from collective origins. Absolutely no language arose spontaneously and can be considered truly, 100% unique.

  62. RACHEL-ARIANNA ROCKS -  June 22, 2012 - 1:46 pm

    i think im first comment!!!!!

    Anyway, this article was pretty cool.

  63. Mackenzie -  June 22, 2012 - 1:44 pm

    This article is very interesting!

  64. Mackenzie -  June 22, 2012 - 1:43 pm

    Am I first comment????

  65. Lily -  June 22, 2012 - 10:46 am

    Hmm. I wonder if any of this also has to do with the Crusades?


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