The Indo-European language family
|This text was copied from a written and may need to be wikified to meet Wiki Web standards.|
Please help , especially its section layout, relevant internal links and references
1.1.1. The Indo-European languages are a family of several hundred modern languages and dialects, including most of the major languages of Europe, as well as many in Asia. Contemporary languages in this family include English, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Hindustani (i.e., Hindi and Urdu among other modern dialects), Persian and Russian. It is the largest family of languages in the world today, being spoken by approximately half the world’s population as mother tongue. Furthermore, the majority of the other half speaks at least one of them as second language.
1.1.2. Romans didn’t perceive similarities between Latin and Celtic dialects, but they found obvious correspondences with Greek. After Grammarian Sextus Pompeius Festus:
Suppum antiqui dicebant, quem nunc supinum dicimus ex Graeco, videlicet pro adspiratione ponentes (s) litteram, ut idem ὕλας dicunt, et nos silvas; item ἕξ sex, et ἑπτά septem.
Such findings are not striking, though, as Rome was believed to have been originally funded by Trojan hero Aeneas and, consequently, Latin was derived from Old Greek.
1.1.3. Florentine merchant Filippo Sassetti travelled to the Indian subcontinent, and was among the first European observers to study the ancient Indian language, Sanskrit. Writing in 1585, he noted some word similarities between Sanskrit and Italian, e.g. deva/dio, “God”, sarpa/serpe, “snake”, sapta/sette, “seven”, ashta/otto, “eight”, nava/nove, “nine”. This observation is today credited to have foreshadowed the later discovery of the Indo-European language family.
1.1.4. The first proposal of the possibility of a common origin for some of these languages came from Dutch linguist and scholar Marcus Zuerius van Boxhorn in 1647. He discovered the similarities among Indo-European languages, and supposed the existence of a primitive common language which he called “Scythian”. He included in his hypothesis Dutch, Greek, Latin, Persian, and German, adding later Slavic, Celtic and Baltic languages. He excluded languages such as Hebrew from his hypothesis. However, the suggestions of van Boxhorn did not become widely known and did not stimulate further research.
1.1.5. On 1686, German linguist Andreas Jäger published De Lingua Vetustissima Europae, where he identified an remote language, possibly spreading from the Caucasus, from which Latin, Greek, Slavic, ‘Scythian’ (i.e. Persian) and Celtic (or ‘Celto-Germanic’) were derived, namely Scytho-Celtic.
1.1.6. 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:
“The Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs and the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong indeed, that no philologer could examine them all three, without believing them to have sprung from some common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists: there is a similar reason, though not quite so forcible, for supposing that both the Gothic and the Celtic, though blended with a very different idiom, had the same origin with the Sanskrit; and the old Persian might be added to the same family”
1.1.7. Danish Scholar Rasmus Rask was the first to point out the connection between Old Norwegian and Gothic on the one hand, and Lithuanian, Slavonic, Greek and Latin on the other. Systematic comparison of these and other old languages conducted by the young German linguist Franz Bopp supported the theory, and his Comparative Grammar, appearing between 1833 and 1852, counts as the starting-point of Indo-European studies as an academic discipline.
NOTE. The term Indo-European itself now current in English literature, was coined in 1813 by the British scholar Sir Thomas Young, although at that time there was no consensus as to the naming of the recently discovered language family. Among the names suggested were indo-germanique (C. Malte-Brun, 1810), Indoeuropean (Th. Young, 1813), japetisk (Rasmus C. Rask, 1815), indisch-teutsch (F. Schmitthenner, 1826), sanskritisch (Wilhelm von Humboldt, 1827), indokeltisch (A. F. Pott, 1840), arioeuropeo (G. I. Ascoli, 1854), Aryan (F. M. Müller, 1861), aryaque (H. Chavée, 1867), etc.
In English, Indo-German was used by J. C. Prichard in 1826 although he preferred Indo-European. In French, use of indo-européen was established by A. Pictet (1836). In German literature, Indo-Europäisch was used by Franz Bopp since 1835, while the term Indo-Germanisch had already been introduced by Julius von Klapproth in 1823, intending to include the northernmost and the southernmost of the family’s branches, as it were as an abbreviation of the full listing of involved languages that had been common in earlier literature, opening the doors to ensuing fruitless discussions whether it should not be Indo-Celtic, or even Tocharo-Celtic.
1.1.8. There are certain common linguistic ancestors of modern IE languages, and some of them are well-attested dead languages (or language systems), such as Latin for modern Romance languages – French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Romanian or Catalan –, Sanskrit for some modern Indo-Aryan languages, or Greek for Modern Greek.
Furthermore, there are some still older IE languages, from which these old formal languages were derived and later systematized. They are, following the above examples, Archaic or Old Latin, Archaic or Vedic Sanskrit and Archaic or Old Greek, attested in older compositions or inscriptions, or inferred through the study of oral traditions and even foreign texts, like the Indo-Aryan superstrate of the Mitanni.
And there are also some old related dialects, which help us reconstruct proto-languages, such as Osco-Umbrian for an older Proto-Italic (and with Proto-Celtic, Proto-Germanic and Proto-Balto-Slavic for Europe’s Indo-European), Indo-Aryan dialects for Proto-Indo-Aryan (and with Proto-Iranian for Proto-Indo-Iranian) or Mycenaean for an older Proto-Greek.
NOTE. Mallory and Adams (2006) argue, about (Late) Proto-Indo-European: “How real are our reconstructions? This question has divided linguists on philosophical grounds.
- There are those who argue that we are not really engaged in ‘reconstructing’ a past language but rather creating abstract formulas that describe the systematic relationship between sounds in the daughter languages.
- Others argue that our reconstructions are vague approximations of the proto-language; they can never be exact because the proto-language itself should have had different dialects (yet we reconstruct only single proto-forms) and our reconstructions are not set to any specific time.
- Finally, there are those who have expressed some statistical confidence in the method of reconstruction. Robert Hall, for example, claimed that when examining a test control case, reconstructing proto-Romance from the Romance languages (and obviously knowing beforehand what its ancestor, Latin, looked like), he could reconstruct the phonology at 95% confidence, and the grammar at 80%. Obviously, with the much greater time depth of Proto-Indo-European, we might well wonder how much our confidence is likely to decrease.
Most historical linguists today would probably argue that [laryngeal PIE] reconstruction results in approximations. A time traveller, armed with this book and seeking to make him- or herself understood would probably engender frequent moments of puzzlement, not a little laughter, but occasional instances of lucidity”.