The Indo-European Family

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This is the second part of Guruji’s summary of F.T. Wood’s book on the English Language

  1. The Nature and Origin of Language
  2. The Indo-European Family
  3. The Germanic Sub-group
  4. Grimm’s Law
  5. Verner’s Law
  6. The Great Vowel Shift
  7. A Survey of Developments during the Middle English Period
  8. The Evolution of Standard English
  9. Change in Meaning
  10. Growth of Vocabulary

The Indo-European Family

Spoken in 3000 – 3500 B.C. by nomadic tribes around Black Sea, Steppes of Siberia – tribes split up – Euro – Asia – each section taking a section of the parent language – isolated – gaining an identity of its own – addition by each group – 2000 BC – original I.E. split up into eight distinct language groups / dialects

Germanic – English, Duth, German, Danish – unrelated to Romance and Slavonic groups

Aryan – subdivision –  Sanskrit and other Indian and Persian


English belongs to a huge complex of languages known as Indo-European, arbitrarily so-named by scholars from what were in earlier times the easternmost and westernmost limits of the distribution of these languages.   This distribution of a relatively uniform ‘parent’ language, also called ‘Indo-European’ was accomplished in a series of emigrations from our original homeland of whose precise location we cannot be sure, though it was almost certainly in Europe, probably in Northern or Central part.  These earliest migrations – those to India and Persia – would thus have been in a south-easterly direction.  The migration began in pre-historic times and extended over thousands of years.

In addition to Germanic, which is our principal concern, the Indo-European includes Latin and various developments in the so-called Romance Languages (Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Rumanian and a few others of less importance), Greek, the Celtic languages (Gaelic, Manx, Welsh, Breton and others no longer spoken), the Slavic languages (Russian, Polish, Czecho-Slovac, Serbo-croatian and Bulgarian) the Baltic languages (Lithuanian, Lettish, and the now extinct old Prussian), the Indic languages (Sanskrit, and other non-Dravidian languages of India and the language of the Gypsies, who originally came from north-western India), Iranian (or Persian), Armenian, Albanian and the long extinct Hittite and Trocharian.  Basque, spoken in the region of Pyrenees by both French and Spanish nationals is not Indo-European; it is seemingly totally unrelated to any living tongue.  Other languages spoken in Europe but not of the Indo-European group are a number belonging to what is called the Finno-Ugric group, including Estonian, Finnish, Lappish and Hungarian (or Magyar).  The so-called Altaic group includes several varieties of Turkish, spoken over large areas of Europe as well as in Asia;  Mongolian and Manchu, spoken only in Asia, are also classified as Altaic.

The relationship of the various Indo-European languages to one another is obvious in many respects, despite the manifold changes that that have occurred in the various tongues in the course of many centuries.  For one thing, all are ‘inflective’, that is, all are in some degree characterized by a system of modifications in the forms of words, principally by means of endings, to indicate grammatical relationships of one sort to another – endings like plural suffix of ‘stones’ and the past suffix of ‘loved’.  Modern languages of Indo-European origin have lost much of their inflective system, but all have retained traces of it.  Relationships can be shown most strikingly by a comparison of cognates, that is, related words in various Indo-European languages.

We should expect such fundamental words as those for lower numerals and those denoting close family relationships to be shared by various members of the group.  Thus to take a random shot, the modern English numeral called ‘seven’ so closely resembles Gothic ‘Syv’, Bulgarian ‘Sedem’ and Sanskrit ‘Sapta’ that even the bleariest eye could detect their relationship.  By examining such forms, always taking into consideration developments in the various languages such as the change of Indo-European initial /S/ to /h/ in Greek (in which the word is ‘hepta’), and Iranian, linguists hypothesize an Indo-European original ‘Septm’ – no great feat in the light of all the evidence that we possess in the recorded forms.  No such similarity exists between any of the forms cited and non-Indo-European words for the numeral – for instance, Mongolia ‘dologhan’, Koran ‘iglop’, Turkish ‘yedi’, Vietnemese ‘bay’, Chinese ‘chi’i’.