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The Proto-Indo-European language (PIE) is the unattested, reconstructed common ancestor of the Indo-European languages, spoken by the Proto-Indo-Europeans. The existence of such a language has been accepted by linguists for over a century, and there have been many attempts at reconstruction. Nevertheless, many disagreements and uncertainties remain.

Discovery and reconstruction

Classification of Indo-European languages.
(click to enlarge)


Historical and geographical setting

There are several competing hypotheses about when and where PIE was spoken. The Kurgan hypothesis is "the single most popular" model, postulating that the Kurgan culture of the Pontic steppe were the hypothesized speakers of the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European language. However, alternative theories such as the Anatolian urheimat and Armenian hypothesis have also gained acceptance.

The satemization process that resulted in the Centum-Satem isogloss probably started as early as the fourth millennium BC andthe only thing known for certain is that the proto language must have been differentiated into unconnected daughter dialects by the late 3rd millennium BC.

Mainstream linguistic estimates of the time between PIE and the earliest attested texts (ca. nineteenth century BC; see Kültepe textsmarker) range around 1,500 to 2,500 years, with extreme proposals diverging up to another 100% on either side. Other than the aforementioned, predominant Kurgan hypothesis, proposed models include:

History

The classical phase of Indo-European comparative linguistics leads from Franz Bopp's Comparative Grammar (1833) to August Schleicher's 1861 Compendium and up to Karl Brugmann's Grundriss published from the 1880s. Brugmann's junggrammatische re-evaluation of the field and Ferdinand de Saussure's development of the laryngeal theory may be considered the beginning of "contemporary" Indo-European studies.

PIE as described in the early 1900s is still generally accepted today; subsequent work is largely refinement and systematization, as well as the incorporation of new information, notably the Anatolian and Tocharian branches unknown in the 19th century.

Notably, the laryngeal theory, in its early forms discussed since the 1880s, became mainstream after Jerzy Kuryłowicz's 1927 discovery of the survival of at least some of these hypothetical phonemes in Anatolian. Julius Pokorny's Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch (1959) gave an overview of the lexical knowledge accumulated until the early 20th century, but neglected contemporary trends of morphology and phonology, and largely ignored Anatolian and Tocharian.

The generation of Indo-Europeanists active in the last third of the 20th century (such as Calvert Watkins, Jochem Schindler and Helmut Rix) developed a better understanding of morphology and, in the wake of Kuryłowicz's 1956 Apophonie, understanding of the ablaut. From the 1960s, knowledge of Anatolian became certain enough to establish its relationship to PIE; see also Indo-Hittite.

Method

There is no direct evidence of PIE, because it was never written. All PIE sounds and words are reconstructed from later Indo-European languages using the comparative method and the method of internal reconstruction. An asterisk is used to mark reconstructed PIE words, such as * 'water', * 'dog' (English hound), or * 'three (masculine)'. Many of the words in the modern Indo-European languages seem to have derived from such "protowords" via regular sound changes (e.g., Grimm's law).

As the Proto-Indo-European language broke up, its sound system diverged as well, according to various sound laws in the daughter languages. Notable among these are Grimm's law and Verner's law in Proto-Germanic, loss of prevocalic *p- in Proto-Celtic, reduction to h of prevocalic *s- in Proto-Greek, Brugmann's law and Bartholomae's law in Proto-Indo-Iranian, Grassmann's law independently in both Proto-Greek and Proto-Indo-Iranian, and Winter's law and Hirt's law in Balto-Slavic.

Relationships to other language families

Proposed genetic connections

Many higher-level relationships between Proto-Indo-European and other language families have been proposed, but these hypothesized connections are highly controversial. A proposal often considered to be the most plausible of these is that of an Indo-Uralic family, encompassing PIE and Uralic. The evidence usually cited in favor of this consists in a number of striking morphological and lexical resemblances. Opponents attribute the lexical resemblances to borrowing from Indo-European into Uralic. Frederik Kortlandt, while advocating a connection, concedes that "the gap between Uralic and Indo-European is huge", while Lyle Campbell, an authority on Uralic, denies any relationship exists.

Other proposals, further back in time (and proportionately less accepted), link Indo-European and Uralic with Altaic and the other language families of northern Eurasia, namely Yukaghir, Korean, Japanese, Chukotko-Kamchatkan, Nivkh, Ainu, and Eskimo-Aleut, but excluding Yeniseian (the most comprehensive such proposal is Joseph Greenberg's Eurasiatic), or link Indo-European, Uralic, and Altaic to Afro-Asiatic and Dravidian (the traditional form of the Nostratic hypothesis), and ultimately to a single Proto-Human family.

A more rarely mentioned proposal associates Indo-European with the Northwest Caucasian languages in a family called Proto-Pontic.

Etruscan shows some similarities to Indo-European. There is no consensus on whether these are due to a genetic relationship, borrowing, chance and sound symbolism, or some combination of these.

Proposed areal connections

The existence of certain PIE typological features in Northwest Caucasian languages may hint at an early Sprachbund or substratum that reached geographically to the PIE homelands. This same type of languages, featuring complex verbs and of which the current Northwest Caucasian languages might have been the sole survivors, was cited by Peter Schrijver to indicate a local lexical and typological reminiscence in western Europe pointing to a possible Neolithic substratum.

Phonology

Consonants

Labial Coronal Dorsal Laryngeal
palatal plain labial
Nasal
Plosive voiceless  
voiced  
aspirated  
Fricative
Liquid
Semivowel
Alternative notations: The aspirated plosives are sometimes written as ; for the palatals, are often used; and can replace .

The pronunciation of the laryngeals is disputed, at least *h₁ might not have been a fricative.

Vowels

  • Short vowels: , (and possibly ).
  • Long vowels: , (and possibly ). Sometimes a colon (:) is employed instead of the macron sign to indicate vowel length (*a:, *e:, *o:).
  • Diphthongs: . Diphthongs are sometimes understood as combinations of a vowel plus a semivowel, e. g. *ey or *ei̯ instead of *ei.
  • Vocalic allophones of laryngeals, nasals, liquids and semivowels: .
  • Long variants of these vocalic allophones may have appeared already in the proto-language by compensatory lengthening (for example of a vowel plus a laryngeal): .


It is often suggested that all and were earlier derived from an preceded or followed by , but Mayrhofer has argued that PIE did in fact have and phonemes independent of .

Morphology

Root

PIE was an inflected language, in which the grammatical relationships between words were signaled through inflectional morphemes (usually endings). The roots of PIE are basic morphemes carrying a lexical meaning. By addition of suffixes, they form stems, and by addition of desinences (usually endings), these form grammatically inflected words (nouns or verbs). PIE roots are understood to be predominantly monosyllabic with a basic shape CvC(C). This basic root shape is often altered by ablaut. Roots which appear to be vowel initial are believed by many scholars to have originally begun with a set of consonants, later lost in all but the Anatolian branch, called laryngeals (usually indicated , and often specified with a subscript number ). Thus a verb form such as the one reflected in Latin , Greek (ágousi), Sanskrit would be reconstructed as , with the element constituting the root per se.

Ablaut

One of the distinctive aspects of PIE was its ablaut sequence that contrasted the vowel phonemes / Ø [no vowel] within the same root. Ablaut is a form of vowel variation which changed between these three forms perhaps depending on the adjacent sounds and placement of stress in the word. These changes are echoed in modern Indo-European languages where they have come to reflect grammatical categories. These ablaut grades are usually referred to as: e-grade and o-grade, sometimes collectively termed full grade; zero-grade (no vowel, Ø); and lengthened grade ( or ). Modern English sing, sang, sung is an example of such an ablaut set and reflects a pre-Proto-Germanic sequence *sengw-, *songw-, *sngw-. Some scholars believe that the inflectional affixes of Indo European reflect ablaut variants, usually zero-grade, of older PIE roots. Often the zero-grade appears where the word's accent has shifted from the root to one of the affixes. Thus the alternation found in Latin est, sunt reflects PIE .

Noun

Proto-Indo-European nouns were declined for eight or nine cases (nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, instrumental, ablative, locative, vocative, and possibly a directive or allative). There were three genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter.

There are two major types of declension, thematic and athematic. Thematic nominal stems are formed with a suffix (in vocative ) and the stem does not undergo ablaut. The athematic stems are more archaic, and they are classified further by their ablaut behaviour (acro-dynamic, protero-dynamic, hystero-dynamic and holo-dynamic, after the positioning of the early PIE accent (dynamis) in the paradigm).

Pronoun

PIE pronouns are difficult to reconstruct owing to their variety in later languages. This is especially the case for demonstrative pronouns. PIE had personal pronouns in the first and second person, but not the third person, where demonstratives were used instead. The personal pronouns had their own unique forms and endings, and some had two distinct stems; this is most obvious in the first person singular, where the two stems are still preserved in English I and me. According to Beekes, there were also two varieties for the accusative, genitive and dative cases, a stressed and an enclitic form.

Personal pronouns (Beekes)
First person Second person
Singular Plural Singular Plural
Nominative
Accusative
Genitive
Dative
Instrumental ? ?
Ablative
Locative


As for demonstratives, Beekes tentatively reconstructs a system with only two pronouns: "this, that" and "the (just named)" (anaphoric). He also postulates three adverbial particles "here", "there" and "away, again", from which demonstratives were constructed in various later languages.

Verb

The Indo-European verb system is complex and, as the noun, exhibits a system of ablaut. Verbs have at least four moods (indicative, imperative, subjunctive and optative, as well as possibly the injunctive, reconstructible from Vedic Sanskrit), two voices (active and mediopassive), as well as three persons (first, second and third) and three numbers (singular, dual and plural). Verbs are conjugated in at least three "tenses" (present, aorist, and perfect), which actually have primarily aspect value. Indicative forms of the imperfect and (less likely) the pluperfect may have existed. Verbs were also marked by a highly developed system of participles, one for each combination of tense and mood, and an assorted array of verbal nouns and adjectival formations.

Buck Beekes
Athematic Thematic Athematic Thematic
Singular 1st
2nd
3rd
Plural 1st
2nd
3rd


Numbers

The Proto-Indo-European numerals are generally reconstructed as follows:

Sihler Beekes
one
two
three (full grade) / (zero grade)
four (o-grade) / (zero grade)

(see also the )
five
six ; originally perhaps
seven
eight , or ,
nine
ten
twenty ; originally perhaps
thirty ; originally perhaps
forty ; originally perhaps
fifty ; originally perhaps
sixty ; originally perhaps
seventy ; originally perhaps
eighty ; originally perhaps
ninety ; originally perhaps
hundred ; originally perhaps
thousand ;
Lehmann believes that the numbers greater than ten were constructed separately in the dialects groups and that originally meant "a large number" rather than specifically "one hundred."

Particle

Many particles could be used both as adverbs and postpositions, like "under, below". The postpositions became prepositions in most daughter languages. Other reconstructible particles include negators ( ), conjunctions ( "and", "or" and others) and an interjection ( , an expression of woe or agony).

Sample texts

As PIE was spoken by a prehistoric society, no genuine sample texts are available, but since the 19th century modern scholars have made various attempts to compose example texts for purposes of illustration. These texts are educated guesses at best; Calvert Watkins in 1969 observes that in spite of its 150 years' history, comparative linguistics is not in the position to reconstruct a single well-formed sentence in PIE. Nevertheless, such texts do have the merit of giving an impression of what a coherent utterance in PIE might have sounded like.

Published PIE sample texts:

Notes

  1. . "The Kurgan solution is attractive and has been accepted by many archaeologists and linguists, in part or total. It is the solution one encounters in the Encyclopaedia Britannica and the Grand Dictionnaire Encyclopédique Larousse."
  2. . "The single most popular proposal is the Pontic steppes (see the Kurgan hypothesis)..."
  3. ".. the satemization process can be dated to the last centuries of the fourth millennium." [1] THE SPREAD OF THE INDO-EUROPEANS -Frederik Kortlandt.
  4. Russell D. Gray and Quentin D. Atkinson, Language-tree divergence times support the Anatolian theory of Indo-European origin, Nature 426 (27 November 2003) 435-439
  5. [2] Frederik Kortlandt-GENERAL LINGUISTICS AND INDO-EUROPEAN RECONSTRUCTION, 1993
  6. [3] The spread of the Indo-Europeans - Frederik Kortlandt, 1989
  7. [4] Peter Schrijver - Keltisch en de buren: 9000 jaar taalcontact, University of Utrecht, March 2007.
  8. Mayrhofer 1986: 170 ff.


See also



Daughter proto-languages



References

  • Lehmann, W., and L. Zgusta. 1979. Schleicher's tale after a century. In Festschrift for Oswald Szemerényi on the Occasion of his 65th Birthday, ed. B. Brogyanyi, 455–66. Amsterdam.
  • Mallory, J.P., (1989). In Search of the Indo-Europeans London: Thames and Hudson. ISBN 0-500-27616-1
  • Renfrew, Colin (1987). Archaeology & Language. The Puzzle of the Indo-European Origins. London: Jonathan Cape. ISBN 0-224-02495-7
  • Vyacheslav V. Ivanov and Thomas Gamkrelidze, The Early History of Indo-­European Languages, Scientific American, vol. 262, N3, 110­116, March, 1990
  • Remys, Edmund, General distinguishing features of various Indo-European languages and their relationship to Lithuanian, Indogermanische Forschungen, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin, New York, Band 112, 2007.


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