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Linguistic reconstruction is the practice of establishing the features of an unattested ancestor language of one or more given languages. There are two kinds of reconstruction: *
Internal reconstruction Internal reconstruction is a method of reconstructing an earlier state in a language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in relation with") is "an ap ...
uses irregularities in a single language to make inferences about an earlier stage of that language – that is, it is based on evidence from that language alone. *
Comparative reconstruction In linguistics, the comparative method is a technique for studying the development of languages by performing a feature-by-feature comparison of two or more languages with genetic relationship (linguistics), common descent from a shared ancestor ...
, usually referred to just as reconstruction, establishes features of the ancestor of two or more related languages, belonging to the same
language family A language family is a group of language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in relation with") is "an apparent answer to the painful divisions b ...
, by means of the
comparative method In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) and writing. Most langu ...
. A language reconstructed in this way is often referred to as a
proto-language In the tree model In historical linguistics Historical linguistics, also termed diachronic linguistics, is the scientific study of language change over time. Principal concerns of historical linguistics include: # to describe and accou ...
(the common ancestor of all the languages in a given family); examples include
Proto-Indo-European Proto-Indo-European (PIE) is the theorized common ancestor of the Indo-European language family The Indo-European languages are a language family A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech ( ...
,
Proto-Dravidian Proto-Dravidian is the linguistic reconstruction of the common ancestor of the Dravidian languages. It is thought to have differentiated into Proto-North Dravidian, Proto-Central Dravidian, and Proto-South Dravidian, although the date of diversi ...
. Texts discussing linguistic reconstruction commonly preface reconstructed forms with an
asterisk The asterisk , from Late Latin , from Ancient Greek , ''asteriskos'', "little star", is a Typography, typographical symbol. It is so called because it resembles a conventional image of a star (heraldry), star. Computer scientists and mathem ...

asterisk
(*) to distinguish them from attested forms. An attested word from which a
root In vascular plant Vascular plants (from Latin ''vasculum'': duct), also known as Tracheophyta (the tracheophytes , from Greek τραχεῖα ἀρτηρία ''trācheia artēria'' 'windpipe' + φυτά ''phutá'' 'plants'), form a large group ...
in the proto-language is reconstructed is a reflex. More generally, a reflex is the known derivative of an earlier form, which may be either attested or reconstructed. Reflexes of the same source are
cognate In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) and writing. Most langu ...
s.


Methods

First, languages that are thought to have arisen from a common proto-language must meet certain criteria in order to be grouped together; this is a process called subgrouping. Since this grouping is based purely on linguistics, manuscripts and other historical documentation should be analyzed to accomplish this step. However, the assumption that the delineations of linguistics always align with those of culture and ethnicity must not be made. One of the criteria is that the grouped languages usually exemplify shared innovation. This means that the languages must show common changes made throughout history. In addition, most grouped languages have shared retention. This is similar to the first criterion, but instead of changes, they are features that have stayed the same in both languages. Because linguistics, as in other scientific areas, seeks to reflect simplicity, an important principle in the linguistic reconstruction process is to generate the least possible number of phonemes that correspond to available data. This principle is again reflected when choosing the sound quality of phonemes, as the one which results in the fewest changes (with respect to the data) is preferred. Comparative Reconstruction makes use of two rather general principles: The Majority Principle and the Most Natural Development Principle. The Majority Principle is the observation that if a
cognate In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) and writing. Most langu ...
set displays a certain pattern (such as a repeating letter in specific positions within a word), it is likely that this pattern was retained from its mother language. The Most Natural Development Principle states that some alterations in languages, diachronically speaking, are more common than others. There are four key tendencies: 1. The final vowel in a word may be omitted. 2. Voiceless sounds, often between vowels, become voiced. 3. Phonetic stops become
fricatives Fricatives are consonants manner of articulation, produced by forcing air through a narrow channel made by placing two Place of articulation, articulators close together. These may be the lower lip against the upper teeth, in the case of ; the bac ...
. 4. Consonants become voiceless at the end of words.


Sound Construction

The Majority Principle is applied in identifying the most likely pronunciation of the predicted etymon (the original word from which the cognates originated). Since the Most Natural Development Principle describes the general directions in which languages appear to change, one can seek these indicators out. For example, from the word ‘cantar’ (Spanish) and ‘chanter’ (French) one can argue that, because phonetic stops generally become fricatives, the cognate with the stop is older than the cognate with the fricative the former is most likely to more closely resemble the original pronunciation.


References


Sources

* Anthony Fox,
Linguistic Reconstruction: An Introduction to Theory and Method
' (Oxford University Press, 1995) . * George Yule, ''The Study of Language (7th Ed.)'' (Cambridge University Press, 2019) . * Henry M. Hoenigswald, ''Language Change and Linguistic Reconstruction'' (University of Chicago Press, 1960) . {{Authority control Historical linguistics Reconstructed languages