Lingustic taxonomy--the process of tracing modern languages back to their ancient origins--is the source of much debate and research in modern linguistics. One of the most comprehensive taxonomies of the last century was proposed by linguists Kuhlen and Greenberg. They argued for the existence of exactly twelve base languages, also known as "proto-languages" or "phyla," from which all modern languages descended.

European Base Languages

The base languages that originated in Europe are Eurasian and Georgian. The Eurasian structure includes the Indo-European language, which later evolved into the Romance, Proto-Germanic and Proto-Slavic language families in different parts of Europe. The Georgian language structure is believed to have branched off of the Eurasian structure between 1100 and 1700 B.C.E.

African Base Languages

Ruhlen's language taxonomy divides the African continent into four base language structures: Afro-Asiatic, Nilo-Saharan, Niger-Congo and Khoisan. Afro-Asiatic is the base language for African languages spoken North of the Sahara. Milo-Saharan is the base language structure in the Nile River and Congo regions. The Niger-Congo language structure includes the Bantu languages. The Khoi-san family originated in the Kalahari desert in modern-day Tanzania and Namibia.

Base Languages of East Asia and Oceania

The East Asian base languages include Cauco-Sinitic, Hmong and Dravidian. The Cauco-Sinitic group originated in China and the surrounding region and includes all Sino-Tibetan and Caucasian dialects. The Hmong language structure split off around 2500 B.C.E. and includes the dialects of Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and surrounding islands). The Dravidian language structure comprises the languages spoken on the Indian subcontinent. Indonesia has its own base language, known as Indo-Pacific.

American Base Languages

The Native American base language structure is known as Amerind. The Amerind language structure is believed to have developed between 2400 and 2800 B.C.E. in Central and South America. Kuhlen's hypothesis that all native languages in this region share a common ancestor is somewhat controversial, as many linguists point out the striking differences between languages.