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Language Families :: Indo-European Language Family

Updated on August 21, 2012

Indo-European Language Family

The languages that first spread throughout Europe and southern Asia are known collectively as the Indo-European language family.

Because of colonisation they are now found throughout the world. The parent language, now known as Proto-Indo-European, is thought to have its origins some 5,000 years ago.

The differences between it's siblings were well established between 3,000 and 4,000 years ago when Greek, Anatolian and Indo-Iranian languages were well established.

The First Statement Asserting the Existence of Indo-European

"The Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure, more perfect then the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing to both of them a strong affinity, both in the roots of verbs, and in 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."

William Jones (1746-1794) British orientalist and jurist - his address in 1786 to the Bengal Asiatic Society.

Indo-European Languages Part 1

Indo-European Languages Part 2

Who Were These Indo-Europeans?

Archaeologists have unearthed evidence of the existence of nomadic peoples living on the steppes of southern Russia around 6,000 years ago. They expanded in numbers and colonised the Danube area of Europe by about 5,500 years ago. These people are known as Kurgans due to their burial practices (kurgan is Russian for 'burial mound'). Kurgan culture arrived in the Adriatic region by 4,000 years ago. This is sufficient time for linguistic change to occur. The ancestors of Kurgans are not known but there are similarities between the Proto-Indo-European and the Uralic language families. There may have been a common parent for these language families.

The geographic origins and the life-style of the speakers of Indo-European can be speculated upon by comparing the similarities of the vocabulary of extant members of the family. Many 'family' words such as mother, husband, brother, can be reconstructed such as 'in-laws' (used solely for the brides side of the family). This can be construed to mean that it was the wife who entered the husband's family and that the character of society was patriarchal.

Horses, dogs, sheep, pigs and other animals are words that can be reconstructed for the parent language. Wheeled vehicles, parts of the body, farming, tools and weapons, law, religion, social status and numbers all have roots in the parent language when reconstructed. Those words for flora and fauna can give an idea of the place of origin of the parent language. The lack of words for vine or palm tree suggests that the parent language did not begin in the Mediterranean area.

"Grimm's Law" of Sound Shifts

Jacob Grimm (1785-1863), author of Grimm's fairy tales - undertook major works in Germanic philology. His explained how consonents of different Indo-European languages related to each other. Examples:

  • The regular relationship between words beginning with p in Latin and f in Germanic languages (pater and father ).
  • The relationship between initial t in Greek and th in English (treis and three ).

Proto-Indo-European :: Discovery Thereof

The oldest attested language of the Indian sub-Continent is Sanskrit. Once scholars became aware of the systematic resemblance between Sanskrit and European languages they were able to deduce the existence of the Proto-Indo-European family of languages. These resemblances were first noticed in the 16th century and then it was thought that Sanskrit was the parent of European languages. The 18th century saw systematic studies disprove this earlier conclusion.

The 19th century produced many studies concluding Indo-European philology:

  • 1814 - Rasmus Rask demonstrated the relationship between Latin, Greek, Slavic and Baltic languages.
  • 1816 - Franz Bopp published "On the conjugation of the Sanskrit language, in comparison with those of the Greek, Latin, Persian and Germanic languages" .
  • 1818 - Rasmus Rask publishes Investigation on the "Origin of the Old Norse or Icelandic language".
  • Jakob Grimm and August Schleicher produced philological treatises.
  • 1833 - Franz Bopp produced the first Indo-European grammar: "Comparative Grammar of Sanskrit, Zend, Geek, Latin, Lithuanian, Old Slavic, Gothic and German". The third edition incorporated Celtic and Albanian.
  • 2nd half of 19th century - further philological study caused the earlier works to become out-of-date.
  • 1968 - Karl Brugmann began publication of "Outline of Comparative Indo-European Grammar (1897-1916)".

Some Common Words in Sanskrit, English and German

Sanskrit Language: The Most Scientific, Ancient, Spiritual

Lithuanian the Oldest Living Language, Origin

Indo-European Varieties

"Our father, who art in heaven ":

"Pater naseros cemeni " = Proto-Indo-European (reconstruction)

  • Celtic
  1. Welsh: Ein Tad, yr hwn wyt yn y nefoedd
  2. Irish Gaelic: Ár n-Athair atá ar neamh
  3. Scottish Gaelic: Ar n-athair a tha air nèamh
  4. Manx: Ayr ain, t' ayns niau
  5. Cornish (Kernewek): Agan Tas ni, eus y'n nev
  • Germanic
  1. German: Unser Vater in dem Himmel
  2. Yiddish: Undzer foter, vos du bist in himl = אונדזער פֿאָטער, װאָס דו ביסט אין הימל
  3. Old English: Fæder ūre, þū þe eart on heofonum
  4. Dutch: Onze vader, die in de hemelen zijt
  5. Norwegian: Fader vår, du som er i himmelen
  6. Swedish: Fader Vår som är i Himmelen
  7. Danish: Vor Fader, du som er i Himlene
  • Italic
  1. Latin: Pater noster, qui es in caelis
  2. French: Notre Père, qui es aux cieux
  3. Spanish:Padre nuestro que estás en el Cielo
  4. Portuguese: Pai nosso, que estás no céus
  5. Catalan: Pare nostre, que esteu en lo cel
  • Albanian
  1. Albanian: Ati ynë që je në qiell
  • Greek
  1. New Testament: Πάτερ ἡμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς = Pater hēmōn, ho en tois ouranois
  • Baltic
  1. Lithuanian: Tėve Mūsų, kuris esi danguje
  2. Latvian: Mūsu Tēvs debesīs
  3. Old Prussian: Tawe Nuson, kas tu asai an dangun
  • Slavic
  1. Old Church Slavonic: Оч͠е нашь ижє ѥси на н͠бсєхъ = Otice nasi ize jesi na nebesichu
  2. Russian: Отче наш, Иже еси на небесех = Otce nas, suscij na nebesach
  3. Belarussian: Ойча наш, які ёсьць на небе = Ojca nas, katory jesc u nebe
  4. Ukrainian: Отче наш, Ти що єси на небесах = Otce nas, ti so esi na nebesuch
  5. Polish: Ojcze nasz, któryś jest w niebie
  6. Czech: Otče náš, jenž jsi na nebesích
  7. Slovak: Otče náš, ktorý si na nebesách
  8. Macedonian: Оче наш, што си на небото = Oce nas, sto si na neboto
  9. Serbo-Croat: Оче наш, који си на Небесима = Oce nas, koji si na nebesima
  10. Bulgarian: Отче наш, Ти, който си на небето = Otce nas, ti, kojto si na nebeto
  11. Slovene: Oče naš, ki si v nebesih
  • Armenian
  1. East Armenian: Հա՛յր մեր երկնավոր = Mer hayr or erknk'umn
  2. West Armenian: Հա՛յր մեր՝ որ երկինքն ես = Ov hayr mer or erkink'n es
  • Iranian
  1. Ossetic: Max fyd, kaecy dae aervty midaeg
  2. Kurdish:Bavê me yê li ezmanan
  3. Persian: Ei pedar-e-ma, ke dar asman hasti
  4. Baluchi: Phith mani, ki bihishta asti
  5. Pashto: Aj jmugplara, ce pa asman kxe ye
  • Indo-Aryan
  1. SanskritBho asmākam svargastha pitah
  2. Pali: Saggatha no pita
  3. Hindi: हे हमारे स्वरगिक पिता = He hamare svargbasi pita
  4. Panjabi: He sade pita, jihra surg vic hai
  5. Sindhi: E asan-ja piu, jo asmana men
  6. Kashmiri: Ai sani mali, yus asmanas path chu
  7. Nepali: He hamra svargavasi pita
  8. Gujarati: O akasamanna amara bapa
  9. Marathi: He amacya svargatila pitya
  10. Sinhalese: Svargayehi vadasitina apagepiyaneni
  11. Assamese: He amar svargat thaka pitri
  12. Bengali: হে আমাদের স্বর্গস্থ পিতা = He amader svargastha pita
  13. Oriya: He ambhamananka svargasha pita
  14. Romani: Dade amare, kaj isien k'o devle

--- Remarks, Observations and/or Criticisms are Welcomed ---

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    • humagaia profile imageAUTHOR

      Charles Fox 

      7 years ago from United Kingdom

      Thanks J.S.M.

    • J.S.Matthew profile image

      JS Matthew 

      7 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      This was a very well researched and interesting read! It is interesting to see how so many different languages have similar roots. Voted up and shared.



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