ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Language Families :: Proto-Indo-European :: What is Indo-European Family

Updated on August 21, 2012


As we go back in time the parent languages of those languages that we know and use show root words that have a common origin. These words show that languages are related in their history. Grammar, vocabulary and word order give further evidence of common origins. The language family that has been most examined has been the Indo-European family. Further study of Indo-European has raised the probability that this family started from an even older parent language - Proto-Indo-European. Further study also raises the probability that Proto-Indo-European had an even earlier parent which had root words which related to both the Indo-European and the Uralic language families.

Proto-Indo European has revealed evidence of where the Indo-European language family emanated. The root words give us the clues of locality from the words for flora and flora that must have been in the vicinity. This evidence points to the southern Russian steppes area, just north of the fertile crescent. Language Families :: Indo-European Language Family delves into the evidence that points us in this direction.

Grammatical Features of Proto-Indo-European

A common misconception is that modern languages are more complex in structure than their parent and grandparent languages. In fact, the opposite is true. Even though Proto-Indo-European is a reconstructed language, the more complex noun inflections are proof of this. The reconstruction process has given three genders (masculine, feminine and neuter) and eight cases (nominative, vocative, accusative, genitive, dative, ablative, locative and instrumental).

Adjectives agreed with the noun in case, number and gender. Verbs were also rich in inflections for aspect, mood, tense, voice, person and number. Grammatical word forms were often related by ablaut or vowel gradation. The root vowel systematically changes to express such differences as singular or plural, past or present. This can still be seen in English with foot and feet, take and took.

Indo-European Languages Part 1

Indo-European Languages Part 2

Proto-Indo-European :: What Did It Sound Like?

The main problem with reconstructed languages is that there are no written records. The speakers of Proto-Indo-European, the Kurgans, did not, to our knowledge, have a writing tradition. The Egyptians and Mesopotamians of the same period did have a written language. This means that philologists have needed to undertake extensive investigation and reconstruction to give the best approximation for Proto-Indo-European vocabulary and grammatical construction.

Obviously there are disagreements about sections of the reconstruction such as the /b/ sound. However, there is general agreement about the number of contrasts in the consonant system. The reconstructed language is largely composed of plosives: voiceless, voiced and voiced aspirate. Articulation consists of labial, dental, palatal (velar) and labio-velar. Context influenced the fricative with voiced or voiceless. There could also have been laryngeal consonants. There were nasal, continuants and semi-consonants.

The vowel system is more contentious. The four main contrasts recognised are: mid-front, mid-back, open and central.

Measurement in Proto-Indo-European

Proto-Indo-European :: Extra Sounds Required?

Indo-European languages do not conform exactly to the view that their development flowed evenly from a common base. There are some anomalies in early Indo-European forms. This was known at the end of the 19th century. It is then that Ferdinand de Saussure, a Swiss linguist, postulated that an extra set of sounds would be required for Proto-Indo-European. These extra sounds later became known as laryngeals. Laryngeals did not occur in any known Indo-European language at the time but in 1927 it was found that Hittite had one (predicted by Saussure).

It is not contentious to postulate that three laryngeals, pronounced at the back part of the mouth as fricatives or glottal stops, existed. However, an earlier non-laryngeal vowel has been proposed.

The argument for laryngeal theory goes like this:

  • most roots of Proto-Indo-European had a structure: Consonant-Vowel-Consonant
  • several had only one consonant
  • to redress this anomaly these roots can be reconstructed with a laryngeal for the 'missing' consonant
  • when the laryngeal disappeared, the vowel lengthened
  • thus the Consonant-Vowel-Consonant structure was universal in Proto-Indo-European.

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

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)