Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

when it was invented is not quite ascertained.[1] It is an attempt to name the family by its most easterly and most westerly links. At the time when it was invented it had not yet been settled whether Celtic was or was not a member of this family. But in any case the term would not have been wrong, for members of the Germanic stock have been settled for above a thousand years in Iceland, the most westerly land of Europe, and for the last four centuries have increasingly dominated the continent of America. As has been pointed out by Professor Buck of Chicago (Classical Review, xviii. p. 400), owing to the German method of pronouncing eu as oi, the word “Indo-Germanic” is easier for a German to pronounce than “Indo-European.” Attempts to discover a more accurate and less ponderous term, such as “Indo-Celtic” or “Celtindic,” have not met with popular favour. Aryan (q.v.) is conveniently brief, but is wanted as the proper term for the most easterly branch of the family. What is wanted is a term which does not confuse ethnological and linguistic ideas. Not all speakers of any given language are necessarily of the same stock. In ancient Rome Latin must have been spoken by many slaves or sons of slaves who had no Latin blood in their bodies, though a slave if manumitted by his master might be the father or grandfather of a Roman citizen with full rights. Plautus and Terence were both aliens, the one an Umbrian, the other an African. The speakers of modern English are even a more multifarious body. A possible name for the family, implying only the speaking of a language of the stock without any reference to racial or national characteristics, could be obtained from the name for man, so widely though perhaps not altogether universally diffused throughout the family—Sanskrit vīras, Lithuanian wyras, Lat. vir, Irish fer, Gothic waír, &c. If the speakers of these languages were called collectively Wiros, no confusion with ethnological theories need arise.

It is customary to talk of the roots, stems and suffixes of words in the Indo-European languages. These languages are distinguished from languages like Chinese by the fact that in the great majority of words suffixes can be separated from roots. But the distinction between them and the so-called agglutinative languages is one of degree rather than of kind. In the agglutinative languages, or at any rate in some of them, some of the post-fixed elements have still an independent value. In the Indo-Germanic languages no one can say what the meaning of the earliest suffixes was. Suffixes which have developed in individual languages or individual sections of this family of languages can often be traced, e.g. the often quoted -hood in English words like “manhood,” or the English -ly in “manly,” which has gradually extended till it is actually attached to its own parent like in “likely.” But all recent investigation goes to show that before the Indo-European languages separated they possessed words with all the characteristics which we recognize in substantives like the Latin dominus or verbs like the Greek δείκνυται. Or, to put the same fact in another way, by the comparative method it is impossible to reach a period when the speakers of Indo-European languages spoke in roots. A “root” is only a convenient philological abstraction; it is merely the remnant which is left when all the elements that can be analysed are taken away; it is therefore only a kind of greatest common measure for a greater or smaller body of words expressing modifications of the same idea. Thus, though by no means the earliest form of the word, the English man might be taken as the “root” from which are derived by various suffixes manhood, manly, mannish, manful, manned (past tense), manned (participle), unman, mannikin, &c. How far the suffixes which can be traced back to Indo-European times (i.e. to a time before the separation of the languages) had existence as separate entities it is impossible to say. From what we see of the later history of the languages it is much more probable that both forms and signification were very largely the result of analogy. For in the making of new words analogy plays a much larger part than any reference to general principles of formation or composition. New words are to a large extent, even in modern times, the invention of persons unskilled in the history of language.

The first to point out that the term Indo-European (or Indo-Germanic) was not used uniformly in one sense was Professor Kretschmer in his Einleitung in die Geschichte der griechischen Sprache (Göttingen, 1896), pp. 9 ff. It is in fact used in three senses. (1) Indo-European is treated as preceding and different from all its descendants, a single uniform speech without dialects. But, strictly, no such language can exist, for even individual members of the same family differ from one another in pronunciation, vocabulary, sentence formation, etc. Thus it appears impossible to ascertain what the Indo-European term for the numeral 1 was, since different languages show at least four words for this, three of them presenting the same root with different suffixes: (a) Sanskrit eka (= *οι-qṷo-); (b) Zend aeva, Old Persian aiva, Greek οι-(ϝ)ο-ς (= *οι-ṷo-); (c) Greek οἰνή, “ace,” Latin unus (older oenus), Old Irish oen, Gothic ains, Lithuanian vénas (where the initial v has no more etymological signification than the w which now begins the pronunciation of the English one), Old Bulgarian inŭ; (d) Greek εἷς, ἔν (= *sem-s). But the Indo-European community must have had a word for the numeral since the various languages agree in forms for the numerals 2 to 10, and the original Indo-European people seem to have been able to count at least as far as 100. On the other hand, if the Indo-European language must have had dialects, the line of differentiation between it and its descendants becomes obliterated. (2) But even when a word is found very widely diffused over the area of the Indo-European languages, it is not justifiable to conclude that therefore the word must have belonged to the original language. The dispersion of the Indo-European people over the areas they now inhabit, or inhabited in the earliest times known to history, must have been gradual, and commerce or communication between different branches must have always existed to some extent; the word might thus have been transmitted from one community to another. When a word is found in two branches which are geographically remote from one another and is not found in the intermediate area, the probability that the word is original is somewhat stronger. But even in this case the originality of the word is by no means certain, for (a) the intervening branch or branches which do not possess the word may merely have dropped it and replaced it by another; (b) the geographical position which the branches occupy in historical times may not be their original position; the branches which do not possess the word may have forced themselves into the area they now occupy after they had dropped the word; (c) if the linguistic communities which possess the word have a seaboard and the intervening communities have not, the possibility of its transmission in connexion with early sea-borne commerce must be considered. At the dawn of European history the Phoenicians and the Etruscans are great seafarers; at a later time the Varangians of the North penetrated to the Mediterranean and as far as Constantinople; in modern times sea-borne commerce brought to Europe words from the Caribbean Indians like potato and tobacco, and gave English a new word for man-eating savages—cannibal. Thus with Kretschmer we must distinguish between what is common Indo-European and what is original Indo-European in language. (3) A word may exist in several of the languages, and may have existed in them for a very long time, and yet not be Indo-European. Hehn (Das Salz, ed. 2, 1901) rejects salt as an Indo-European word because it is not found in the Aryan group, though in this case he is probably wrong, (a) because, as has been shown by Professor Johannes Schmidt, its irregular declension (sal-d, genitive sal-nes) possesses characteristics of the oldest Indo-European words; (b) because the great plains of Iran are characterized by their great saltness, so that the Aryan branch did not pass through a country where salt was unknown, although, according to Herodotus (i. 133), the Persian did not use salt to season his food. Since Kretschmer wrote, this argument has been used very extensively by Professor A. Meillet of Paris in his Dialectes indo-européens (Paris, 1908). In this treatise he brings forward arguments from a great variety of facts to show that in the original Indo-European language there were dialects, the Aryan, Armenian, Balto-Slavonic and Albanian, as we have seen, forming an oriental group with novel characteristics developed in common, although in various other characteristics they do not agree. Similarly Italic, Celtic and Germanic form a Western group, while Greek agrees now with the one group now with the other, at some points being more intimately connected with Italic than with any other branch, at others inclining more towards the Aryan. This grouping, however, is by no means exclusive, members of either group having characteristics in common with individuals of the other group which they do not share with the other languages of their own group (Meillet, p. 131 ff.).

From all this it is clear that in many cases it must be extremely uncertain what is original Indo-European and what is not. Some general characteristics can, however, be predicated from what is handed down to us in the earliest forms of all or nearly all the existing languages. (1) The noun had certainly a large number of distinct cases in the singular: nominative, accusative, genitive, ablative, locative, instrumental, dative.[2] In the plural, however, there was less variety, the forms for dative and ablative being from the earliest times identical. In the dual, the oblique cases cannot be restored with certainty, so little agreement is there between the languages. In the locative-singular the ending -i seems to have been of the nature of a post-position, because in various languages (notably in Sanskrit) forms appear without any suffix. In the locative plural also the difference between the -su of Sanskrit and early Lithuanian (Slavonic -chu) on the one hand, and of -σι in Greek on the other,

  1. Leo Meyer, “Über den Ursprung der Namen Indogermanen, Semiten und Ugrofinner,” in the Göttinger gelehrte Nachrichten, philologisch-historische Klasse, 1901, pp. 454 ff.
  2. The vocative is not strictly speaking a case at all, for it stands outside the syntax of the sentence. It was originally an exclamatory form consisting of the bare stem without case suffix. In the plural the nominative is used to supply the lacking vocative form.