HOME

TheInfoList




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 account for observed change ...
of
historical linguistics Historical linguistics, also termed diachronic linguistics, is the scientific study of language change Language change is variation over time in a language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including s ...
, a proto-language is a postulated ancestral language from which a number of
attested languages In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of linguistic analysis include p ...
are believed to have descended by evolution, forming a
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 ...
. Proto-languages are usually unattested, or in some cases only partially attested. They are reconstructed by way 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 ...
. In the family tree metaphor, a proto-language can be called a mother language. Occasionally, the
German German(s) may refer to: Common uses * of or related to Germany * Germans, Germanic ethnic group, citizens of Germany or people of German ancestry * For citizens of Germany, see also German nationality law * German language The German la ...

German
term ''Ursprache'' (from ''Ur-'' "primordial, original", and ''Sprache'' "language", ) is used instead. It is also sometimes called the ''common'' or ''primitive'' form of a language (e.g.
Common Germanic Proto-Germanic (abbreviated PGmc; also called Common Germanic) is the reconstructed Reconstruction may refer to: Politics, history, and sociology *Reconstruction (law), the transfer of a company's (or several companies') business to a new ...
,
Primitive Norse Proto-Norse (also called Ancient Nordic, Ancient Scandinavian, Ancient Norse, Primitive Norse, Proto-Nordic, Proto-Scandinavian and Proto-North Germanic) was an Indo-European languages, Indo-European language spoken in Scandinavia that is thou ...
). In the strict sense, a proto-language is the most recent common ancestor of a language family, immediately before the family started to diverge into the attested ''daughter languages''. It is therefore equivalent with the ''ancestral language'' or ''parental language'' of a language family. Moreover, a group of languages (such as a
dialect cluster A dialect continuum or dialect chain is a series of language varieties spoken across some geographical area such that neighboring varieties are mutually intelligible In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of languag ...
) which are not considered separate languages (for whichever reasons) may also be described as descending from a unitary proto-language.


Definition and verification

Typically, the proto-language is not known directly. It is by definition a
linguistic reconstruction 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 uses irregularities in a single language t ...
formulated by applying 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 ...
to a group of languages featuring similar characteristics. The tree is a statement of similarity and a hypothesis that the similarity results from descent from a common language. The comparative method, a process of deduction, begins from a set of characteristics, or characters, found in the attested languages. If the entire set can be accounted for by descent from the proto-language, which must contain the proto-forms of them all, the tree, or phylogeny, is regarded as a complete explanation and by Occam's razor, is given credibility. More recently, such a tree has been termed "perfect" and the characters labelled "compatible". No trees but the smallest branches are ever found to be perfect, in part because languages also evolve through horizontal transfer with their neighbours. Typically, credibility is given to the hypotheses of highest compatibility. The differences in compatibility must be explained by various applications of the
wave 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 account for observed changes ...
. The level of completeness of the reconstruction achieved varies, depending on how complete the evidence is from the descendant languages and on the formulation of the characters by the linguists working on it. Not all characters are suitable for the comparative method. For example, lexical items that are loans from a different language do not reflect the phylogeny to be tested, and, if used, will detract from the compatibility. Getting the right dataset for the comparative method is a major task in historical linguistics. Some universally accepted proto-languages are
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-Uralic Proto-Uralic is the reconstructed language ancestral to the Uralic language family. The language was originally spoken in a small area in about 7000–2000 BCE (estimates vary), and expanded to give differentiated protolanguages. The location o ...
, and
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 ...
. In a few fortuitous instances, which have been used to verify the method and the model (and probably ultimately inspired it), a literary history exists from as early as a few millennia ago, allowing the descent to be traced in detail. The early daughter languages, and even the proto-language itself, may be attested in surviving texts. For example,
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roman Republic, it became ...

Latin
is the proto-language of the
Romance Romance (from Vulgar Latin , "in the Roman language", i.e., "Latin") may refer to: Common meanings * Romance (love) Romance or Romantic love is an emotional feeling of love for, or a strong attraction towards another person, and the Court ...

Romance
language family, which includes such modern languages as French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Catalan and Spanish. Likewise,
Proto-Norse Proto-Norse (also called Ancient Nordic, Ancient Scandinavian, Ancient Norse, Primitive Norse, Proto-Nordic, Proto-Scandinavian and Proto-North Germanic) was an Indo-European languages, Indo-European language spoken in Scandinavia that is tho ...
, the ancestor of the modern
Scandinavian languages The North Germanic languages make up one of the three branches of the Germanic languages—a sub-family of the Indo-European languages—along with the West Germanic languages and the extinct East Germanic languages. The language group is also re ...

Scandinavian languages
, is attested, albeit in fragmentary form, in the
Elder Futhark The Elder Futhark (or Fuþark), also known as the Older Futhark, Old Futhark, or Germanic Futhark is the oldest form of the runic alphabets Runes are the letters in a set of related alphabet An alphabet is a standardized set of basic ...
. Although there are no very early
Indo-AryanIndo-Aryan refers to: * Indo-Aryan languages ** Indo-Aryan superstrate in Mitanni or Mitanni-Aryan * Indo-Aryan peoples, the various peoples speaking these languages See also

*Aryan invasion theory (disambiguation) *Indo-Aryan tribes (disambigua ...
inscriptions, the Indo-Aryan languages of modern India all go back to
Vedic Sanskrit Vedic Sanskrit was an ancient language of the Indo-AryanIndo-Aryan refers to: * Indo-Aryan languages ** Indo-Aryan superstrate in Mitanni or Mitanni-Aryan * Indo-Aryan peoples, the various peoples speaking these languages See also *Aryan invasi ...
(or dialects very closely related to it), which has been preserved in texts accurately handed down by parallel oral and written traditions for many centuries. The first person to offer systematic reconstructions of an unattested proto-language was
August Schleicher August Schleicher (; 19 February 1821 – 6 December 1868) was a German linguist Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), ...

August Schleicher
; he did so for
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 ( ...
in 1861.


Proto-X vs. Pre-X

Normally, the term "Proto-X" refers to the last common ancestor of a group of languages, occasionally attested but most commonly reconstructed through 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 ...
, as with
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 ( ...
and
Proto-Germanic Proto-Germanic (abbreviated PGmc; also called Common Germanic) is the reconstructed Reconstruction may refer to: Politics, history, and sociology *Reconstruction (law), the transfer of a company's (or several companies') business to a new ...
. An earlier stage of a single language X, reconstructed through the method of
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 ...
, is termed "Pre-X", as in Pre–Old Japanese. It is also possible to apply internal reconstruction to a proto-language, obtaining a pre-proto-language, such as Pre-Proto-Indo-European. Both prefixes are sometimes used for an unattested stage of a language without reference to comparative or internal reconstruction. "Pre-X" is sometimes also used for a postulated
substratum In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of linguistic analysis include ...
, as in the
Pre-Indo-European languages The Pre-Indo-European languages are any of several ancient languages, not necessarily related to one another, that existed in Prehistoric Europe Prehistoric Europe is Europe with human presence but before the start of recorded history, beginning ...
believed to have been spoken in Europe and South Asia before the arrival there of Indo-European languages. When multiple historical stages of a single language exist, the oldest attested stage is normally termed "Old X" (e.g.
Old English Old English (, ), or Anglo-Saxon, is the earliest recorded form of the English language English is a West Germanic language of the Indo-European language family The Indo-European languages are a language family A language ...
and
Old Japanese is the oldest attested stage of the Japanese language, recorded in documents from the Nara period The of the history of Japan The first human inhabitants of the Japanese archipelago The Japanese archipelago (Japanese: 日本列島, ...
). In other cases, such as
Old Irish Old Irish (''Goídelc''; ga, Sean-Ghaeilge; gd, Seann Ghàidhlig; gv, Shenn Yernish or ; Old Irish: ᚌᚑᚔᚇᚓᚂᚉ), sometimes called Old Gaelic, is the oldest form of the Goidelic The Goidelic or Gaelic languages ( ga, teangacha ...
and
Old Norse Old Norse, Old Nordic, or Old Scandinavian is a stage of development of North Germanic dialects before their final divergence into separate Nordic languages. Old Norse was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia Scandinavia; : ''Skades ...
, the term refers to the language of the oldest known significant texts. Each of these languages has an older stage (
Primitive Irish Primitive Irish or Proto-Goidelic or Archaic Irish ( ga, Gaeilge Ársa) is the oldest known form of the Goidelic languages The Goidelic or Gaelic languages ( ga, teangacha Gaelacha; gd, cànanan Goidhealach; gv, çhengaghyn Gaelgagh) form ...
and
Proto-Norse Proto-Norse (also called Ancient Nordic, Ancient Scandinavian, Ancient Norse, Primitive Norse, Proto-Nordic, Proto-Scandinavian and Proto-North Germanic) was an Indo-European languages, Indo-European language spoken in Scandinavia that is tho ...
respectively) that is attested only fragmentarily.


Accuracy

There are no objective criteria for the evaluation of different reconstruction systems yielding different proto-languages. Many researchers concerned with linguistic reconstruction agree that the traditional
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 ...
is an "intuitive undertaking." The bias of the researchers regarding the accumulated implicit knowledge can also lead to erroneous assumptions and excessive generalization. offers several examples in where such general assumptions concerning "the nature of language" hindered research in historical linguistics. Linguists make personal judgements on how they consider "natural" for a language to change, and
"a result, our reconstructions tend to have a strong bias toward the average language type known to the investigator."
Such an investigator finds himself or herself blinkered by their own
linguistic frame of referenceLinguistic frame of reference is a frame of reference as it is expressed in a language. A frame of reference is a coordinate system used to identify the physical location of an object. In languages, different frames of reference can be used. They ar ...
. The advent of the
wave 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 account for observed changes ...
raised new issues in the domain of linguistic reconstruction, causing the reevaluation of old reconstruction systems and depriving the proto-language of its "uniform character." This is evident in
Karl Brugmann Karl Brugmann (16 March 1849 – 29 June 1919) was a Germany, German linguist. He is noted for his work in Indo-European linguistics. Biography He was educated at the universities of University of Halle, Halle and University of Leipzig, Leipzig. H ...

Karl Brugmann
's skepticism that the reconstruction systems could ever reflect a linguistic reality.
Ferdinand de Saussure Ferdinand de Saussure (; ; 26 November 1857 – 22 February 1913) was a Swiss Swiss may refer to: * the adjectival form of Switzerland ,german: Schweizer(in),french: Suisse(sse), it, svizzero/svizzera or , rm, Svizzer/Svizra , government_typ ...

Ferdinand de Saussure
would even express a more certain opinion, completely rejecting a positive specification of the sound values of reconstruction systems. In general, the issue of the nature of proto-language remains unresolved, with linguists generally taking either the ''realist'' or ''abstractionist'' position. Even the widely studied proto-languages, such as
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 ( ...
, have drawn criticism for being outliers typologically with respect to the reconstructed phonemic inventory. The alternatives such as
glottalic theoryThe glottalic theory is that Proto-Indo-European Proto-Indo-European (PIE) is the theorized common ancestor of the Indo-European language family. Its proposed features have been derived by linguistic reconstruction from documented Indo-European ...
, despite representing a typologically less rare system, have not gained wider acceptance, with some researchers even suggesting the use of indexes to represent the disputed series of plosives. On the other end of the spectrum, suggests that Proto-Indo-European reconstructions are just "a set of reconstructed formulae" and "not representative of any reality". In the same vein,
Julius Pokorny Julius Pokorny (12 June 1887 – 8 April 1970) was an Austrian-Czech linguist and scholar of the Celtic languages, particularly Irish, and a supporter of Irish nationalism. He held academic posts in Austrian and German universities. Early life an ...
in his study on
Indo-European The Indo-European languages are a language family native to western and southern Eurasia. It comprises most of the languages of Europe together with those of the northern Indian subcontinent and the Iranian Plateau. Some European languages of ...
, claims that the linguistic term ''IE parent language'' is merely an abstraction that does not exist in reality, and it should be understood as consisting of dialects possibly dating back to the
paleolithic era The Paleolithic or Palaeolithic or Palæolithic (), also called the Old Stone Age (from Greek palaios - old, lithos - stone), is a period in prehistory Prehistory, also known as pre-literary history, is the period of human history ...
, in which these very dialects formed the linguistic structure of the IE language group. In his view, Indo-European is solely a system of
isogloss An isogloss, also called a heterogloss (see Etymology Etymology ()The New Oxford Dictionary of English (1998) – p. 633 "Etymology /ˌɛtɪˈmɒlədʒi/ the study of the class in words and the way their meanings have changed throughout time ...
es which bound together dialects which were operationalized by various tribes, from which the historically attested Indo-European languages emerged. That Proto-languages remain unattested is evident. As Nicholas Kazanas puts it: :"The first fallacy is that the comparative method is “scientific” and can offer predictions." : ..br> :"Another fallacy is very subtle: it is the tacit assumption that the reconstructed forms are actual and experts in this imaginary field discuss and argue among themselves as if they are realities."Kazanas N. 2009 ''Indo-Aryan Origins''… N. Delhi, Aditya Prakashan. 2015 ''Vedic & Indo-European Studies'' N. Delhi, Aditya Prakashan.


See also

* List of proto-languages *
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 ...
*
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 ...
*
Japhetic theory In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of linguistic analysis include ...
*
Historical linguistics Historical linguistics, also termed diachronic linguistics, is the scientific study of language change Language change is variation over time in a language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including s ...
*
Origin of language The origin of language (spoken and signed, as well as language-related technological systems such as writing), its relationship with human evolution, and its consequences have been subjects of study for centuries. Scholars wishing to study the ...
* Proto-Human language *
Universal language Universal language may refer to a hypothetical or historical language spoken and understood by all or most of the world's population. In some contexts, it refers to a means of communication said to be understood by all humans. It may be the idea ...


Notes


References

* * * (revised text of a paper read at the Institute of general and applied linguistics, University of Copenhagen, on December 2, 1993) * * * * {{Authority control Historical linguistics