How does the language have a method of comparison

Proto-language - Proto-language

Common ancestor of a language family
Tree model of historical linguistics. The proto languages ​​are at the junction points or nodes: 15, 6, 20 and 7. The leaf languages ​​or endpoints are 2, 5, 9 and 31. The root language is 15. Conventionally, the proto language The languages ​​are called Proto-5-9, Proto- 2-5-9 and Proto-31 or Common 5-9 etc. The entire original language has a proton name that reflects the common name of the entire family, e.g. B. Germanic, Italic, etc. The connections between nodes indicate a descent or a genetic descent. All languages ​​in the tree are related. Nodes 6 and 20 are the daughters of 15, their parents. Nodes 6 and 20 are related languages ​​or sister languages, etc. The leaf languages ​​must be confirmed by some kind of documentation, even a lexical list of some words. All proto-languages ​​are hypothetical or reconstructed languages; However, documentation is sometimes found to support their past existence.

In the tree model of historical linguistics there is one Proto-language a postulated ancestral language once spoken, from which it is assumed that a number of attested languages ​​descended through evolution and form a language family. Proto-languages ​​are generally not or in some cases only partially attested. They are reconstructed using the comparison method.

In the family tree metaphor, a proto-language can be called a mother tongue. Occasionally it will instead the German term Original language (out Original "Ur-, Original" - and language "Language", pronounced [ˈUːɐ̯ʃpʁaːxə]) is used. It is sometimes called a common or primitive The form of a language (e.g. Common Germanic, Primitive Norse).

In the narrower sense, a proto-language is the youngest common ancestor of a language family, immediately before the family began to be attested To disintegrate daughter languages . It is therefore synonymous with the language the ancestors or the Parent language a language family.

Furthermore, a group of languages ​​(such as a dialect cluster) that (for whatever reason) are not considered to be separate languages ​​can also be described as descending from a single proto-language.

Definition and review

Typically, the proto-language is not directly known. By definition, it is a linguistic reconstruction that is formulated by applying the comparison method to a group of languages ​​with similar characteristics. The tree is a statement about similarity and a hypothesis that the similarity results from the descent from a common language.

The comparison method, a derivation process, begins with a series of features or characters that can be found in the attested languages. If the entire set can be explained by derivation from the proto-language, which must contain the proto-forms of all, then the tree or phylogeny will be taken as the complete explanation and credible by Occam's razor. More recently, such a tree has been called "perfect" and the characters have been called "compatible".

No trees, but the smallest branches are ever found to be perfect, also because languages ​​also develop through horizontal transfer with their neighbors. As a rule, the hypotheses of the highest compatibility are given credibility. The differences in compatibility must be explained by different applications of the wave model. The degree of completeness of the reconstruction achieved depends on how complete the evidence from the descendant languages ​​is and how the characters are formulated by the linguists working on them. Not all characters are suitable for the comparison method. For example, lexical items that are loans from another language do not reflect the phylogeny being tested and, if used, affect compatibility. Finding the correct data set for the comparison method is an important task in historical linguistics.

Some commonly accepted proto-languages ​​are Proto-Indo-European, Proto-Ural, and Proto-Dravidian.

In some fortuitous cases that were used to test the method and model (and were probably ultimately inspired), a literary history already existed a few millennia ago, making it possible to trace the descent in detail. The early daughter languages, as well as the proto-language itself, can be attested in traditional texts. For example, Latin is the proto-language of the Romance language family, which includes modern languages ​​such as French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Catalan, and Spanish. Likewise, Proto-Norse, the ancestor of the modern Scandinavian languages, is attested in Elder Futhark, albeit in fragmentary form. Although there are no very early Indo-Aryan inscriptions, the Indo-Aryan languages ​​of modern India all go back to Vedic Sanskrit (or dialects very closely related to it), which has been preserved in texts passed through parallel oral and written traditions have been passed down precisely over many centuries.

The first person to offer systematic reconstructions of an untested proto-language was August Schleicher; He did this for Proto-Indo-European in 1861.

Proto-X versus Pre-X

Usually the term "Proto-X" refers to the last common ancestor of a group of languages ​​that is occasionally attested but most often reconstructed by the comparative method, such as Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Germanic. An earlier stage of a single language X, which was reconstructed by the method of internal reconstruction, is referred to as "pre-X" as in pre-ancient Japanese. It is also possible to apply an internal reconstruction to a proto-language and get a pre-proto-language like Pre-Proto-Indo-European.

Both prefixes are sometimes used for an unchecked level of a language without reference to any comparative or internal reconstruction. "Pre-X" is also sometimes used for a postulated substrate, as in the pre-Indo-European languages ​​which are believed to have been spoken prior to the arrival of the Indo-European languages ​​in Europe and South Asia.

When multiple historical stages of a single language exist, the oldest attested stage is usually referred to as "Ancient X" (e.g., Ancient English and Ancient Japanese). In other cases, such as Old Irish and Old Norse, the term refers to the language of the oldest known significant texts. Each of these languages ​​has an older stage (primitive Irish or Protonordic) that is only fragmentarily documented.


There are no objective criteria for evaluating different reconstruction systems that result in different proto-languages. Many researchers studying linguistic reconstruction agree that the traditional comparison method is an "intuitive endeavor".

Researchers' bias about the accumulated tacit knowledge can also lead to false assumptions and over-generalization. Kortlandt (1993) provides several examples where such general assumptions about the "nature of language" hampered research in historical linguistics. Linguists personally judge how they think it is "natural" for a language to change, and

"As a result, our reconstructions tend to focus heavily on the average type of language known to the investigator."

Such an investigator is blinked through his own linguistic frame of reference.

The emergence of the wave model raised new problems in the area of ​​linguistic reconstruction, which led to a re-evaluation of old reconstruction systems and deprived the proto-language of its "uniform character". This is shown in Karl Brugmann's skepticism that the reconstruction systems could ever reflect a linguistic reality. Ferdinand de Saussure would even express a more certain opinion and completely reject a positive specification of the sound values ​​of reconstruction systems.

In general, the question of the nature of protolanguage remains unsolved, with linguists generally taking either the realistic or the abstractionist To take position. Even the widely studied proto-languages ​​such as Proto-Indo-European have expressed criticism that they are typologically outliers with respect to the reconstructed phonemic inventory. The alternatives such as glottal theory, while being a typologically less rare system, have not found wider acceptance, with some researchers even suggesting the use of indices to represent the controversial range of explosives. At the other end of the spectrum, Pulgram (1959: 424) suggests that Proto-Indo-European reconstructions are just "a set of reconstructed formulas" and "not representative of any reality". In the same direction Julius Pokorny in his study of Indo-European claims that the linguistic term IE mother tongue is just an abstraction that does not actually exist, and it is possibly intended to be understood as being made up of dialects from the Paleolithic, in These dialects formed the linguistic structure of the IE language group. In his view, Indo-European is exclusively a system of isoglosses that linked dialects that were operationalized by different tribes from which the historically attested Indo-European languages ​​arose.

See also



  • Lehmann, Winfred P. (1993), Theoretical foundations of Indo-European linguistics , London, New York: Taylor & Francis Group (Routledge)
  • Schleicher, August (1861–1862), Compendium of the comparative grammar of the Indo-European languages: 2 volumes , Weimar: H. Boehlau (reprint: Minerva GmbH, Wissenschaftlicher Verlag), ISBN
  • Kortlandt, Frederik (1993), General Linguistics and Indo-European Reconstruction (PDF) (Revised text of a paper read on December 2, 1993 at the Institute for General and Applied Linguistics at the University of Copenhagen)
  • Brugmann, Karl; Delbrück, Berthold (1904), Brief comparative grammar of the Indo-European languages , Strasbourg
  • Saussure, Ferdinand de (1969), Cours de linguistique générale [ General linguistics course ] (in French), Paris
  • Pulgram, Ernst (1959), "Proto-Indo-European Reality and Reconstruction", Language , 35 (July - September): 421-426, doi: 10.2307 / 411229, JSTOR 411229
  • Pokorny, Julius (1953), General and Comparative Linguistics - Indo-European Studies [ General and Comparative Linguistics - Indo-European Studies ], 2 , Bern. A. Francke Verlag AG, pp. 79-80