Domestication of the horse
Nordic Bronze Age
Painted Grey Ware
Northern Black Polished Ware
Peoples and societies
Religion and mythology
Copenhagen Studies in Indo-European
Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture
The Horse, the Wheel and Language
Journal of Indo-European Studies
Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch
Indo-European Etymological Dictionary
Indo-European languages are a language family of several hundred
related languages and dialects.
There are about 445 living Indo-European languages, according to the
estimate by Ethnologue, with over two thirds (313) of them belonging
to the Indo-Iranian branch. The most widely spoken Indo-European
languages by native speakers are Spanish, English, Hindustani
(Hindi-Urdu), Portuguese, Bengali, Punjabi, and Russian, each with
over 100 million speakers, with German, French, Marathi, Italian, and
Persian also having significant numbers. Today, about 46% of the human
population speaks an Indo-European language as a first language, by
far the highest of any language family.
The Indo-European family includes most of the modern languages of
Europe; exceptions include Hungarian, Finnish, Estonian, several minor
Uralic languages, Turkish (a Turkic language), Basque (a language
isolate), and Maltese (a Semitic language). The Indo-European family
is also represented in
Asia with the exception of East and Southeast
Asia. It was predominant in ancient
Anatolia (present-day Turkey), the
Tarim Basin (present-day Northwest China) and most of Central
Asia until the medieval Turkic and Mongol invasions. With written
evidence appearing since the
Bronze Age in the form of the Anatolian
languages and Mycenaean Greek, the Indo-European family is significant
to the field of historical linguistics as possessing the
second-longest recorded history, after the Afroasiatic family,
although certain language isolates, such as Sumerian, Elamite,
Hurrian, Hattian, and Kassite are recorded earlier.
Indo-European languages are descendants of a single prehistoric
language, reconstructed as Proto-Indo-European, spoken sometime in the
Neolithic era. Although no written records remain, aspects of the
culture and religion of the
Proto-Indo-European people can also be
reconstructed from the related cultures of ancient and modern
Indo-European speakers who continue to live in areas to where the
Proto-Indo-Europeans migrated from their original homeland.[citation
needed] Several disputed proposals link Indo-European to other major
1 History of Indo-European linguistics
2.2 Tree versus wave model
2.3 Proposed subgroupings
Satem and centum languages
2.5 Suggested macrofamilies
3.3 Important languages for reconstruction
3.4 Sound changes
3.5 Comparison of conjugations
4 Comparison of cognates
5 Present distribution
6 See also
9 Further reading
10 External links
History of Indo-European linguistics
Main article: Indo-European studies
Although ancient Greek and Roman grammarians noticed similarities
between their languages, as well as with surrounding Celtic and
Germanic speakers, the sheer ubiquity of Indo-European languages
around them led them to the assumption that all human languages were
related. This assumption would continue among many
grammarians into the early 19th century, the grammatical similarities
Indo-European languages sometimes being seen as evidence of the
Tower of Babel
Tower of Babel until the establishment of the study of Indo-European
linguistics proper and the study of non-Indo-European language
families.[not in citation given][non-primary source needed]
In the 16th century, European visitors to the Indian subcontinent
began to notice similarities among Indo-Aryan, Iranian, and European
languages. In 1583, English
Jesuit missionary and
Thomas Stephens wrote a letter from
Goa to his brother (not published
until the 20th century) in which he noted similarities between
Indian languages and Greek and Latin.
Another account was made by Filippo Sassetti, a merchant born in
Florence in 1540, who travelled to the Indian subcontinent. Writing in
1585, he noted some word similarities between
Sanskrit and Italian
(these included devaḥ/dio "God", sarpaḥ/serpe "serpent",
sapta/sette "seven", aṣṭa/otto "eight", and nava/nove "nine").
However, neither Stephens' nor Sassetti's observations led to further
In 1647, Dutch linguist and scholar
Marcus Zuerius van Boxhorn
Marcus Zuerius van Boxhorn noted
the similarity among certain Asian and European languages and
theorized that they were derived from a primitive common language
which he called Scythian. He included in his
hypothesis Dutch, Albanian, Greek, Latin, Persian, and German, later
adding Slavic, Celtic, and Baltic languages. However, Van Boxhorn's
suggestions did not become widely known and did not stimulate further
Franz Bopp, pioneer in the field of comparative linguistic studies.
Ottoman Turkish traveler
Evliya Çelebi visited Vienna in 1665–1666
as part of a diplomatic mission and noted a few similarities between
words in German and in Persian. Gaston Coeurdoux and others made
observations of the same type. Coeurdoux made a thorough comparison of
Latin and Greek conjugations in the late 1760s to suggest a
relationship among them. Meanwhile,
Mikhail Lomonosov compared
different language groups, including Slavic, Baltic ("Kurlandic"),
Iranian ("Medic"), Finnish, Chinese, "Hottentot", and others, noting
that related languages (including Latin, Greek, German and Russian)
must have separated in antiquity from common ancestors.
The hypothesis reappeared in 1786 when Sir William Jones first
lectured on the striking similarities among three of the oldest
languages known in his time: Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit, to which he
tentatively added Gothic, Celtic, and Persian, though his
classification contained some inaccuracies and omissions.
Thomas Young first used the term Indo-European in 1813, deriving from
the geographical extremes of the language family: from Western Europe
to North India. A synonym is Indo-Germanic (Idg. or IdG.),
specifying the family's southeasternmost and northwesternmost
branches. This first appeared in French (indo-germanique) in 1810 in
the work of Conrad Malte-Brun; in most languages this term is now
dated or less common than Indo-European, although in German
indogermanisch remains the standard scientific term. A number of other
synonymous terms have also been used.
Franz Bopp wrote in 1816 On the conjugational system of the Sanskrit
language compared with that of Greek, Latin, Persian and Germanic
and between 1833 and 1852 he wrote Comparative Grammar. This marks the
Indo-European studies as an academic discipline. The
classical phase of Indo-European comparative linguistics leads from
this work to August Schleicher's 1861 Compendium and up to Karl
Brugmann's Grundriss, published in the 1880s. Brugmann's neogrammarian
reevaluation of the field and Ferdinand de Saussure's development of
the laryngeal theory may be considered[by whom?] the beginning of
"modern" Indo-European studies. The generation of Indo-Europeanists
active in the last third of the 20th century (such as Calvert Watkins,
Jochem Schindler, and Helmut Rix) developed a better understanding of
morphology and of ablaut in the wake of Kuryłowicz's 1956 Apophony in
Indo-European, who in 1927 pointed out the existence of the Hittite
consonant ḫ. Kuryłowicz's discovery supported Ferdinand de
Saussure's 1879 proposal of the existence of coefficients sonantiques,
elements de Saussure reconstructed to account for vowel length
alternations in Indo-European languages. This led to the so-called
laryngeal theory, a major step forward in Indo-European linguistics
and a confirmation of de Saussure's theory.
Indo-European migrations and List of languages by first
The various subgroups of the Indo-European language family include ten
major branches, listed below in alphabetical order
Albanian, attested from the 13th century AD; Proto-Albanian has
evolved from an ancient Paleo-Balkan language, traditionally thought
to be Illyrian, however, the evidence supporting this is still
Anatolian, extinct by Late Antiquity, spoken in
Asia Minor, attested
in isolated terms in Luwian/Hittite mentioned in Semitic Old Assyrian
texts from the 20th and 19th centuries BC,
Hittite texts from about
Armenian, attested from the early 5th century AD.
Balto-Slavic, believed by most Indo-Europeanists to form a
phylogenetic unit, while a minority ascribes similarities to prolonged
Slavic (from Proto-Slavic), attested from the 9th century AD (possibly
earlier), earliest texts in Old Church Slavonic. Slavic languages
include Bulgarian, Russian, Polish, Czech, Slovak, Montenegrin,
Macedonian, Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian, Slovenian, Ukrainian,
Belarusian, and Rusyn.
Baltic, attested from the 14th century AD; for languages first
attested that recently, they retain unusually many archaic features
attributed to Proto-Indo-European (PIE). Living examples are
Lithuanian and Latvian.
Celtic (from Proto-Celtic), attested since the 6th century BC;
Lepontic inscriptions date as early as the 6th century BC; Celtiberian
from the 2nd century BC;
Primitive Irish Ogham inscriptions from the
4th or 5th century AD, earliest inscriptions in
Old Welsh from the 7th
century AD. Modern
Celtic languages include Welsh, Cornish, Breton,
Irish Gaelic and Manx.
Germanic (from Proto-Germanic), earliest attestations in runic
inscriptions from around the 2nd century AD, earliest coherent texts
in Gothic, 4th century AD.
Old English manuscript tradition from about
the 8th century AD. Includes English, Frisian, German, Dutch, Danish,
Swedish, Norwegian, Afrikaans, Yiddish, Low German, Icelandic and
Hellenic and Greek (from Proto-Greek, see also History of Greek);
fragmentary records in
Mycenaean Greek from between 1450 and 1350 BC
have been found. Homeric texts date to the 8th century BC.
Indo-Iranian, attested circa 1400 BC, descended from
Proto-Indo-Iranian (dated to the late 3rd millennium BC).
Indo-Aryan (including Dardic), attested from around 1400 BC in Hittite
Asia Minor, showing traces of Indo-Aryan words.
Epigraphically from the 3rd century BC in the form of
of Ashoka). The
Rigveda is assumed to preserve intact records via oral
tradition dating from about the mid-second millennium BC in the form
of Vedic Sanskrit. Includes a wide range of modern languages from
Bangladesh including Hindustani, Bengali,
Assamese, Punjabi, Kashmiri, Gujarati, Marathi, Odia and Nepali as
well as Sinhalese of Sri Lanka.
Iranian or Iranic, attested from roughly 1000 BC in the form of
Avestan. Epigraphically from 520 BC in the form of Old Persian
(Behistun inscription). Includes Persian, Ossetian and Kurdish
Italic (from Proto-Italic), attested from the 7th century BC. Includes
the ancient Osco-
Umbrian languages, Faliscan, as well as
Latin and its
descendants (the Romance languages).
Tocharian, with proposed links to the
Afanasevo culture of Southern
Siberia. Extant in two dialects (Turfanian and Kuchean, or
Tocharian A and B), attested from roughly the 6th to the 9th century
AD. Marginalized by the
Uyghur Khaganate and probably
extinct by the 10th century.
In addition to the classical ten branches listed above, several
extinct and little-known languages and language-groups have existed:
Illyrian: possibly related to Albanian, Messapian, or both
Venetic: shares several similarities with
Latin and the Italic
languages, but also has some affinities with other IE languages,
especially Germanic and Celtic.
Liburnian: doubtful affiliation, features shared with Venetic,
Illyrian, and Indo-Hittite, significant transition of the
Messapian: not conclusively deciphered
Phrygian: language of the ancient Phrygians
Paionian: extinct language once spoken north of Macedon
Thracian: possibly including Dacian
Dacian: possibly very close to Thracian
Ancient Macedonian: proposed relationship to Greek.
Ligurian – possibly close to or part of Celtic.
Sicel: an ancient language spoken by the Sicels (Greek Sikeloi, Latin
Siculi), one of the three indigenous (i.e. pre-Greek and pre-Punic)
tribes of Sicily. Proposed relationship to
Latin or proto-Illyrian
(Pre-Indo-European) at an earlier stage.
Lusitanian: possibly related to (or part of) Celtic, Ligurian, or
Cimmerian: possibly Iranic, Thracian, or Celtic
Further information: Language families
Indo-European family tree in order of first attestation
Membership of languages in the Indo-European language family is
determined by genealogical relationships, meaning that all members are
presumed descendants of a common ancestor, Proto-Indo-European.
Membership in the various branches, groups and subgroups of
Indo-European is also genealogical, but here the defining factors are
shared innovations among various languages, suggesting a common
ancestor that split off from other Indo-European groups. For example,
what makes the
Germanic languages a branch of Indo-European is that
much of their structure and phonology can be stated in rules that
apply to all of them. Many of their common features are presumed
innovations that took place in Proto-Germanic, the source of all the
Tree versus wave model
See also: Language change
The "tree model" is considered an appropriate representation of the
genealogical history of a language family if communities do not remain
in contact after their languages have started to diverge. In this
case, subgroups defined by shared innovations form a nested pattern.
The tree model is not appropriate in cases where languages remain in
contact as they diversify; in such cases subgroups may overlap, and
the "wave model" is a more accurate representation. Most
approaches to Indo-European subgrouping to date have assumed that the
tree model is by-and-large valid for Indo-European; however, there
is also a long tradition of wave-model approaches.
In addition to genealogical changes, many of the early changes in
Indo-European languages can be attributed to language contact. It has
been asserted, for example, that many of the more striking features
Italic languages (Latin, Oscan, Umbrian, etc.) might well be
areal features. More certainly, very similar-looking alterations in
the systems of long vowels in the West
Germanic languages greatly
postdate any possible notion of a proto-language innovation (and
cannot readily be regarded as "areal", either, because English and
continental West Germanic were not a linguistic area). In a similar
vein, there are many similar innovations in Germanic and Balto-Slavic
that are far more likely areal features than traceable to a common
proto-language, such as the uniform development of a high vowel (*u in
the case of Germanic, *i/u in the case of Baltic and Slavic) before
the PIE syllabic resonants *ṛ,* ḷ, *ṃ, *ṇ, unique to these two
groups among IE languages, which is in agreement with the wave model.
Balkan sprachbund even features areal convergence among members of
very different branches.
Using an extension to the Ringe-Warnow model of language evolution,
early IE was confirmed to have featured limited contact between
distinct lineages, whereas only the Germanic subfamily exhibited a
less treelike behaviour as it acquired some characteristics from
neighbours early in its evolution rather than from its direct
ancestors. The internal diversification of especially West Germanic is
cited to have been radically non-treelike.
Specialists have postulated the existence of higher-order subgroups
such as Italo-Celtic, Graeco-Armenian,
Graeco-Armeno-Aryan, and Balto-Slavo-Germanic. However, unlike the ten
traditional branches, these are all controversial to a greater or
Italo-Celtic subgroup was at one point uncontroversial, considered
Antoine Meillet to be even better established than
Balto-Slavic. The main lines of evidence included the genitive
suffix -ī; the superlative suffix -m̥mo; the change of /p/ to /kʷ/
before another /kʷ/ in the same word (as in penkʷe > *kʷenkʷe
Old Irish cóic); and the subjunctive morpheme
-ā-. This evidence was prominently challenged by Calvert
Watkins; while Michael Weiss has argued for the subgroup.
Evidence for a relationship between Greek and Armenian includes the
regular change of the second laryngeal to a at the beginnings of
words, as well as terms for "woman" and "sheep". Greek and
Indo-Iranian share innovations mainly in verbal morphology and
patterns of nominal derivation. Relations have also been proposed
between Phrygian and Greek, and between Thracian and
Armenian. Some fundamental shared features, like the aorist (a
verb form denoting action without reference to duration or completion)
having the perfect active particle -s fixed to the stem, link this
group closer to Anatolian languages and Tocharian. Shared features
with Balto-Slavic languages, on the other hand (especially present and
preterit formations), might be due to later contacts.
Indo-Hittite hypothesis proposes that the Indo-European language
family consists of two main branches: one represented by the Anatolian
languages and another branch encompassing all other Indo-European
languages. Features that separate Anatolian from all other branches of
Indo-European (such as the gender or the verb system) have been
interpreted alternately as archaic debris or as innovations due to
prolonged isolation. Points proffered in favour of the Indo-Hittite
hypothesis are the (non-universal) Indo-European agricultural
terminology in Anatolia and the preservation of laryngeals.
However, in general this hypothesis is considered to attribute too
much weight to the Anatolian evidence. According to another view, the
Anatolian subgroup left the Indo-European parent language
comparatively late, approximately at the same time as Indo-Iranian and
later than the Greek or Armenian divisions. A third view, especially
prevalent in the so-called French school of Indo-European studies,
holds that extant similarities in non-satem languages in
general—including Anatolian—might be due to their peripheral
location in the Indo-European language-area and to early separation,
rather than indicating a special ancestral relationship. Hans J.
Holm, based on lexical calculations, arrives at a picture roughly
replicating the general scholarly opinion and refuting the
Satem and centum languages
Some significant isoglosses in Indo-European daughter languages at
around 500 BC.
Blue: centum languages
Red: satem languages
Orange: languages with augment
Green: languages with PIE *-tt- > -ss-
Tan: languages with PIE *-tt- > -st-
Pink: languages with instrumental, dative and ablative
plural endings (and some others) in *-m- rather than *-bh-
Centum and satem languages
The division of the
Indo-European languages into satem and centum
groups was put forward by Peter von Bradke in 1890, although Karl
Brugmann had proposed a similar type of division in 1886. In the satem
languages, which include the Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian branches,
as well as (in most respects) Albanian and Armenian, the reconstructed
Proto-Indo-European palatovelars remained distinct and were
fricativized, while the labiovelars merged with the "plain velars". In
the centum languages, the palatovelars merged with the plain velars,
while the labiovelars remained distinct. The results of these
alternative developments are exemplified by the words for "hundred" in
Avestan (satem) and
Latin (centum)—the initial palatovelar developed
into a fricative [s] in the former, but became an ordinary velar [k]
in the latter.
Rather than being a genealogical separation, the centum–satem
division is commonly seen as resulting from innovative changes that
spread across PIE dialect-branches over a particular geographical
area; the centum–satem isogloss intersects a number of other
isoglosses that mark distinctions between features in the early IE
branches. It may be that the centum branches in fact reflect the
original state of affairs in PIE, and only the satem branches shared a
set of innovations, which affected all but the peripheral areas of the
PIE dialect continuum. Kortlandt proposes that the ancestors of
Slavs took part in satemization before being drawn later
into the western Indo-European sphere.
See also: Origin of language
Some linguists propose that
Indo-European languages form part of one
of several hypothetical macrofamilies. However, these theories remain
highly controversial, not being accepted by most linguists in the
field. Some of the smaller proposed macrofamilies include:
Pontic, postulated by John Colarusso, which joins Indo-European with
Indo-Uralic, joining Indo-European with Uralic
Other, greater proposed families including Indo-European languages,
Eurasiatic, a theory championed by Joseph Greenberg
Nostratic, comprising all or some of the Eurasiatic languages, as well
as the Kartvelian, Uralic, Dravidian (or even the Elamo-Dravidian
macrofamily), Altaic, and Afroasiatic language families
Objections to such groupings are not based on any theoretical claim
about the likely historical existence or non-existence of such
macrofamilies; it is entirely reasonable to suppose that they might
have existed. The serious difficulty lies in identifying the details
of actual relationships between language families, because it is very
hard to find concrete evidence that transcends chance resemblance, or
is not equally likely explained as being due to borrowing (including
Wanderwörter, which can travel very long distances). Because the
signal-to-noise ratio in historical linguistics declines steadily over
time, at great enough time-depths it becomes open to reasonable doubt
that one can even distinguish between signal and noise.
Main article: Proto-Indo-European language
Indo-European migrations from ca. 4000 to 1000 BC according
Proto-Indo-European language (PIE) is the hypothetical
common ancestor of the Indo-European languages, spoken by the
Proto-Indo-Europeans. From the 1960s, knowledge of Anatolian became
certain enough to establish its relationship to PIE. Using the method
of internal reconstruction an earlier stage, called
Pre-Proto-Indo-European, has been proposed.
PIE was an inflected language, in which the grammatical relationships
between words were signaled through inflectional morphemes (usually
endings). The roots of PIE are basic morphemes carrying a lexical
meaning. By addition of suffixes, they form stems, and by addition of
endings, these form grammatically inflected words (nouns or verbs).
Indo-European verb system is complex and, like the
noun, exhibits a system of ablaut.
See also: Indo-European migrations
Expansion of Indo-European languages
IE languages c. 4000 BC
IE languages c. 3000 BC
IE languages c. 2000 BC
IE languages c. 500 BC
Indo-European languages (alternative view)
IE languages c. 3500 BC
IE languages c. 2500 BC
IE languages c. 1500 BC
IE languages c. 500 AD
The diversification of the parent language into the attested branches
of daughter languages is historically unattested. The timeline of the
evolution of the various daughter languages, on the other hand, is
mostly undisputed, quite regardless of the question of Indo-European
Using a mathematical analysis borrowed from evolutionary biology, Don
Tandy Warnow propose the following evolutionary tree of
Pre-Anatolian (before 3500 BC)
Pre-Italic and Pre-Celtic (before 2500 BC)
Pre-Armenian and Pre-Greek (after 2500 BC)
Proto-Indo-Iranian (2000 BC)
Pre-Germanic and Pre-Balto-Slavic; proto-Germanic c. 500 BC
David Anthony proposes the following sequence:
Pre-Anatolian (4200 BC)
Pre-Tocharian (3700 BC)
Pre-Germanic (3300 BC)
Pre-Italic and Pre-Celtic (3000 BC)
Pre-Armenian (2800 BC)
Pre-Balto-Slavic (2800 BC)
Pre-Greek (2500 BC)
Proto-Indo-Iranian (2200 BC); split between Iranian and Old Indic 1800
From 1500 BC the following sequence may be given:
1500 BC–1000 BC: The Nordic
Bronze Age develops pre-Proto-Germanic,
and the (pre)-
Urnfield and Hallstatt cultures emerge in
Central Europe, introducing the Iron Age. Migration of the
Proto-Italic speakers into the Italian peninsula (Bagnolo stele).
Redaction of the
Rigveda and rise of the
Vedic civilization in the
Mycenaean civilization gives way to the Greek Dark Ages.
Hittite goes extinct.
1000 BC–500 BC: The
Celtic languages spread over Central and Western
Baltic languages are spoken in a huge area from present-day
Poland to the Ural Mountains. Proto Germanic.
Homer and the
beginning of Classical Antiquity. The Vedic Civilization gives way to
Siddhartha Gautama preaches Buddhism. Zoroaster
composes the Gathas, rise of the Achaemenid Empire, replacing the
Elamites and Babylonia. Separation of
Proto-Italic into Osco-Umbrian
and Latin-Faliscan. Genesis of the Greek and Old Italic alphabets. A
Paleo-Balkan languages are spoken in Southern Europe.
500 BC–1 BC/AD: Classical Antiquity: spread of Greek and Latin
throughout the Mediterranean and, during the Hellenistic period
(Indo-Greeks), to Central
Asia and the Hindukush. Kushan Empire,
Mauryan Empire. Proto-Germanic.
1 BC/ AD 500: Late Antiquity, Gupta period; attestation of Armenian.
Roman Empire and then the Migration period
Celtic languages to the British Isles. Sogdian, an
Eastern Iranian language, becomes the lingua franca of the Silk Road
Asia leading to China, due to the proliferation of Sogdian
merchants there. The last of the
Anatolian languages are extinct.
500–1000: Early Middle Ages. The
Viking Age forms an
Old Norse koine
spanning Scandinavia, the British Isles and Iceland. The Islamic
conquest and the
Turkic expansion results in the
Turkification of significant areas where
Indo-European languages were
spoken. Tocharian is extinct in the course of the Turkic expansion
while Northeastern Iranian (Scytho-Sarmatian) is reduced to small
Slavic languages spread over wide areas in central, eastern
and southeastern Europe, largely replacing Romance in the Balkans
(with the exception of Romanian) and whatever was left of the
paleo-Balkan languages with the exception of Albanian.
1000–1500: Late Middle Ages: Attestation of Albanian and Baltic.
1500–2000: Early Modern period to present:
Colonialism results in
the spread of
Indo-European languages to every continent, most notably
Romance (North, Central and South America, North and Sub-Saharan
Africa, West Asia), West Germanic (English in North America,
Sub-Saharan Africa, East
Asia and Australia; to a lesser extent Dutch
and German), and Russian to Central
Asia and North Asia.
Important languages for reconstruction
In reconstructing the history of the
Indo-European languages and the
form of the Proto-Indo-European language, some languages have been of
particular importance. These generally include the ancient
Indo-European languages that are both well-attested and documented at
an early date, although some languages from later periods are
important if they are particularly linguistically conservative (most
notably, Lithuanian). Early poetry is of special significance because
of the rigid poetic meter normally employed, which makes it possible
to reconstruct a number of features (e.g. vowel length) that were
either unwritten or corrupted in the process of transmission down to
the earliest extant written manuscripts.
Most noticeable of all:
Sanskrit (c. 1500 – 500 BC). This language is unique in that
its source documents were all composed orally, and were passed down
through oral tradition (shakha schools) for c. 2,000 years before ever
being written down. The oldest documents are all in poetic form;
oldest and most important of all is the
Rig Veda (c. 1500 BC).
Mycenaean Greek (c. 1450 BC) and
Ancient Greek (c. 750 – 400
Mycenaean Greek is the oldest recorded form, but its value is
lessened by the limited material, restricted subject matter, and
highly ambiguous writing system. More important is Ancient Greek,
documented extensively beginning with the two
Homeric poems (the Iliad
and the Odyssey, c. 750 BC).
Hittite (c. 1700 – 1200 BC). This is the earliest-recorded of all
Indo-European languages, and highly divergent from the others due to
the early separation of the
Anatolian languages from the remainder. It
possesses some highly archaic features found only fragmentarily, if at
all, in other languages. At the same time, however, it appears to have
undergone a large number of early phonological and grammatical changes
which, combined with the ambiguities of its writing system, hinder its
Other primary sources:
Latin, attested in a huge amount of poetic and prose material in the
Classical period (c. 200 BC – 100 AD) and limited older material
from as early as c. 600 BC.
Gothic (the most archaic well-documented Germanic language, c. 350
AD), along with the combined witness of the other old Germanic
languages: most importantly,
Old English (c. 800 – 1000 AD), Old
High German (c. 750 – 1000 AD) and
Old Norse (c. 1100 – 1300 AD,
with limited earlier sources dating all the way back to c. 200 AD).
Old Avestan (c. 1700 – 1200 BC) and Younger Avestan (c. 900 BC).
Documentation is sparse, but nonetheless quite important due to its
highly archaic nature.
Modern Lithuanian, with limited records in
Old Lithuanian (c. 1500 –
Old Church Slavonic
Old Church Slavonic (c. 900 – 1000 AD).
Other secondary sources, of lesser value due to poor attestation:
Luwian, Lycian, Lydian and other
Anatolian languages (c. 1400 – 400
Umbrian and other Old
Italic languages (c. 600 – 200 BC).
Old Persian (c. 500 BC).
Old Prussian (c. 1350 – 1600 AD); even more archaic than Lithuanian.
Other secondary sources, of lesser value due to
extensive phonological changes and relatively limited attestation:
Old Irish (c. 700 – 850 AD).
Tocharian (c. 500 – 800 AD), underwent large phonetic shifts and
mergers in the proto-language, and has an almost entirely reworked
Classical Armenian (c. 400 – 1100 AD).
Albanian (c. 1450 – current time).
Main article: Indo-European sound laws
As the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) language broke up, its sound system
diverged as well, changing according to various sound laws evidenced
in the daughter languages.
PIE is normally reconstructed with a complex system of 15 stop
consonants, including an unusual three-way phonation (voicing)
distinction between voiceless, voiced and "voiced aspirated" (i.e.
breathy voiced) stops, and a three-way distinction among velar
consonants (k-type sounds) between "palatal" ḱ ǵ ǵh, "plain velar"
k g gh and labiovelar kʷ gʷ gʷh. (The correctness of the terms
palatal and plain velar is disputed; see Proto-Indo-European
phonology.) All daughter languages have reduced the number of
distinctions among these sounds, often in divergent ways.
As an example, in English, one of the Germanic languages, the
following are some of the major changes that happened:
As in other centum languages, the "plain velar" and "palatal" stops
merged, reducing the number of stops from 15 to 12.
As in the other Germanic languages, the
Germanic sound shift changed
the realization of all stop consonants, with each consonant shifting
to a different one:
bʰ → b → p → f
dʰ → d → t → θ
gʰ → g → k → x (Later initial x →h)
gʷʰ → gʷ → kʷ → xʷ (Later initial xʷ →hʷ)
Each original consonant shifted one position to the right. For
example, original dʰ became d, while original d became t and original
t became θ (written th in English). This is the original source of
the English sounds written f, th, h and wh. Examples, comparing
English with Latin, where the sounds largely remain unshifted:
For PIE p: piscis vs. fish; pēs, pēdis vs. foot; pluvium "rain" vs.
flow; pater vs. father
For PIE t: trēs vs. three; māter vs. mother
For PIE d: decem vs. ten; pēdis vs. foot; quid vs. what
For PIE k: centum vs. hund(red); capere "to take" vs. have
For PIE kʷ: quid vs. what; quandō vs. when
Various further changes affected consonants in the middle or end of a
The voiced stops resulting from the sound shift were softened to
voiced fricatives (or perhaps the sound shift directly generated
fricatives in these positions).
Verner's law also turned some of the voiceless fricatives resulting
from the sound shift into voiced fricatives or stops. This is why the
Latin centum ends up as d in hund(red) rather than the expected
Most remaining h sounds disappeared, while remaining f and th became
voiced. For example,
Latin decem ends up as ten with no h in the
middle (but note taíhun "ten" in Gothic, an archaic Germanic
language). Similarly, the words seven and have have a voiced v
Latin septem, capere), while father and mother have a voiced
th, although not spelled differently (compare
Latin pater, māter).
None of the daughter-language families (except possibly Anatolian,
particularly Luvian) reflect the plain velar stops differently from
the other two series, and there is even a certain amount of dispute
whether this series existed at all in PIE. The major distinction
between centum and satem languages corresponds to the outcome of the
PIE plain velars:
The "central" satem languages (Indo-Iranian, Balto-Slavic, Albanian,
and Armenian) reflect both "plain velar" and labiovelar stops as plain
velars, often with secondary palatalization before a front vowel (e i
ē ī). The "palatal" stops are palatalized and often appear as
sibilants (usually but not always distinct from the secondarily
The "peripheral" centum languages (Germanic, Italic, Celtic, Greek,
Anatolian and Tocharian) reflect both "palatal" and "plain velar"
stops as plain velars, while the labiovelars continue unchanged, often
with later reduction into plain labial or velar consonants.
The three-way PIE distinction between voiceless, voiced and voiced
aspirated stops is considered extremely unusual from the perspective
of linguistic typology—particularly in the existence of voiced
aspirated stops without a corresponding series of voiceless aspirated
stops. None of the various daughter-language families continue it
unchanged, with numerous "solutions" to the apparently unstable PIE
Indo-Aryan languages preserve the three series unchanged but have
evolved a fourth series of voiceless aspirated consonants.
Iranian languages probably passed through the same stage,
subsequently changing the aspirated stops into fricatives.
Greek converted the voiced aspirates into voiceless aspirates.
Italic probably passed through the same stage, but reflects the voiced
aspirates as voiceless fricatives, especially f (or sometimes plain
voiced stops in Latin).
Celtic, Balto-Slavic, Anatolian, and Albanian merge the voiced
aspirated into plain voiced stops.
Germanic and Armenian change all three series in a chain shift (e.g.
with bh b p becoming b p f (known as
Grimm's law in Germanic).
Among the other notable changes affecting consonants are:
Ruki sound law (s becomes /ʃ/ before r, u, k, i) in the satem
Loss of prevocalic p in Proto-Celtic.
Development of prevocalic s to h in Proto-Greek, with later loss of h
Verner's law in Proto-Germanic.
Grassmann's law (dissimilation of aspirates) independently in
Proto-Greek and Proto-Indo-Iranian.
The following table shows the basic outcomes of PIE consonants in some
of the most important daughter languages for the purposes of
reconstruction. For a fuller table, see Indo-European sound laws.
Proto-Indo-European consonants and their reflexes in selected
Indo-European daughter languages
*pṓds ~ *ped-
thri (old persian)
k; cE [tʃ];
c / k;
u [w > v];
r (dial. l)
z [dz > zd, z] /
w > h / Ø
u [w > v]
C- At the beginning of a word.
-C- Between vowels.
-C At the end of a word.
`-C- Following an unstressed vowel (Verner's law).
-C-(rl) Between vowels, or between a vowel and r, l (on either side).
CT Before a (PIE) stop (p, t, k).
CT− After a (PIE) obstruent (p, t, k, etc.; s).
C(T) Before or after an obstruent (p, t, k, etc.; s).
CH Before an original laryngeal.
CE Before a (PIE) front vowel (i, e).
CE' Before secondary (post-PIE) front-vowels.
Ce Before e.
C(u) Before or after a (PIE) u (boukólos rule).
C(O) Before or after a (PIE) o, u (boukólos rule).
Cn− After n.
CR Before a sonorant (r, l, m, n).
C(R) Before or after a sonorant (r, l, m, n).
C(r),l,u− Before r, l or after r, u.
Cruki− After r, u, k, i (Ruki sound law).
C..Ch Before an aspirated consonant in the next syllable (Grassmann's
law, also known as dissimilation of aspirates).
CE..Ch Before a (PIE) front vowel (i, e) as well as before an
aspirated consonant in the next syllable (Grassmann's law, also known
as dissimilation of aspirates).
C(u)..Ch Before or after a (PIE) u as well as before an aspirated
consonant in the next syllable (Grassmann's law, also known as
dissimilation of aspirates).
Comparison of conjugations
The following table presents a comparison of conjugations of the
thematic present indicative of the verbal root *bʰer- of the English
verb to bear and its reflexes in various early attested IE languages
and their modern descendants or relatives, showing that all languages
had in the early stage an inflectional verb system.
(*bʰer- 'to carry, to bear')
I (1st sg.)
You (2nd sg.)
He/She/It (3rd sg.)
We (1st dual)
You (2nd dual)
They (3rd dual)
We (1st pl.)
You (2nd pl.)
They (3rd pl.)
Old Church Sl.
I (1st sg.)
You (2nd sg.)
He/She/It (3rd sg.)
We (1st dual)
You (2nd dual)
They (3rd dual)
We (1st pl.)
You (2nd pl.)
They (3rd pl.)
Armenian (Eastern; Western)
I (1st sg.)
(man) mi baram
berum em; g'perem
(ich) ge bäre
You (2nd sg.)
(tu) mi bari
berum es; g'peres
(du) ge bierst
He/She/It (3rd sg.)
(ān) mi barad
berum ē; g'perē
(er)(sie)(es) ge biert
We (1st dual)
You (2nd dual)
They (3rd dual)
We (1st pl.)
(mā) mi barim
berum enk`; g'perenk`
(wir) ge bären
You (2nd pl.)
(šomā) mi barid
beireann sibh; %beirthaoi
berum ek`; g'perek`
(ihr) ge bärt
They (3rd pl.)
(ānān) mi barand
berum en; g'peren
(sie) ge bären
While similarities are still visible between the modern descendants
and relatives of these ancient languages, the differences have
increased over time. Some IE languages have moved from synthetic verb
systems to largely periphrastic systems. In addition, the pronouns of
periphrastic forms are in brackets when they appear. Some of these
verbs have undergone a change in meaning as well.
In Modern Irish beir usually only carries the meaning to bear in the
sense of bearing a child; its common meanings are to catch, grab.
Hindi verb bharnā, the continuation of the
Sanskrit verb, can
have a variety of meanings, but the most common is "to fill". The
forms given in the table, although etymologically derived from the
present indicative, now have the meaning of subjunctive. The present
indicative is conjugated periphrastically, using a participle
Sanskrit present participle bharant-) and an
auxiliary: maiṃ bhartā hūṃ, tū bhartā hai, vah bhartā hai,
ham bharte haiṃ, tum bharte ho, ve bharte haiṃ (masculine forms).
German is not directly descended from Gothic, but the Gothic forms are
a close approximation of what the early West Germanic forms of c. 400
AD would have looked like. The cognate of Germanic beranan (English
bear) survives in German only in the compound gebären, meaning "bear
Latin verb ferre is irregular, and not a good representative of a
normal thematic verb. In most Romance Languages such as French, other
verbs now mean "to carry" (e.g. Fr. porter < Lat. portare) and
ferre only survives in compounds such as souffrir "to suffer" (from
Latin sub- and ferre) and conférer "to confer" (from
Latin "con-" and
"ferre"). However, Sardinian still retains a reflex of ferre in the
In Modern Greek, phero φέρω (modern transliteration fero) "to
bear" is still used but only in specific contexts and is most common
in such compounds as αναφέρω, διαφέρω, εισφέρω,
εκφέρω, καταφέρω, προφέρω, προαναφέρω,
προσφέρω etc. The form that is (very) common today is pherno
φέρνω (modern transliteration ferno) meaning "to bring".
Additionally, the perfective form of pherno (used for the subjunctive
voice and also for the future tense) is also phero.
In Modern Russian брать (brat') carries the meaning to take.
Бремя (br'em'a) means burden, as something heavy to bear, and
derivative беременность (b'er'em'ennost') means pregnancy.
Comparison of cognates
Main article: Indo-European vocabulary
Proto-Indo-European numerals and List of numbers in various
Countries where an Indo-European language is:
a primary de facto national or official language
a secondary official language
The approximate present-day distribution of Indo-European languages
within the Americas by country:
Indo-European languages are spoken by almost 3 billion native
speakers across all inhabited continents, the largest number by
far for any recognised language family. Of the 20 languages with the
largest numbers of native speakers according to Ethnologue, 11 are
Indo-European: Spanish, English, Hindustani, Portuguese, Bengali,
Russian, Punjabi, German, French and Marathi, accounting for over 1.7
billion native speakers. Additionally, hundreds of millions of
persons worldwide study
Indo-European languages as secondary or
tertiary languages, including in cultures which have completely
different language families and historical backgrounds—there between
600,000,000 and one billion L2 learners of English alone.
The success of the language family, including the large number of
speakers and the vast portions of the Earth that they inhabit, is due
to several factors. The ancient
Indo-European migrations and
widespread dissemination of
Indo-European culture throughout Eurasia,
including that of the
Proto-Indo-Europeans themselves, and that of
their daughter cultures including the Indo-Aryans, Iranian peoples,
Celts, Greeks, Romans, Germanic peoples, and Slavs, led to these
peoples' branches of the language family already taking a dominant
foothold in virtually all of
Eurasia except for North and East
the end of the prehistoric era, replacing the previously-spoken
Indo-European languages of this extensive area.
Despite being unaware of their common linguistic origin, diverse
groups of Indo-European speakers continued to culturally dominate and
replace the indigenous languages of the western two-thirds of Eurasia.
By the beginning of the Common Era, Indo-European peoples controlled
almost the entirety of this area: the
Celts western and central
Europe, the Romans southern Europe, the
Germanic peoples northern
Slavs eastern Europe, the
Iranian peoples the entirety of
western and central
Asia and parts of eastern Europe, and the
Indo-Aryan peoples south Asia, with the
Tocharians inhabiting the
Indo-European frontier in western China. By the medieval period, only
the Vasconic, Semitic, Dravidian, Caucasian and Uralic languages
remained of the (relatively) indigenous languages of
Europe and the
western half of Asia.
Despite medieval invasions by Eurasian nomads, a group to which the
Proto-Indo-Europeans had once belonged, Indo-European expansion
reached another peak in the early modern period with the dramatic
increase in the population of the
Indian subcontinent and European
expansionism throughout the globe during the Age of Discovery, as well
as the continued replacement and assimilation of surrounding
Indo-European languages and peoples due to increased state
centralization and nationalism. These trends compounded throughout the
modern period due to the general global population growth and the
European colonization of the
Western Hemisphere and
Oceania, leading to an explosion in the number of Indo-European
speakers as well as the territories inhabited by them.
Due to colonization and the modern dominance of Indo-European
languages in the fields of global science, technology, education,
finance, and sports, even many modern countries whose populations
largely speak non-
Indo-European languages have Indo-European languages
as official languages, and the majority of the global population
speaks at least one Indo-European language. The overwhelming majority
of languages used on the Internet are Indo-European, with English
continuing to lead the group; English in general has in many respects
become the lingua franca of global communication.
The Horse, The Wheel and Language
The Horse, The Wheel and Language (book)
Indo-European sound laws
Languages of Asia
Languages of Europe
Languages of India
List of Indo-European languages
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Представимъ долготу времени, которою
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курляндской! Подумай же, когда
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Library resources about
Resources in your library
Resources in other libraries
Beekes, Robert S. P. (1995). Comparative Indo-European Linguistics.
Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
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Wikinews has related news: New research shows over 400 languages
originated in Turkey
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List of primary language families
East Geelvink Bay
Northeast New Guinea?
Hawai'i Sign Language
Plains Sign Talk
Plains Sign Talk
(extant in 2000)
Maku-Auari of Roraima
List of sign languages
Families with more than 30 languages are in bold. Families in italics
have no living members.
BNF: cb11932222t (data)