About the 'hypothetical' Proto-Indo-European language

Indo-European is most commonly referred to by many – usually non-Indo-European – linguists as the hypothetical common ancestor of the Indo-European languages. Also, people usually refer to other languages or language families without written remains as hypothesis. We could talk, then, about the hypothetical Indo-Uralic, Eurasian, Ural-Altaic, Proto-Pontic or Nostratic languages, for example.

On the other hand, there are some languages, like Minoan – already mentioned in the previous post -, which aren’t officially hypothetical. I guess that’s because we have some written remains (still undeciphered) of a probable language system, supposedly related to Eteocretan, a younger language (also with undeciphered scripts), probably non-Indo-European, possibly pre-Indo-European, maybe Semitic, as linguists usually describe it; I never saw the word hypothesis when reading about them, though.
Now, are such written remains sufficient to prove that a language really existed? Furthermore, are they necessary today to be able to prove the real existence of languages? Do renowned linguists actually think that Indo-European is a possibility, just like Nostratic or even Minoan? I don’t think so.
Late Proto-Indo-European, probably spoken between 3.000 and 2.500 BCE has 14 known dialectal branches; 2 of them (Indo-Aryan and Greek) attested as early as 1.500 BCE; and there is also another proto-language, Anatolian (1.900 BCE), split from a common ancestor to Late PIE, called Middle PIE.
Thus, we know most modern Indo-European branches and their grammars. We know many old languages, some very old, all of them allowing linguists to reconstruct a common ancestor: Late Proto-Indo-European. Some unexplained differences and another parallel branch, Anatolian, also allow many to discuss the (hypothetical) ancestors of Late PIE, i.e Middle PIE – probably spoken 3.500-3.000 BCE – or even Early PIE – possibly 4.500-3.500 BCE.

The reconstruction of Late PIE cannot therefore be considered a hypothesis anymore, given a) the number of well-known descendents, b) the short period between its disappearance and the appearance of the first dialectal known remains, and specially c) the work made in historical linguistics, mainly in comparative grammar, during the past centuries.

Our aim in Dnghu, however, is narrower than a thorough Late Proto-Indo-European reconstruction – and thus more easily contrasted under a scientific point of view – : we want to finish the reconstruction of the European language, i.e. the Northern Dialect of Proto-Indo-European, from which at least present-day Baltic, Celtic, Germanic, Italic and Slavic languages are derived.

Since our first attempts to develop a complete grammatical system for Proto-Indo-European, we considered the output too loose. We decided then very early that we were looking for a European language system, and thus all those dialectal features (different among branches), like noun declension, aorist, perfect,… – should be decided upon by taking the Northern Dialect as standard.

Unlike the Sourthern Dialect – which was divided at least in Proto-Greek and Indo-Aryan branches in the first Indo-European split (around 2.500 BCE) -, the Northern one was probably still more or less spoken by 2.000 BCE, because of the cultural and linguistic contacts among the different Indo-European speaking peoples, who lived near each other in Northern Europe until the next major (Celtic and Italic) migrations.

[tags]Indo-European,language,linguistics,hypothesis,Uralic,Nostratic,Anatolian,Greek, Indo-Aryan,Germanic,Italic,Celtic,Baltic,Slavic,dialect,Europe,writing system,grammar[/tags]

Join the discussion...

You must be registered and logged in to comment.
Please keep the discussion of this post on topic.
For other topics, use the forum instead.
1 Comment
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments