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Indo-European languages

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Before the 16th century, Europe, and South, Central and Southwest Asia; today worldwide.
Linguistic classification: One of the world's major language families
Proto-language: Proto-Indo-European
Anatolian (extinct)
Italic (includes Romance)
Tocharian (extinct)
ISO 639-2 and 639-5: ine
IE countries.svg
     Countries with a majority of speakers of IE languages

     Countries with an IE minority language with official status

     Countries where no Indo-European language is official, but a significant minority speak an Indo-European language
Geographical distribution of the major Indo-Aryan languages (Urdu is not shown because it is mainly a lingua franca with no prevalence as a first language. Outside of the scope of the map is the migratory Romani language)

Indo-European languages are the world's largest group of languages.[1]

Linguists believe they all came from a single language called Proto-Indo-European. This language was originally spoken somewhere in Eurasia. Today they are spoken all over the world.

The Indo-European languages are a family of several hundred related languages and dialects,[2] including most major languages of Europe, the Iranian plateau, and South Asia.

Historically, this language family was also important in Anatolia and Central Asia.

The earliest Indo-European writing comes from the Bronze Age in the Anatolian and Mycenaean Greek languages. We can place the origin of Indo-European languages after the invention of farming, because some of the Proto-Indo-European words are farming words.

The languages of the Indo-European group have about three billion native speakers. It is the biggest language family.[1]

Of the 20 languages with the most speakers, 12 are Indo-European: English, Spanish, Hindi, Portuguese, Bengali, Russian, German, Sindhi,Punjabi, Marathi, French, and Urdu.[1] They account for over 2.7 billion native speakers.[1]

Main language groups

Indo-European language family. (Chart is not readable in detail)

These are the main Indo-European language groups:

History of Indo-European linguistics

Suggestions of similarities between Indian and European languages began to be made by European visitors to India in the 16th century. In 1583 Fr. Thomas Stephens S.J. an English Jesuit missionary in Goa, noticed similarities between Indian languages and Greek and Latin. These observations were included in a letter to his brother which was not published until the twentieth century.[3]

The first account to mention Sanskrit came from Filippo Sassetti (born Florence, Italy 1540). He was a Florentine merchant who was among the first Europeans to study the ancient Indian language Sanskrit. Writing in 1585, he noted some word similarities between Sanskrit and Italian (these included devaḥ/dio "God", sarpaḥ/serpe "serpent", sapta/sette "seven", aṣṭa/otto "eight", nava/nove "nine").[3] However, neither Stephens' nor Sassetti's observations led to further scholarly inquiry.[3]

In 1647 Dutch linguist and scholar Marcus Zuerius van Boxhorn noted the similarity among Indo-European languages, and supposed that they derived from a primitive common language. He included in his hypothesis Dutch, Greek, Latin, Persian, and German, later adding Slavic, Celtic and Baltic languages. However, van Boxhorn's suggestions did not become widely known and did not stimulate further research.

Gaston Coeurdoux and others had made observations of the same type. Coeurdoux made a thorough comparison of Sanskrit, Latin and Greek conjugations in the late 1760s to suggest a relationship between them, about 20 years before William Jones. Similarly, Mikhail Lomonosov compared different languages groups of the world including Slavic, Baltic, Iranian, Finnish, Chinese, Hottentot and others.[4]

The hypothesis reappeared in 1786 when Sir William Jones first lectured on the striking similarities between three of the oldest languages known in his time: Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit, to which he tentatively added Gothic, Celtic, and Old Persian,[5] though also committing some inaccuracies and omissions in his classification.[6]

It was Thomas Young who first used the term Indo-European in 1813,[7] which became the standard scientific term (except in Germany)[8] through the work of Franz Bopp. Bopp's Comparative Grammar, appearing between 1833 and 1852, is the starting point of Indo-European studies as an academic discipline.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 "Ethnologue list of language families". Retrieved 2010-08-07.
  2. It is composed of 449 languages and dialects, according to the 2005 Ethnologue estimate, about half (219) belonging to the Indo-Aryan sub-branch.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Auroux, Sylvain (2000). History of the language sciences. Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter. p. 1156. ISBN 3110167352 .
  4. M.V. Lomonosov. In: Complete edition, Moscow, 1952, vol 7, pp 652-659: (transl.) 'Imagine the depth of time when these languages separated! ... Polish and Russian separated so long ago! Think when [this happened to] Latin, Greek, German, and Russian! Oh, great antiquity!'
  5. cited on page 14-15.
  6. Blench, Roger 2004. Archaeology and language: methods and issues. In: A companion to archaeology. J. Bintliff ed. 52-74. Oxford: Basil Blackwell 2004. (He erroneously included Egyptian, Japanese and Chinese in the Indo-European languages, while omitting Hindi.)
  7. In London Quarterly Review X/2 1813.; cf. Szemerényi 1999:12, footnote 6
  8. In German it is indogermanisch 'Indo-Germanic' which indicates the east-west extension, but omits the Italic languages.