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INDO-EUROPEAN LANGUAGES

INDO-EUROPEAN LANGUAGES. The Indo-European (I.E.) languages are a family of kindred dialects spread over a large part of Europe, and of Asia as far as India.

The main branches so far identified fall easily into two groups of four. These groups are distinguished from one another by the treatment of certain original guttural sounds, k(c), g, kh, gh, which one group shows as consonants, while the other converts them into sibilants. The variation is well shown in the word for “hundred”: Gr. ἑ-κατόν, Lat. centum, Old Irish cēt; Sanskrit śatam, Zend satəm, Lithuanian szim̄tas, Old Bulgarian (Old ecclesiastical Slavonic) sŭto. In the first three the consonant is a hard guttural (the Romans said kentum, not sentum), in the others it is a sibilant (the Lithuanian sz is the English sh).

The first group (generally known as the centum-group) is the Western and entirely European group, the second (generally known as the satem-group) with one exception lies to the east of the centum-group and much its largest part is situated in Asia. To the centum-group belong (1) Greek; (2) the Italic languages, including Latin, Oscan, Umbrian and various minor dialects of ancient Italy; (3) Celtic, including (a) the Q-Celtic languages, Irish, Manx and Scotch Gaelic, (b) the P-Celtic, including the language of ancient Gaul, Welsh, Cornish and Breton: the differentiation, which exists also in the Italic languages, turning upon the treatment of original kw sounds, which all the Italic languages save Latin and the little-known Faliscan and the (b) group of the Celtic languages change to p. With these go (4) the Germanic or Teutonic languages, including (a) Gothic, (b) the Scandinavian languages, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic—differentiated in historical times out of a single language, Old Norse,—(c) West Germanic, Including English and Frisian, Low Frankish (from which spring modern Dutch and Flemish), Low and High German.

To the satem-group belongs (1) Aryan or Indo-Iranian, including (a) Sanskrit, with its descendants, (b) Zend, and (c) Old Persian, from which is ultimately descended Modern Persian, largely modified, however, by Arabic words. This group is often divided into two sub-groups, Indo-Aryan, including the languages of India, and Iranian, used as a general title for Zend and Old Persian as the languages of ancient Iran. Although the sounds of Indo-Aryan and Iranian differ considerably, phrases of the earliest form of the one can be transliterated into the other without change in vocabulary or syntax. (2) To the west of these lies Armenian, which is so full of borrowed Iranian words that only in 1875 was it successfully differentiated by Hübschmann as an independent language. It is probably related to, or the descendant of, the ancient Phrygian, which spread into Asia from Thrace by the migration of tribes across the Hellespont. Of ancient Thracian unfortunately we know very little. (3) North of the Black Sea, and widening its borders in all directions, comes the great Balto-Slavonic group. In this there are two branches somewhat resembling the division between Indo-Aryan and Iranian. Here three small dialects on the south-east coast of the Baltic form the first group, Lithuanian, Lettish and Old Prussian, the last being extinct since the 17th century. The Slavonic languages proper themselves fall into two groups: (a) an Eastern and Southern group, including Old Bulgarian, the ecclesiastical language first known from the latter part of the 9th century A.D.; Russian in its varieties of Great Russian, White Russian and Little Russian or Ruthenian; and Servian and Slovene, which extend to the Adriatic. (b) The western group includes Polish with minor dialects, Czech or Bohemian, also with minor languages in the group, and Sorb. In the satem division is also included (4) Albanian, which like Armenian is much mixed with foreign elements—Latin, Greek, Turkish and Slavonic. The relation between it and the ancient Illyrian is not clear.

Besides the languages mentioned there are many others now extinct or of which little is known—e.g. Venetic, found in clearly written inscriptions with a distinctive alphabet in north-eastern Italy; Messapian, in the heel of Italy, which is supposed to have been connected with the ancient Illyrian; and possibly also the unknown tongue which has been found recently on several inscriptions in Crete and seems to have been the language of the pre-Hellenic population, the finds apparently confirming the statement of Herodotus (vii. 170) that the earlier population survived in later times only at Praesos and Polichne. Names of deities worshipped by the Aryan branch are reported to have been discovered in the German excavations at Boghaz-Keui (anc. Pteria, q.v.) in Cappadocia; names of kings appear in widely separated areas elsewhere in Asia,[1] and a language not hitherto known has recently been found in excavations in Turkestan and christened by its first investigators Tocharish.[2] So far as yet ascertained, Tocharish seems to be a mongrel dialect produced by an intermixture of peoples speaking respectively an I.E. language and a language of an entirely different origin. The stems of the words are clearly in many cases I.E., but the terminations are no less clearly alien to this family of languages. It is remarkable that some of its words, like ku, “dog,” have a hard k, while the other languages of this stock in Asia, so far as at present known, belong to the satem-group, and have in such words replaced the k by a sibilant.

Till the latter part of the 18th century it was the universal practice to refer all languages ultimately to a Hebrew origin, because Hebrew, being the language of the Bible, was assumed, with reference to the early chapters of Genesis, to be the original language. Even on these premises the argument was unsound, for the same authority also recorded a confusion of tongues at Babel, so that it was unreasonable to expect that languages thus violently metamorphosed could be referred so easily at a later period to the same original. The first person to indicate very briefly the existence of the Indo-European family, though he gave it no distinctive name, was Sir William Jones in his address to the Bengal Oriental Society in 1786. Being a skilled linguist, he recognized that Sanskrit must be of the same origin as Greek, Latin, Teutonic (Germanic) and possibly Celtic (Asiatic Researches, i. p. 422; Works of Sir W. Jones, i. p. 26, London, 1799). Unfortunately Sir William Jones’s views as to the relationship of the languages were not adopted for many years by later investigators. He had said quite definitely, “No philologer could examine them all three (Sanskrit, Greek and Latin) without believing them to have sprung from some common source, which perhaps no longer exists.” Friedrich Schlegel, who learnt Sanskrit from Alexander Hamilton in Paris nearly twenty years later, started the view that Sanskrit, instead of being the sister, was the mother of the other languages, a mistake which, though long since refuted in all philological works, has been most persistent.

Curiously enough the history of the names given to the family is obscure. The earliest known occurrence of the word “Indo-European” is in an article in the Quarterly Review for 1813[3] by Dr Thomas Young. The term has been in use in English and in French almost continuously since that date. But a glance at Dr Young’s article will show that he included under Indo-European many languages like Basque, Etruscan and Arabian (his term for Semitic), which certainly do not belong to this family of languages at all; and if the term is taken to mean, as it would seem to imply, all the languages spoken in India and Europe, it is undoubtedly a misnomer. There are many languages in India, as those of the Dravidians in Southern India and those of Northern Assam, which do not belong to this family. On the other hand there are many languages belonging to the family which exist outside both India and Europe—Zend, Old Persian, Armenian, Phrygian, to say nothing of languages recently discovered. The term most commonly used in Germany is “Indo-Germanic.” This was employed by Klaproth as early as 1823. It is said not to have been invented by him, but by whom and

  1. E. Meyer, Sitzungsberichte der Berliner Akademie (1908, pp. 14 ff.), and more fully in Kuhn’s Zeitschrift (xlii. pp. 17 ff.); also Geschichte des Altertums (i. 2, 2nd ed. pp. 807 ff.).
  2. Sieg und Siegling, “Tocharisch, die Sprache der Indoskythen” (Sitzb. d. Berl. Ak. 1908, pp. 915 ff.).
  3. No. xix. p. 255, “Another ancient and extensive class of languages, united by a greater number of resemblances than can well be altogether accidental, may be denominated the Indo-European, comprehending the Indian, the West Asiatic, and almost all the European languages.”