Proto-Indo-European

Scholars believe that English emerged as a distinct language some time around CE 500 (Svartvik 7). This language was primitive, and we can think of it as a sort of proto-English whose ancestors were the languages of various Germanic tribes that settled in the British Isles, languages that belong to a family of languages known as Indo-European.

A Proto-Indo-European (PIE) model is a linguistic reconstruction of what scholars believe to be the common ancestor of all Indo-European languages, including English. Comparitive studies look for phonetic and grammatical similarities and the distinct kinds of sound change that take place as a language evolves to help identify cognates as a way of…

As we are looking to define or explain the English language, it’s helpful to conceptualize the Proto-Indo-European model and its heuristic of the English language ancestral line. There are four particular parent languages that have had the strongest influence on the evolution of English; these are:

  • Italic
  • Hellenic
  • Celtic
  • Germanic

A child-language of Italic is French; a child-language of Hellenic is Greek; and a child-language of Celtic is Welsh. Germanic splits and becomes North, East, and West Germanic. A child-language of North Germanic is Danish and a child-language of West Germanic is English. You could think of all of these child-languages as cousins, having a common grandparent, the Proto-Indo-European language.

An interesting interactive model of the Indo-European languages can be found at eLinguistics.net.


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