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The work was funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. A family tree of Indo-European languages suggests they began to spread and split about 9,000 years ago.
The finding hints that farmers in what is now Turkey drove the language boom - and not later Siberian horsemen, as some linguists reckon.
Words are better understood than grammar as a guide to language history; the same sentence structure can arise independently in different tongues.
The resulting tree matches many existing ideas about language development.
So suggests new research that tracked changes in two genes thought to help regulate brain growth, changes that appeared well after the rise of modern humans 200,000 years ago.
That the defining feature of humans — our large brains — continued to evolve as recently as 5,800 years ago, and may be doing so today, promises to surprise the average person, if not biologists.
"No matter how we [changed] the analysis or assumptions, we couldn't get a date of around 6,000 years," says Gray.
"There's just no correlation," said Duke's Wray, calling education and other environmental factors more important for intelligence than DNA anyway. The information contained in the AP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.Around this time, farming techniques began to spread out of Anatolia - now Turkey - across Europe and Asia, archaeological evidence shows.The farmers themselves may have moved, or natives may have adopted words along with agricultural technology.That the genetic changes have anything to do with brain size or intelligence "is totally unproven and potentially dangerous territory to get into with such sketchy data," stressed Dr.Francis Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute.
"We, including scientists, have considered ourselves as sort of the pinnacle of evolution," noted lead researcher Bruce Lahn, a University of Chicago geneticist whose studies appear in Friday's edition of the journal Science.