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A language family is a group of languages related through descent from a common ancestral language or parental language, called the proto-language of that family. The term "family" reflects the tree model of language origination in historical linguistics, which makes use of a metaphor comparing languages to people in a biological family tree, or in a subsequent modification, to species in a phylogenetic tree of evolutionary taxonomy. Linguists therefore describe the daughter languages within a language family as being genetically related.[1] According to Ethnologue
Ethnologue
the 7,099 living human languages are distributed in 141 different language families.[2] A "living language" is simply one that is used as the primary form of communication of a group of people. There are also many dead and extinct languages, as well as some that are still insufficiently studied to be classified, or are even unknown outside their respective speech communities. Membership of languages in a language family is established by comparative linguistics. Sister languages are said to have a "genetic" or "genealogical" relationship. The latter term is older.[3] Speakers of a language family belong to a common speech community. The divergence of a proto-language into daughter languages typically occurs through geographical separation, with the original speech community gradually evolving into distinct linguistic units. Individuals belonging to other speech communities may also adopt languages from a different language family through the language shift process.[4] Genealogically related languages present shared retentions; that is, features of the proto-language (or reflexes of such features) that cannot be explained by chance or borrowing (convergence). Membership in a branch or group within a language family is established by shared innovations; that is, common features of those languages that are not found in the common ancestor of the entire family. For example, Germanic languages
Germanic languages
are "Germanic" in that they share vocabulary and grammatical features that are not believed to have been present in the Proto-Indo-European language. These features are believed to be innovations that took place in Proto-Germanic, a descendant of Proto-Indo-European that was the source of all Germanic languages.

Contents

1 Structure of a family

1.1 Dialect
Dialect
continua 1.2 Isolates 1.3 Proto-languages

2 Other classifications of languages

2.1 Sprachbund 2.2 Contact languages

3 See also 4 Notes 5 Further reading 6 External links

Structure of a family[edit] Language
Language
families can be divided into smaller phylogenetic units, conventionally referred to as branches of the family because the history of a language family is often represented as a tree diagram. A family is a monophyletic unit; all its members derive from a common ancestor, and all attested descendants of that ancestor are included in the family. (Thus, the term family is analogous to the biological term clade.) Some taxonomists restrict the term family to a certain level, but there is little consensus in how to do so. Those who affix such labels also subdivide branches into groups, and groups into complexes. A top-level (i.e., the largest) family is often called a phylum or stock. The closer the branches are to each other, the closer the languages will be related. This means if a branch off of a proto-language is 4 branches down and there is also a sister language to that fourth branch, than each of the two sister languages are more closely related to each other than to that common ancestral proto-language. The term macrofamily or superfamily is sometimes applied to proposed groupings of language families whose status as phylogenetic units is generally considered to be unsubstantiated by accepted historical linguistic methods. For example, the Celtic, Germanic, Slavic, Romance, and Indo-Iranian language families are branches of a larger Indo-European language family. There is a remarkably similar pattern shown by the linguistic tree and the genetic tree of human ancestry[5] that was verified statistically.[6] Languages interpreted in terms of the putative phylogenetic tree of human languages are transmitted to a great extent vertically (by ancestry) as opposed to horizontally (by spatial diffusion).[7] Dialect
Dialect
continua[edit] Main article: Dialect
Dialect
continuum Some closely knit language families, and many branches within larger families, take the form of dialect continua in which there are no clear-cut borders that make it possible for unequivocally identifying, defining, or counting individual languages within the family. However, when the differences between the speech of different regions at the extremes of the continuum are so great that there is no mutual intelligibility between them, as occurs for Arabic, the continuum cannot meaningfully be seen as a single language. A speech variety may also be considered either a language or a dialect depending on social or political considerations. Thus, different sources, especially over time, can give wildly different numbers of languages within a certain family. Classifications of the Japonic family, for example, range from one language (a language isolate with dialects) to nearly twenty—until the classification of Ryukyuan as separate languages within a Japonic language family
Japonic language family
rather than dialects of Japanese, the Japanese language
Japanese language
itself was considered a language isolate and therefore the only language in its family. Isolates[edit] Main article: Language
Language
isolate Most of the world's languages are known to be related to others. Those that have no known relatives (or for which family relationships are only tentatively proposed) are called language isolates, essentially language families consisting of a single language. An example is Basque. In general, it is assumed that language isolates have relatives or had relatives at some point in their history but at a time depth too great for linguistic comparison to recover them. A language isolated in its own branch within a family, such as Armenian within Indo-European, is often also called an isolate, but the meaning of the word "isolate" in such cases is usually clarified with a modifier. For instance, Armenian may be referred to as an "Indo-European isolate". By contrast, so far as is known, the Basque language is an absolute isolate: it has not been shown to be related to any other language despite numerous attempts. Another well-known isolate is Mapudungun, the Mapuche language from the Araucanían language family in Chile. A language may be said to be an isolate currently but not historically if related but now extinct relatives are attested. The Aquitanian language, spoken in Roman times, may have been an ancestor of Basque, but it could also have been a sister language to the ancestor of Basque. In the latter case, Basque and Aquitanian would form a small family together. (Ancestors are not considered to be distinct members of a family.) Proto-languages[edit] Main article: Proto-language A proto-language can be thought of as a mother language (not to be confused with a mother tongue, which is one that a specific person has been exposed to from birth[8]), being the root which all languages in the family stem from. The common ancestor of a language family is seldom known directly since most languages have a relatively short recorded history. However, it is possible to recover many features of a proto-language by applying the comparative method, a reconstructive procedure worked out by 19th century linguist August Schleicher. This can demonstrate the validity of many of the proposed families in the list of language families. For example, the reconstructible common ancestor of the Indo-European language family is called Proto-Indo-European. Proto-Indo-European is not attested by written records and so is conjectured to have been spoken before the invention of writing. Sometimes, however, a proto-language can be identified with a historically known language. For instance, dialects of Old Norse
Old Norse
are the proto-language of Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Faroese and Icelandic. Likewise, the Appendix Probi depicts Proto-Romance, a language almost unattested because of the prestige of Classical Latin, a highly stylised literary register not representative of the speech of ordinary people. Although many languages are related through a proto-language, this does not mean that speakers of each language will necessarily understand each other. There are cases in which speakers of one language are able to understand and successfully communicate with their sister languages. But there are also cases where this is very one-sided, meaning that only one communicator is able to understand a language while the other cannot. An example of this would be how many Spanish speakers can understand Italian; however, Italians are unable to comprehend what Spanish speakers are saying. Both of these languages share a proto-language, but only bits are understood. Other classifications of languages[edit]

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Sprachbund[edit] Main article: Sprachbund Shared innovations, acquired by borrowing or other means, are not considered genetic and have no bearing with the language family concept. It has been asserted, for example, that many of the more striking features shared by Italic languages
Italic languages
(Latin, Oscan, Umbrian, etc.) might well be "areal features". However, 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, since English and continental West Germanic were not a linguistic area). In a similar vein, there are many similar unique innovations in Germanic, Baltic and Slavic that are far more likely to be areal features than traceable to a common proto-language. But legitimate uncertainty about whether shared innovations are areal features, coincidence, or inheritance from a common ancestor, leads to disagreement over the proper subdivisions of any large language family. A sprachbund is a geographic area having several languages that feature common linguistic structures. The similarities between those languages are caused by language contact, not by chance or common origin, and are not recognized as criteria that define a language family. An example of a sprachbund would be the Indian subcontinent. Contact languages[edit] Main articles: Mixed language and Creole language The concept of language families is based on the historical observation that languages develop dialects, which over time may diverge into distinct languages. However, linguistic ancestry is less clear-cut than familiar biological ancestry, in which species do not crossbreed. It is more like the evolution of microbes, with extensive lateral gene transfer: Quite distantly related languages may affect each other through language contact, which in extreme cases may lead to languages with no single ancestor, whether they be creoles or mixed languages. In addition, a number of sign languages have developed in isolation and appear to have no relatives at all. Nonetheless, such cases are relatively rare and most well-attested languages can be unambiguously classified as belonging to one language family or another, even if this family's relation to other families is not known. See also[edit]

Background colors used on for various language families and groups

Afro-Asiatic Nilo-Saharan? Niger–Congo Khoisan (areal)

Indo-European Caucasian (areal) Uralic Dravidian Altaic (areal) Paleosiberian (areal)

Sino-Tibetan Hmong–Mien Tai–Kadai Austroasiatic Austronesian Papuan (areal) Australian (areal)

Eskimo–Aleut Na-Dené (and Dené–Yeniseian) American (areal)

Creole/Pidgin/Mixed language isolate sign language constructed language unclassified

Constructed language Endangered language Extinct language Global language system ISO 639-5 Linguist List List of language families List of languages by number of native speakers Proto-language Proto-Human language Tree model Unclassified language Father Tongue hypothesis

Notes[edit]

^ Rowe, Bruce M.; Levine, Diane P. (2015). A Concise Introduction to Linguistics. Routledge. pp. 340–341. ISBN 1317349288. Retrieved 26 January 2017.  ^ "Summary by language family". Ethnologue.  ^ Müller, Max (1862). Lectures on the science of language: delivered at the Royal institution of Great Britain in April, May and June, 1861 (3rd ed.). London: Longman, Green, Longman and Roberts. p. 216. The genealogical classification of the Aryan languages was founded, as we saw, on a close comparison of the grammatical characteristics of each;....  ^ Dimmendaal, Gerrit J. (2011). Historical Linguistics and the Comparative Study of African Languages. John Benjamins Publishing. p. 336. ISBN 9027287228. Retrieved 26 January 2017.  ^ Henn, B. M.; Cavalli-Sforza, L. L.; Feldman, M. W. (17 October 2012). "The great human expansion". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 109 (44): 17758–17764. Bibcode:2012PNAS..10917758H. doi:10.1073/pnas.1212380109. JSTOR 41829755. PMC 3497766 . PMID 23077256.  ^ Cavalli-Sforza, L. L.; Minch, E.; Mountain, J. L. (15 June 1992). "Coevolution of genes and languages revisited". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 89 (12): 5620–4. Bibcode:1992PNAS...89.5620C. doi:10.1073/pnas.89.12.5620. JSTOR 2359705. PMC 49344 . PMID 1608971.  ^ Gell-Mann, M.; Ruhlen, M. (10 October 2011). "The origin and evolution of word order". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 108 (42): 17290–17295. Bibcode:2011PNAS..10817290G. doi:10.1073/pnas.1113716108. JSTOR 41352497.  ^ Bloomfield, Leonard. Language
Language
ISBN 81-208-1196-8

Further reading[edit]

Boas, Franz (1911). Handbook of American Indian languages. Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 40. Volume 1. Washington: Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology. ISBN 0-8032-5017-7.  Boas, Franz. (1922). Handbook of American Indian languages (Vol. 2). Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 40. Washington: Government Print Office (Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology). Boas, Franz. (1933). Handbook of American Indian languages (Vol. 3). Native American legal materials collection, title 1227. Glückstadt: J.J. Augustin. Campbell, Lyle. (1997). American Indian languages: The historical linguistics of Native America. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509427-1. Campbell, Lyle; & Mithun, Marianne (Eds.). (1979). The languages of native America: Historical and comparative assessment. Austin: University of Texas Press. Goddard, Ives (Ed.). (1996). Languages. Handbook of North American Indians (W. C. Sturtevant, General Ed.) (Vol. 17). Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution. ISBN 0-16-048774-9. Goddard, Ives. (1999). Native languages and language families of North America (rev. and enlarged ed. with additions and corrections). [Map]. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press (Smithsonian Institution). (Updated version of the map in Goddard 1996). ISBN 0-8032-9271-6. Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (Ed.). (2005). Ethnologue: Languages of the world (15th ed.). Dallas, TX: SIL International. ISBN 1-55671-159-X. (Online version: http://www.ethnologue.com). Greenberg, Joseph H. (1966). The Languages of Africa
Languages of Africa
(2nd ed.). Bloomington: Indiana University. Harrison, K. David. (2007) When Languages Die: The Extinction of the World's Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge. New York and London: Oxford University Press. Mithun, Marianne. (1999). The languages of Native North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-23228-7 (hbk); ISBN 0-521-29875-X. Ross, Malcolm. (2005). "Pronouns as a preliminary diagnostic for grouping Papuan languages". In: Andrew Pawley, Robert Attenborough, Robin Hide and Jack Golson, eds, Papuan pasts: cultural, linguistic and biological histories of Papuan-speaking peoples (PDF) Ruhlen, Merritt. (1987). A guide to the world's languages. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Sturtevant, William C. (Ed.). (1978–present). Handbook of North American Indians (Vol. 1–20). Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution. (Vols. 1–3, 16, 18–20 not yet published). Voegelin, C. F.; & Voegelin, F. M. (1977). Classification and index of the world's languages. New York: Elsevier.

External links[edit]

Linguistic maps (from Muturzikin) Ethnologue The Multitree Project Lenguas del mundo (World Languages) Comparative Swadesh list tables of various language families (from Wiktionary) Most similar languages

v t e

List of primary language families

Africa

Afro-Asiatic Austronesian Khoe Kx'a Niger–Congo Nilo-Saharan? Tuu Mande? Songhay? Ijaw? Ubangian? Kadu?

Isolates

Bangime Hadza Jalaa Sandawe Kwadi? Laal? Shabo?

Sign languages

Arab BANZSL French Lasima Tanzanian Others

Europe and Asia

Afro-Asiatic Ainu Austroasiatic Austronesian Chukotko-Kamchatkan Dravidian Eskimo–Aleut Great Andamanese Hmong–Mien Hurro-Urartian Indo-European Japonic Kartvelian Koreanic Mongolic Northeast Caucasian Northwest Caucasian Ongan Sino-Tibetan Tai–Kadai Tungusic Turkic Tyrsenian Uralic Yeniseian Yukaghir Dené–Yeniseian? Altaic? Austronesian–Ongan? Austro-Tai? Sino-Austronesian? Digaro? Kho-Bwa? Siangic? Miji? Vasconic?

Isolates

Basque Burushaski Elamite Hattic Kusunda Nihali Nivkh Sumerian Hruso? Miju? Puroik?

Sign languages

BANZSL French German Japanese Swedish Chinese Indo-Pakistani Arab Chiangmai–Bangkok Others

New Guinea and the Pacific

Arai–Samaia Arafundi Austronesian Baining Binanderean–Goilalan Border Bulaka River Central Solomons Chimbu–Wahgi Doso–Turumsa East Geelvink Bay East Strickland Eleman Engan Fas Kaure–Kosare Kiwaian Kutubuan Kwomtari Lakes Plain Lower Mamberamo Lower Sepik Madang Mairasi North Bougainville Pauwasi Piawi Ramu Senagi Sentani Sepik Skou South Bougainville Teberan Tor–Kwerba–Nimboran Torricelli Trans-Fly Trans–New Guinea Turama–Kikorian West Papuan Yam Yawa Yuat North Papuan? Northeast New Guinea? Papuan Gulf?

Isolates

Abinomn Anêm? Ata? Kol Kuot Porome Taiap? Pawaia Porome Sulka? Tambora Wiru

Sign languages

Hawai'i Sign Language Others

Australia

Arnhem/Macro-Gunwinyguan Bunuban Darwin River Eastern Daly Eastern Tasmanian Garawan Iwaidjan Jarrakan Mirndi Northern Tasmanian Northeastern Tasmanian Nyulnyulan Pama–Nyungan Southern Daly Tangkic Wagaydyic Western Daly Western Tasmanian Worrorran Yangmanic (Wardaman)

Isolates

Giimbiyu Malak-Malak Marrgu Tiwi Wagiman

North America

Algic Alsea Caddoan Chimakuan Chinookan Chumashan Comecrudan Coosan Eskimo–Aleut Iroquoian Kalapuyan Keresan Maiduan Muskogean Na-Dene Palaihnihan Plateau Penutian Pomoan Salishan Shastan Siouan Tanoan Tsimshianic Utian Uto-Aztecan Wakashan Wintuan Yokutsan Yukian Yuman–Cochimí Dené–Yeniseian? Hokan? Penutian?

Isolates

Chimariko Haida Karuk Kutenai Seri Siuslaw Takelma Timucua Waikuri Washo Yana Yuchi Zuni

Sign languages

Inuit (Inuiuuk) Plains Sign Talk Others

Mesoamerica

Chibchan Jicaquean Lencan Mayan Misumalpan Mixe–Zoque Oto-Manguean Tequistlatecan Totonacan Uto-Aztecan Xincan Totozoquean?

Isolates

Cuitlatec Huave Tarascan/Purépecha

Sign languages

Plains Sign Talk Mayan Others

South America

Arawakan Arauan Araucanian Arutani–Sape Aymaran Barbacoan Boran Borôroan Cahuapanan Cariban Catacaoan Chapacuran Charruan Chibchan Choco Chonan Guaicuruan Guajiboan Jê/Gê Harákmbut–Katukinan Jirajaran Jivaroan Kariri Katembri–Taruma Mascoian Matacoan Maxakalian Nadahup Nambikwaran Otomákoan Pano-Tacanan Peba–Yaguan Purian Quechuan Piaroa–Saliban Ticuna–Yuri Timotean Tiniguan Tucanoan Tupian Uru–Chipaya Witotoan Yabutian Yanomaman Zamucoan Zaparoan Chimuan? Esmeralda–Yaruro? Hibito–Cholón? Lule–Vilela? Macro-Jê? Tequiraca–Canichana?

Isolates (extant in 2000)

Aikanã? Alacalufan Andoque? Camsá Candoshi Chimane Chiquitano Cofán? Fulniô Guató Hodï/Joti Irantxe? Itonama Karajá Krenak Kunza Leco Maku-Auari of Roraima Movima Mura-Pirahã Nukak? Ofayé Puinave Huaorani/Waorani Trumai Urarina Warao Yamana Yuracaré

See also

Language
Language
isolates Unclassified languages Creoles Pidgins Mixed languages Artificial languages List of sign languages

Families with more than 30 languages are in bold. Families in italics have

.