Difference between revisions of "Indo-European languages"

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* Eduard Prokosch. ''A Comparative Germanic Grammar''. Baltimore: Linguistic Society of America, 1938.
* Eduard Prokosch. ''A Comparative Germanic Grammar''. Baltimore: Linguistic Society of America, 1938.
* Bernard Sergent. ''Les Indo-Européens: histoire, langues, mythes'', Paris: Payot, 1995
* Bernard Sergent. ''Les Indo-Européens: histoire, langues, mythes'', Paris: Payot, 1995

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The family of Indo-European languages is a collection of several hundred languages, including the majority of languages spoken in Europe and the subcontinent of India, that share a considerable common vocabulary and linguistic features. These shared traits have led many scholars to believe that these languages derive from a common ancestor, usually designated Indo-European or Proto-Indo-European (or PIE). Among the living languages that belong to this group are English, French, Spanish, German, Russian, Farsi (Persian), Urdu, and Hindi.


The family of Indo-European languages is subdivided into a number of subgroups. These are:

  1. Indian languages. These languages are now spoken in the modern countries of India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. The oldest literary texts preserved in any Indo-European language are the Vedas. The oldest texts among them date to around 1500 BC. They are written in an early form of Sanskrit. Among the modern languages belonging to this subgroup are:Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Punjabi.
  2. Iranian languages. These languages are spoken on the plateau of Iran. There are close affinities between Iranian and Indian languages, suggesting that the peoples who speak dialects of these respective language subgroups have lived in close proximity with each other for a long time. It is believed by many historical linguists that both Indian and Iranian descended from a common ancestor Proto-Indo-Iranian. The Iranian languages are divided into an eastern and a western branch. The modern language of Farsi (or Persian) is the main representative of the Iranian languages, and it belongs to the eastern branch. Other Iranian languages are Afghan (or Pushtu) and Beluchi, both spoken in parts of Afghanistan, and Kurdish, which is spoken in an area covering northern Iraq, eastern Turkey, and northwestern Iran.
  3. Armenian. Armenian is somewhat isolated within Indo-European, since it does not appear to be linked to any other group by shared linguistic (grammatical) features, though its vocabulary contains numerous items borrowed from Farsi as a result of many centuries of Persian domination. Other lexical items found in Armenian come from Semitic languages, Greek, and Turkish.
  4. Greek or Hellenic. The Greek people (or Hellenes) entered the area now known as Greece around 2000 BC where they displaced numerous other peoples. The early flowering Greek culture produced a number of masterpieces, including the Illiad and the Odyssey, both Homeric poems. The Greek language comprised the following, notable dialects in the classical Antiquity: Ionic, Aeolic, Arcadian-Cyprian, Doric, and Northwest Greek. The inclusion of Ancient Macedonian in Greek is debated. The most prestigious dialects was Attic, the dialect of Ancient Athens, which belonged to the Ionic group. Attic attained supremacy in the fifth century BC through the dominant political and commercial position of Athens. Attic formed the basis of a koiné or lingua franca, that is, a mixture of several dialects to facilitate communication between different parts of the Greek world and for use as a unified standard in foreign commerce and diplomacy. Modern Greek, or Demotic, is ultimately descended from koiné Greek.
  5. Albanian. Albanian is an independent member of the Indo-European family, but this has been recognized only since the early twentieth century because the language is permeated with influences from Latin, Greek, Turkish, and Slavonic. Records for Albanian only go back to the fifteenth century AD.
  6. Italic languages (including the Romance languages). This group, close to Celtic and Ancient Ligurian, includes numerous languages now extinct, such as Faliscan and Umbrian, but the main historical representative of this group is Latin, originally the language of Latium (the area around Rome). Vulgar dialects of Latin were spread throughout the Balkans, the Mediterranean and Western Europe and over time these developed into the Romance languages which are from east to west: Romanian, Italian proper and Northern Italian, Sardinian, Corsican, Friulian, Ladin, Romansh, French, Francoprovençal, Occitan, Catalan, Aragonese, Spanish, Asturian-Leonese and Galician-Portuguese.
  7. Ancient Ligurian language. This language was intermediary between the Italic and the Celtic languages.[1] It was spoken in Antiquity in what are now Provence and Liguria.
  8. Celtic languages. These languages, close to Italic and Ancient Ligurian, were once spoken throughout Western Europe, but are now confined to the British Isles and Brittany. There are two branches: Goidelic or Gaelic and Brythonic or Britannic. The former are represented by the modern languages of Irish Gaelic, Scottish Gaelic, and Manx. The second group includes Welsh, Cornish and Breton. The prospects of survival for the remaining Celtic languages are not good, as decline for all in favor of English or French has been tremendous.
  9. Balto-Slavic languages, falls into two main groups: the Baltic languages and the Slavic languages. The former group has three representatives: Latvian (sometimes called Lettish), Lithuanian, and the now extinct Prussian. Lithuanian is one of the most conservative Indo-European languages still spoken and is therefore of great interest to historical linguists. The Slavic group is further subdivided into East Slavic, which includes Russian (also known as "Great Russian"), White Russian, and Ukrainian (also known as "Little Russian"), West Slavic, which includes Polish, Czech, and Slovak, and South Slavic, which includes Bulgarian, Slovenian, and Serbo-Croatian. The oldest texts we have in Slavic are fragments of the Bible and other liturgical texts written by St. Cyril in the ninth century in a language usually referred to as Old Church Slavonic.
  10. Germanic languages. The Germanic languages differ from other Indo-European languages by the First or Germanic Consonant Shift (described as Grimm's Law). The common ancestor for the Germanic languages is called either Germanic or Proto-Germanic. This subgroup has three branches: East Germanic, North Germanic, and West Germanic. The former branch is now extinct but it is relatively well known through the fragments of Wulfilla's Gothic Bible, which dates to the fourth century AD. The North-Germanic branch comprises the Scandinavian languages Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Icelandic, and Faroese. The West-Germanic branch includes English, German, Dutch, and Frisian.
  11. Tocharian. This is the most obscure branch of Indo-European since it has been extinct since at least the ninth century AD and because we have virtually no data for it. We know of two (or perhaps three) different languages belonging to this branch, usually referred to as Tocharian A and Tocharian B.
  12. Anatolian. Although this most ancient branch of Indo-European has been extinct since ca. 1100 BC, we know relatively much about it as a result of the discovery of cuneiform tablets with inscriptions in Hittite, the main representative of this branch, in the early twentieth century.

Work in Progress


  • Albert C. Baugh and Thomas Cable. A History of the English Language. 3rd edition. London/New York: Routledge, 1980. ISBN 0415050731
  • Eduard Prokosch. A Comparative Germanic Grammar. Baltimore: Linguistic Society of America, 1938.
  • Bernard Sergent. Les Indo-Européens: histoire, langues, mythes, Paris: Payot, 1995


  1. SERGENT Bernard (1995) Les Indo-Européens: histoire, langues, mythes, Paris: Payot, p. 76-77