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Early Indo-European Online

IE Language Families

Jonathan Slocum

A large number of related languages form what is called the Indo-European (IE) macrofamily. These languages all evolved from a common ancestor called Proto-Indo-European (PIE), spoken ca. 5,000 years ago by a people living somewhere in the general vicinity of the Pontic Steppe north of the Black Sea and east to the Caspian. But before the invention of any writing system known to its speakers, PIE had died out: as Indo-Europeans expanded from the ancestral homeland and brought forth new generations, PIE evolved, first into disparate dialects, and then into mutually incomprehensible daughter languages. Ten first-generation "proto" languages can be identified today: using what historical linguists call the comparative method, and other methods, their probable forms (and that of Proto-Indo-European itself) can be reconstructed based on similarities and differences among descendants that were attested in inscriptions and literary & religious texts. Such written records began to appear about a thousand years after PIE was last spoken.

The individual IE proto-languages evolved, too, each giving rise to its own family of second-generation and later languages. Each family is identified with the proto-language from which it sprung, e.g. Germanic with Proto-Germanic. These families are conventionally listed in order, roughly from west to east with respect to the homelands their speakers came to occupy: Celtic, Germanic, Italic, Balto-Slavic, etc.

For more information about IE language families and their evolution, with links to maps of [generally modern] geographic areas corresponding to their ancestral homelands, see: IE Maps. Our Early Indo-European Online (EIEOL) lesson series is based on early texts for representative languages in these families. With links to their EIEOL lessons, the ten families from west to east are:

Celtic

The Celtic family is represented, in our EIEOL lesson series, by Old Irish. For other information about Celtic language evolution and pointers to maps showing places where they were spoken, see: IE Maps.

Germanic

The Germanic language family is often divided into 3 subfamilies: East, North, and West. East Germanic is represented by 10 EIEOL lessons for Gothic. North Germanic is represented by 10 EIEOL lessons for Old Norse. West Germanic is represented by 10 EIEOL lessons for Old English. For other information about Germanic language evolution and pointers to relevant maps, see: IE Maps.

Italic

The Italic family is represented by 10 EIEOL lessons for Latin and, to illustrate aspects of language evolution, another 10 lessons for Old French. For other information about Italic language evolution and pointers to relevant maps, see: IE Maps.

Balto-Slavic

The Balto-Slavic family split into two groups, labelled Baltic and Slavic respectively. The Baltic family is represented by 10 EIEOL lessons for Lithuanian and Latvian (7 and 3 lessons, respectively). The Slavic family is represented by 10 EIEOL lessons for Old Church Slavonic (a.k.a. "Old Slavonic"), and another 10 lessons for Old Russian (a.k.a. "Old East Slavic"). For other information about Balto-Slavic language evolution and pointers to relevant maps, see: IE Maps.

Balkan

The Balkan group of languages is exceptional in that there are far too few early texts to support strong hypotheses about genetic relationships among the erstwhile members; hence, this grouping is primarily one of convenience based on geographic proximity. Albanian is the chief representative of this group, but Albanian texts are limited to modern times and the language shows strong effects of areal influence, making it difficult to incorporate reliably into models of IE language evolution. At present we do not plan to provide EIEOL lessons for Balkan languages other than Albanian (a total of 5 lessons covering the Tosk and Geg dialects). For a bit more information about Balkan languages and pointers to relevant maps, see: IE Maps.

Hellenic

The Hellenic family is represented by 10 EIEOL lessons for Classical Greek (a.k.a. "Attic") and, again to illustrate aspects of language evolution, another 10 lessons for New Testament Greek (a.k.a. "Koine"). For other information about Hellenic language evolution and pointers to relevant maps, see: IE Maps.

Anatolian

The Anatolian family is represented by 10 EIEOL lessons for Hittite. For other information about Anatolian language evolution and pointers to relevant maps, see: IE Maps.

Armenian

The Armenian family is represented by 5 EIEOL lessons for Classical Armenian. For other information about Armenian language evolution and pointers to relevant maps, see: IE Maps.

Indo-Iranian

The Indo-Iranian family is divided into two subfamilies, labelled Indic and Iranian respectively. Indic is represented by 10 EIEOL lessons for Ancient Sanskrit (a.k.a. "Rigvedic"). Iranian is represented by 10 EIEOL lessons for Avestan and Old Persian (6 and 4 lessons, respectively). For other information about Indo-Iranian language evolution and pointers to relevant maps, see: IE Maps.

Tocharian

The Tocharian family will be represented by 10 EIEOL lessons for Tocharian A and B (5 each, in progress). For other information about Tocharian language evolution and pointers to relevant maps, see: IE Maps.