Indo-European languages

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Indo-European or Indo-Germanic languages highlighted in yellow

The Indo-European languages are languages believed to derive from a reconstructed language often referred to as the Proto-Indo-European language, argued to have been spoken by the Indo-Europeans.


Indo-Germanic or Indo-German is the language ancestral to the Indo-European languages. Coined in 1810 by French-Danish geographer Conrad Malte-Brun (as "langues indo-germaniques" ) and popularized in German (as indo-germanisch or indogermanisch),[1][2] especially following J. Klapproth's 1823 Asia Polyglotta. At the time the term was coined, the Celtic languages were not yet considered Indo-European, and the Tocharian languages were not yet discovered; even after the inclusion of Celtic, Germanic remains the northwesternmost family (thanks to Icelandic).[1]

"In the middle of the 1st millennium BCE, Germanic tribes lived in southern Scandinavia and northern Germany. Their expansions and migrations from the 2nd century BCE onward are largely recorded in history. The oldest Germanic language of which much is known is the Gothic of the 4th century CE. Other languages include English, German, Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, and Icelandic."[3]


Proto-Germanic was the language of the Proto-Germanic peoples (German: Urgermanen).

Proto-Germanic (PGmc) is the reconstructed language from which the attested Germanic dialects developed; chief among these are Gothic (Go.) representing East Germanic, Old Norse (ON) representing North Germanic, and Old English (OE), Old Saxon (OS), and Old High German (OHG) representing West Germanic. PGmc is distinguished from the other Indo-European languages by phonological innovations such as the change of consonants characterized by Grimm's Law, by morphological innovations such as the introduction of the dental preterite and the n- declension of adjectives, by syntactic innovations such as the large number of modal auxiliaries, and by numerous additions to its lexicon. As a reconstructed language, Proto-Germanic is not attested in texts; the material on which it is based is found in the attested dialects that developed from it. A yet earlier stage, reconstructed as Proto-Indo-European (PIE), includes means to account for and also to explain the reconstruction. That is to say, the beginnings of PGmc are assumed to overlap with the late stages of PIE, and data from later developments in Germanic dialects compared with evidence from PIE provides the basis for a grammar of PGmc comparable to those for languages spoken today, if not so detailed. PGmc may be dated from approximately 2500 B.C. to the beginning of our era, a period during which it underwent numerous changes. [...] The development of Latin provides the model for understanding the expansion of the other Indo-European dialects. In its early form, it was the language of a small group of speakers in northern Italy in the eighth century B.C. Among other language groups at the time, that of the speakers of Etruscan was probably the largest. In the course of the following centuries, Latin was adopted by those groups, including also speakers of Celtic languages in the north, of Venetic, of Oscan and Umbrian, and even of Greek in the south, so that at the beginning of our era Latin was the most prominent language in the Italian peninsula. The bases for its expansion can only be imagined, but among them was military competence, as may be assumed from the account of the historian Livy. Other Classical historians, among them Herodotus, have provided material on various groups of speakers elsewhere, such as those north of the Black Sea; but for none of their languages do we have information comparable to Livy's for Latin. The earliest description of the Germanic group of speakers was provided by Julius Caesar for the middle of the last century B.C., in the sixth section of his work on the Gallic wars, which with Tacitus' Germania of 98 A.D. remains central for any description of Germanic culture. It may be concluded, then, that the Germanic group of speakers developed somewhat independently of the other Indo-European dialect groups. For a long time, the group may have been relatively small; but whatever the size, it was coherent at the time of the Germanic consonant shift for, unlike the later High German consonant shift, the earlier shift was carried through consistently among all speakers of Proto-Germanic, as was also the adoption of the dental preterite for weak verbs. Such consistently adopted changes can only have been introduced and generally carried out in a group that was in close intercommunication. Only after the Germanic shift did sub-groups develop: the speakers of Gothic, Old Norse, Old English, Old High German, and so on. As separate groups, they introduced innovations leading to the dialects that later became independent languages.[4]


  • F. Norman: "Indo-European" and "Indo-Germanic", in: "The Modern Language Review", Vol. 24, No. 3, July 1929, pp. 313-32
  • Donald "Don" Ringe: From Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanic – A Linguistic History of English, 2009[5]

External links



  1. 1.0 1.1 Winfred P. Lehmann, Historical Linguistics: An Introduction, 2013, page 67: "Since the Germanic family is located farthest to the north and west, many scholars, especially in Germany, label the family Indo-Germanic by the designation proposed in 1810 by Conrad Malte-Brun."
  2. The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European, 2006
  3. Encyclopedia Britannica: Indo-European languages
  4. A Grammar of Proto-Germanic, Linguistics Research Center, University of Texas at Austin
  5. This book describes the earliest reconstructable stages of the prehistory of English. It outlines the grammar of Proto-Indo-European, considers the changes by which one dialect of that prehistoric language developed into Proto-Germanic, and provides a detailed account of the grammar of Proto-Germanic. The focus throughout the book is on linguistic structure. In the course of his exposition Professor Ringe draws on a long tradition of work on many languages, including Hittite, Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Slavic, Gothic, and Old Norse. Written to be intelligible to those with a background in modern linguistic theory, the first volume in Don Ringe's A Linguistic History of English will be of central interest to all scholars and students of comparative Indo-European and Germanic linguistics, the history of English, and historical linguists. The next volume in the History will consider the development of Proto-Germanic into Old English. Subsequent volumes will describe the attested history of English from the Anglo-Saxon era to the present.