The Info List - Language Family

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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_.

Estimates of the number of living languages vary from 5,000 to 8,000, depending on the precision of one's definition of "language", and in particular on how one classifies dialects . The 2013 edition of Ethnologue catalogs just over 7,000 living human languages. 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. 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.

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 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.


* 1 Structure of a family

* 1.1 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


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 (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 the two sister languages will be more closely related to each other rather than the 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 that was verified statistically. 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).


Main article: Dialect continuum

Some closely knit language families, and many branches within larger families, take the form of dialect continua in which there are no clearcut 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 give sometimes wildly different accounts of the number of languages within a family. Classifications of the Japonic family , for example, range from one language (a language isolate) to nearly twenty.


Main article: 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 _isolate_ in such cases is usually clarified. 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.)


Main article: Proto-language

The proto-language can also be referred to as the mother language.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 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. It is worth noting that although many languages are related through a proto-language, it 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 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.


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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 ( 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 .


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.


Background colors used on Wikipedia 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 * Tree model * Unclassified language * Father Tongue hypothesis


* ^ Rowe, Bruce M.; Levine, Diane P. (2015). _A Concise Introduction to Linguistics_. Routledge. pp. 340–341. ISBN 1317349288 . Retrieved 26 January 2017. * ^ "Ethnologue: Languages of the world" (Seventeenth ed.). Retrieved 5 November 2015. World Population 6,800,596,862 / Living Languages 7,106 / Institutional: 560, Developing: 1,563, Vigorous: 2,549, In Trouble: 1,519, Dying: 915 * ^ 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. JSTOR 41829755 . PMC 3497766  _. PMID 23077256 . doi :10.1073/pnas.1212380109 . * ^ 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. JSTOR 2359705 . PMC 49344  _. PMID 1608971 . doi :10.1073/pnas.89.12.5620 . * ^ 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. JSTOR 41352497 . doi :10.1073/pnas.1113716108 .


* 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; 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.; ;background:none transparent;border:none;-moz-box-shadow:none;-webkit-box-shadow:none;box-shadow:none;">v

* t * e

List of primary language families


* AFRO-ASIATIC * AUSTRONESIAN * Khoe * Kx\'a * NIGER–CONGO * NILO-SAHARAN ? * Tuu * Mande ? * Songhay ? * Ijaw ? * Ubangian ? * Kadu ?


* Bangime * Hadza * Jalaa * Sandawe * Kwadi ? * Laal ? * Shabo ?


* 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 * Vasconic * Yeniseian * Yukaghir * Dené–Yeniseian ? * Altaic ? * Austronesian–Ongan ? * Austro-Tai ? * Sino-Austronesian ? * Digaro ? * Kho-Bwa ? * Siangic ? * Miji ?


* Burushaski * _Elamite _ * _Hattic _ * Kusunda * Nihali * Nivkh * _Sumerian _ * Hruso ? * Miju ? * Puroik ?


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

New Guinea and the Pacific

* Amto–Musan * Arafundi * AUSTRONESIAN * Baining * Border (Tami) * Bulaka River * Central Solomons * Doso–Turumsa * East Bird\'s Head – Sentani * East Geelvink Bay * Eastern Trans-Fly * Fas * Goilalan * Kiwaian * Kwomtari * Lakes Plain * Left May * Lower Mamberamo * Mairasi * Mai Brat ? * Monumbo * Namla–Tofanma * Nimboran * North Bougainville * Pahoturi * Pauwasi * Piawi * RAMU–LOWER SEPIK * Senagi * SEPIK * Skou * South Bougainville * Teberan * Tor–Kwerba * TORRICELLI * TRANS–NEW GUINEA * West Papuan * Yam * Yawa * Yuat * Trans-Fly–Bulaka River ? * Yele – West New Britain ?


* Abinomn * Busa * Kaure * Kol * Kuot * Porome * Pyu * Taiap * Yalë * Abun ? * Amberbaken ? * Dem ? * Hattam ? * Isirawa ? * Lepki ? * Kapori ? * Kosare ? * Massep ? * Murkim ? * Pawaia ? * Sulka ? * Waia ?


* Hawai\'i Sign Language * Others


* 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)


* _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 ?


* _Chimariko _ * Haida * Karuk * Kutenai * Seri * _Siuslaw _ * _Takelma _ * _Timucua _ * _Waikuri _ * Washo * _Yana _ * Yuchi * Zuni


* Inuit (Inuiuuk) * Plains Sign Talk * Others


* Chibchan * Jicaquean * Lencan * MAYAN * Misumalpan * Mixe–Zoque * OTO-MANGUEAN * Tequistlatecan * Totonacan * UTO-AZTECAN * _Xincan _ * Totozoquean ?


* _Cuitlatec _ * Huave * Tarascan/Purépecha


* Plains Sign Talk * Mayan * Others

South America

* ARAWAKAN * Arauan * Araucanian * Arutani–Sape * Aymaran * Barbacoan * Bororoan * 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 * Leco * _Maku-Auari of Roraima _ * Movima * Mura-Pirahã * Nukak ? * Ofayé * Puinave * Huaorani/Waorani * Trumai * Urarina * Warao * Yamana * Yuracaré


* 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 no living members.

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