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What are the Indo-European Languages?


Question: What are the Indo-European Languages?

Indo-European? Proto-Indo-European? What are the Indo-European languages and how are they different from Proto-Indo-European?


Indo-European gets its name from the area stretching from the Indian subcontinent to Europe. Linguists noticed similarities between Indian languages and European ones and posited an original language from which the others developed. This hypothetical original language is Proto-Indo-European or PIE. In diagrams of language family trees PIE is often represented as the base or tree trunk.

The Indo-European languages are not hypothetical but real languages, both living and extinct, thought to have emerged from some earlier PIE-like form. The Indo-European languages include languages as diverse as Latin, Greek (the language of the Hellenes), English, Spanish, French, and Russian. Indo-European languages are spoken throughout the world.

Here is a look at the first-level divisions and the subsidiary ones leading to English and the Romance languages.

Branching out of the imagined PIE trunk are the following main branches in order roughly from West to East.:

  • Balto-Slavic
  • Germanic*
  • Celtic
  • Italic+
  • Illyrian
  • Albanian
  • Thracian
  • Hellenic**
  • Armenian
  • Phrygian
  • Anatolian
  • Indo-Iranian
  • Tocharian.

*Germanic Languages

The Germanic limb sub-branches into:

  • North Germanic
  • West Germanic and
  • East Germanic

with English stemming from the West Germanic branch (but see: UiO linguist makes sensational claim: English is a Scandinavian language [University of Oslo], which says the Scandinavian and English languages, but not West Germanic have the SVO sentence structure, allow split infinitives, terminal prepositions, and group genitives, as well as a hefty collection of very similar words).

Example: *PIE->Germanic->West Germanic->Low German->English

**Hellenic Languages

The Hellenic language limb led to Greek.

Example: *PIE->Hellenic->Greek

+Italic Languages

The Italic limb split into:

  • Latino-Faliscan and
  • Osco-Umbrian

with Latin coming from the Latino-Faliscan branch.

From Latin emerged the:

Romance languages:

  • Portuguese
  • Spanish
  • Catalan
  • Provencal
  • French
  • Italian
  • Rhaeto-Romance
  • Rumanian

Example: *PIE->Italic->Latino-Faliscan->Latin->Spanish


R.L. Trask Historical Linguistics.

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