| Albanian · Anatolian · Armenian|
Baltic · Celtic · Dacian · Germanic
Greek · Indo-Iranian · Italic · Phrygian
Slavic · Thracian · Tocharian
| Albanians · Anatolians · Armenians|
Balts · Celts · Germanic peoples
Greeks · Indo-Aryans · Indo-Iranians
Iranians · Italic peoples · Slavs
Thracians · Tocharians
| Language · Religion · Society|
| Adamic · Anatolian · Armenian|
Indian · Kurgan · Paleolithic
The Indo-European languages comprise a language family of several hundred languages and dialects - 449 according to the 2005 SIL estimate, about half (219) belonging to the Indo-Aryan sub-branch -, including most of the major languages of Europe, as well as many spoken in Southwest Asia, Central Asia and South Asia. Contemporary languages in this family with more than 100 million native speakers each include Hindi, Spanish, English, Portuguese, Bengali, Russian, French, German and Punjabi. Numerous national or minority languages with fewer than 100 million native speakers also exist. Indo-European has the largest numbers of speakers of the recognised families of languages in the world today, with its languages spoken by approximately 3 billion native speakers.
|Before the fifteenth century, Europe, and South, Central and Southwest Asia; today worldwide.|
|One of the world's major language families; although some have proposed links with other families, none of these has received mainstream acceptance.|
Yellow: countries with an IE minority language with official status
The various subgroups of the Indo-European language family include (in historical order of their first attestation):
- Anatolian languages, earliest attested branch, from the 18th century BC; extinct, most notably including the language of the Hittites.
- Indo-Iranian languages, descending from a common ancestor, Proto-Indo-Iranian
- Greek language, fragmentary records in Mycenaean from the 14th century BC; Homeric traditions date to the 8th century BC. See Proto-Greek language, History of the Greek language.
- Italic languages, including Latin and its descendants (the Romance languages), attested from the 7th century BC.
- Celtic languages, Gaulish inscriptions date as early as the 6th century BC; Old Irish texts from the 6th century AD, see Proto-Celtic language.
- Germanic languages (including Old English and English), earliest testimonies in runic inscriptions from around the 2nd century, earliest coherent texts in Gothic, 4th century, see Proto-Germanic language.
- Armenian language, attested from the 5th century.
- Tocharian languages, extinct tongues of the Tocharians, extant in two dialects, attested from roughly the 6th century.
- Balto-Slavic languages, believed by many Indo-Europeanists to derive from a common proto-language later than Proto-Indo-European, while skeptical Indo-Europeanists regard Baltic and Slavic as no more closely related than any other two branches of Indo-European.
- Albanian language, attested from the 15th century; relations with Illyrian, Dacian, or Thracian proposed.
In addition to the classical ten branches listed above, several extinct and little-known languages have existed:
- Illyrian languages — possibly related to Messapian or Venetic; relation to Albanian also proposed.
- Venetic language — close to Italic.
- Liburnian language — apparently grouped with Venetic.
- Messapian language — not conclusively deciphered.
- Phrygian language — language of ancient Phrygia, possibly close to Greek, Thracian, or Armenian.
- Paionian language — extinct language once spoken north of Macedon.
- Thracian language — possibly close to Dacian.
- Dacian language — possibly close to Thracian and Albanian.
- Ancient Macedonian language — probably related to Greek; some propose relationships to Illyrian, Thracian or Phrygian.
- Ligurian language — possibly not Indo-European; possibly close to or part of Celtic.
- Lusitanian language — possibly related to (or part of) Celtic, or Ligurian, or Italic.
No doubt other Indo-European languages once existed which have now vanished without leaving a trace.
Specialists have postulated the existence of further subfamilies, among them Italo-Celtic and Graeco-Aryan. Neither of these has achieved wide acceptance. Indo-Hittite refers to the hypothesis that a significant separation occurred to split Anatolian from all the remaining groups.
Satem and Centum languages
Many scholars classify the Indo-European sub-branches into a Satem group and a Centum group. This terminology comes from the varying treatments of the three original velar rows. Satem languages lost the distinction between labiovelar and pure velar sounds, and at the same time assibilated the palatal velars. The centum languages, on the other hand, lost the distinction between palatal velars and pure velars. Geographically, the "eastern" languages belong in the Satem group: Indo-Iranian and Balto-Slavic (but not including Tocharian and Anatolian); and the "western" languages represent the Centum group: Germanic, Italic, and Celtic. The Satem-Centum isogloss runs right between the Greek (Centum) and Armenian (Satem) languages (which a number of scholars regard as closely related), with Greek exhibiting some marginal Satem features. Some scholars think that some languages classify neither as Satem nor as Centum (Anatolian, Tocharian, and possibly Albanian). Note that the grouping does not imply a claim of monophyly: we do not need to postulate the existence of a "proto-Centum" or of a "proto-Satem". Areal contact among already distinct post-PIE languages (say, during the 3rd millennium BC) may have spread the sound changes involved.
Some linguists propose that Indo-European languages form part of a hypothetical Nostratic language superfamily, and attempt to relate Indo-European to other language families, such as South Caucasian languages, Altaic languages, Uralic languages, Dravidian languages, and Afro-Asiatic languages. This theory remains controversial, like the similar Eurasiatic theory of Joseph Greenberg, and the Proto-Pontic postulation of John Colarusso.
History of the idea of Indo-European
The first proposal of the possibility of common origin for some of these languages came from Marcus Zuerius van Boxhorn in 1647. Van Boxhorn suggested their derivation from "Scythian". However, the suggestions of van Boxhorn did not become widely known and did not stimulate further research.
The hypothesis re-appeared in 1786 when Sir William Jones first lectured on similarities between four of the oldest languages known in his time: Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, and Persian. Systematic comparison of these and other old languages conducted by Franz Bopp supported this theory, and Bopp's Comparative Grammar, appearing between 1833 and 1852 counts as the starting-point of Indo-European studies as an academic discipline.
Reconstructions and hypotheses
Scholars have dubbed the common ancestral (reconstructed) language Proto-Indo-European (PIE). They disagree as to the original geographic location (the so-called "Urheimat" or "original homeland") from where it originated. Three main candidates exist:
Proponents of the Kurgan hypothesis tend to date the proto-language to ca. 4000 BC, while proponents of Anatolian origin usually date it several millennia earlier, associating the spread of Indo-European languages with the Neolithic spread of farming (see Indo-Hittite).
The Kurgan hypothesis
Marija Gimbutas originally suggested the Kurgan hypothesis in the 1950s. According to the Kurgan hypothesis, chalcolithic steppe cultures of the 5th millennium BC between the Black Sea and the Volga spoke early PIE.
Kurgan hypothesis timeline:
- 4500 - 4000: Early PIE. Sredny Stog, Dnieper-Donets and Samara cultures, domestication of the horse.
- 4000 - 3500: The Yamna culture (prototypical kurgan-building) emerges in the steppe, and the Maykop culture in the northern Caucasus. Indo-Hittite models postulate the separation of Proto-Anatolian before this time.
- 3500 - 3000: Middle PIE. The Yamna culture reaches its peak: it represents the classical reconstructed Proto-Indo-European society, with stone idols, early two-wheeled proto-chariots, predominantly practising animal husbandry, but also with permanent settlements and hillforts, subsisting on agriculture and fishing, along rivers. Contact of the Yamna culture with late Neolithic Europe cultures results in the "kurganized" Globular Amphora and Baden cultures. The Maykop culture shows the earliest evidence of the early Bronze Age, and bronze weapons and artifacts enter Yamna territory. Probable early Satemization.
- 3000 - 2500: Late PIE. The Yamna culture extends over the entire Pontic steppe. The Corded Ware culture extends from the Rhine to the Volga, corresponding to the latest phase of Indo-European unity, the vast "kurganized" area disintegrating into various independent languages and cultures, but still in loose contact and thus enabling the spread of technology and early loans between the groups (except for the Anatolian and Tocharian branches, already isolated from these processes). The Centum-Satem division has probably run its course, but the phonetic trends of Satemization remain active.
- 2500 - 2000: The breakup into the proto-languages of the attested dialects has done its work. Speakers of Proto-Greek live in the Balkans, speakers of Proto-Indo-Iranian north of the Caspian in the Sintashta-Petrovka culture. The Bronze Age reaches Central Europe with the Beaker culture, whose people probably use various Centum dialects. Proto-Balto-Slavic speakers (or alternatively, Proto-Slavic and Proto-Baltic communities in close contact) emerge in north-eastern Europe. The Tarim mummies possibly correspond to proto-Tocharians.
- 2000 - 1500: Invention of the chariot, which leads to the split and rapid spread of Iranian and Indo-Aryan from the Andronovo culture and the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex over much of Central Asia, Northern India, Iran and Eastern Anatolia. Proto-Anatolian splits into Hittite and Luwian. The pre-Proto-Celtic Unetice culture has an active metal industry (Nebra skydisk).
- 1500 - 1000: The Nordic Bronze Age develops (pre-)Proto-Germanic, and the (pre-)Proto-Celtic Urnfield and Hallstatt cultures emerge in Central Europe, introducing the Iron Age. Proto-Italic migration into the Italian peninsula. Redaction of the Rigveda and rise of the Vedic civilization in the Punjab. Flourishing and decline of the Hittite Empire. The Mycenaean civilization gives way to the Greek Dark Ages.
- 1000 BC - 500 BC: The Celtic languages spread over Central and Western Europe. Northern Europe enters the Pre-Roman Iron Age, the formative phase of Proto-Germanic. Homer initiates Greek literature and early Classical Antiquity. The Vedic civilization gives way to the Mahajanapadas. Zoroaster composes the Gathas; rise of the Achaemenid Empire, replacing the Elamites and Babylonia. The Scythians supplant the Cimmerians (Srubna culture) in the Pontic steppe. Armenians succeed the Urartu culture. Separation of Proto-Italic into Osco-Umbrian and Latin-Faliscan, and foundation of Rome. Genesis of the Greek and Old Italic alphabets. A variety of Paleo-Balkan languages have speakers in Southern Europe. The Anatolian languages suffer extinction.
A strength of the Kurgan hypothesis lies in the fact that part of its proposed mode of spread (military conquest by horsemen) agrees with historical reports about the spread of early Greek and early Indo-Aryan peoples.
The Anatolian hypothesis
Colin Renfrew in 1987 suggested an association between the spread of Indo-European and the Neolithic revolution, spreading peacefully into Europe from Asia Minor (Anatolia) from around 7000 BC with the advance of farming (wave of advance). Accordingly, all the inhabitants of Neolithic Europe would have spoken Indo-European tongues, and the Kurgan migrations would at best have replaced Indo-European dialects with other Indo-European dialects.
According to Renfrew, the spread of Indo-European proceeded from "Pre-Proto-Indo-European" in 6500 to Archaic PIE in 5000 BC, with the historical Indo-European families developing from 3000 BC from "Balkan PIE".
The main strength of the farming hypothesis lies in its linking of the spread of Indo-European languages with an archeologically known event that likely involved major population shifts: the spread of farming (though the validity of basing a linguistics theory on archeological evidence remains disputed).
While the Anatolian theory enjoyed brief support when first proposed, the linguistic community in general now rejects it. While the spread of farming undisputedly constituted an important event, most see no case to connect it with Indo-Europeans in particular, seeing that terms for animal husbandry tend to have much better reconstructions than terms related to agriculture. The linguistic community further notes that linguistic evidence suggests a later date for Proto-Indo-European than the Anatolian theory predicts.
Tamaz Gamkrelidze and Vyacheslav V. Ivanov in 1984 placed the Indo-European homeland on Lake Urmia. They suggested that Armenian stayed in the Indo-European cradle while other Indo-European languages left the homeland and migrated on a route that led them along the eastern coast of the Caspian Sea to the steppe north of the Black Sea. This migration route allegedly explains the existence of Tocharic, and the assumed early contacts between Indo-European and Uralic languages. Gamkrelidze and Ivanov also originated the Glottalic theory.
Some people have pointed to the Black Sea deluge theory, dating the genesis of the Sea of Azov to ca. 5600 BC, as a direct cause of Indo-European expansion. This event occurred in still clearly Neolithic times and happened rather too early to fit with Kurgan archaeology. One can still imagine it as an event in the remote past of the Sredny Stog culture, with the people living on the land now beneath the Sea of Azov as possible pre-Proto-Indo-Europeans.
Various nationalistic European groups in the 19th and early 20th centuries espoused other theories along these lines. For example, a suggested location of the proto-language in Northern Europe became involved in justifying the view of the German people as "Aryan". For a modern version of the hypothesis of European origin of PIE see the Paleolithic Continuity Theory (proposed by Italian theorists) that derives Indo-European from the European Paleolithic cultures.
As the Proto-Indo-European language broke up, its sound system diverged as well, changing according to various sound laws evidenced in the daughter-languages. Notable cases of such sound laws include Grimm's law in Proto-Germanic, loss of prevocalic *p- in Proto-Celtic, loss of prevocalic *s- in Proto-Greek, Brugmann's law in Proto-Indo-Iranian, as well as satemization (discussed above). Grassmann's law and Bartholomae's law may or may not have operated at the common Indo-European stage.