Indo-European languages

language family native to western and southern Eurasia— Europe, Iran and India

The Indo-European languages are a language family of several hundred related languages and dialects.


  • It now strikes me that the attempt to reconstruct a prototypical (“Proto- Indo-European") form from which all attested variants can ultimately be derived may actually obscure much of what is most fascinating and important in myth. For while this stance acknowledges that the contents of a given myth will vary as it is recounted by different persons over time and across space, such variation is treated as a problem—or better, as the problem—to be undone by scholarly research: research that takes as its task the restoration of some hypothetical “original." Such research aims, in effect, to reverse historic processes and recapture a primordial (and ahistoric) moment of unity, harmony, and univocal perfection. In its very presuppositions, such research—it now seems to me—is itself a species of myth and ritual, based upon a romantic "nostalgia for paradise," to cite Mircea Eliades famous formulation.
    • Lincoln 1991 quoted in Arvidsson, Stefan (2006), Aryan Idols: Indo-European Mythology as Ideology and Science, translated by Sonia Wichmann, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press. pp (303)
  • According to Renfrew, there are many pitfalls in the attempt to create an “inventory’’ of Proto-Indo-European words.166 For example, it can be very difficult to determine whether a word truly is inherited from the Proto-Indo- European vocabulary or has been borrowed later from an Indo-European sib­ ling language. If this question cannot be resolved, it is impossible to determine whether the object or phenomenon that the word denoted existed in the Proto- Indo-European homeland or is something that people became acquainted with later. And how can we know, Renfrew continues his critical review, that the semantic meaning of a word has been constant over the centuries? Without knowing that, one cannot use the word in question to create a picture of, say, the fauna that the Proto-Indo-Europeans were familiar with.
    • Arvidsson, Stefan (2006), Aryan Idols: Indo-European Mythology as Ideology and Science, translated by Sonia Wichmann, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press. (295)
  • When the IE family had been discovered and scholars sought the land of origin, they initially thought of India because of Sanskrit’s ancientness.
    • (Beekes 1990:73), quoted in Elst, Koenraad (2018). Still no trace of an Aryan invasion: A collection on Indo-European origins.
  • The question of identifying archaeological remains of Indo-European populations in Central Asia has been one of the main questions that has occupied a number of linguists and historians for many years [...] when written records are not available, a reconstructed time-space framework is generally used to substantiate the reconstruction with some relevant illustrative material. The linguistic attributes are mapped onto archaeological correlates: artifacts are selected, like the chariot, as well as ecofacts, like agriculture, or whole archaeological cultures (material assemblages). The archaeological correlates become some sort of labels or tags that one may employ in order to trace the supposed Indo-European populations. But, in fact, very little of the illustrative archaeological material actually exhibits specific Indo-European or Indo-Iranian traits; a question therefore arises: what is the relevance of archaeological material if any sort of assemblage present at the expected or supposed time/space spot can function as the tag of a linguistic group?
    • The Archaeology of Proto-historic Central Asia and the Problems of Identifying Indo-European and Uralic-speaking Populations. Francfort, H.P. pp. 151-163 in ―Early Contacts between Uralic and Indo-European: Linguistic and Archaeological Considerations‖, ed. Carpelan, Parpola, Koskikallio Suomalais- Ugrilainen Seura, Helsinki, 2001.. Quoted in Talageri, S. G. (2010). The Rigveda and the Avesta. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.
  • The great interest of the Ṛgveda is, in fact, historical rather than poetical. As in its original language we see the roots and shoots of the languages of Greek and Latin, of Kelt, Teuton and Slavonian, so the deities, the myths, and the religious beliefs and practices of the Veda throw a flood of light upon the religions of all European countries before the introduction of Christianity… the science of comparative philology could hardly have existed without the study of Sanskrit…”
    • Griffith in his preface to his translation of the Rigveda, quoted in Talageri, S. (2000). The Rigveda: A historical analysis. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.
  • We should not be misled by this into thinking that these scholars were anti-racist. They did not have to rely on a theory of race as such, for they had their own global theory that was fully able to inferiorize the languages (and by implication the cultures) of the other purely on linguistic grounds. Max Müller's linguistic taxonomy was a Hegelian hierarchy in which . . . cultural geography [becomes] the same as world history.
    • Ronald Inden . Quoted from Malhotra, R., Nīlakantan, A. (Princeton, N.J.). (2011). Breaking India: Western interventions in Dravidian and Dalit faultlines
  • The new theory of Language has unquestionably produced a new theory of Race . . . If you examine the bases proposed for common nationality before the new knowledge growing out of the study of Sanskrit had popularized in Europe, you will find them extremely unlike those which are now advocated and even passionately advocated in part of the Continent.
    • Henry James Sumner Maine quoted in :Malhotra, R., Nīlakantan, A. (Princeton, N.J.). (2011). Breaking India: Western interventions in Dravidian and Dalit faultlines
  • “Several kinds of evidence for the PIE locus have been presented here. Ancient loanwords point to a locus along the desert trajectory, not particularly close to Mesopotamia and probably far out in the eastern hinterlands. The structure of the family tree, the accumulation of genetic diversity at the western periphery of the range, the location of Tocharian and its implications for early dialect geography, the early attestation of Anatolian in Asia Minor, and the geography of the centum-satem split all point in the same direction: a locus in western central Asia. Evidence presented in Volume II supports the same conclusion: the long-standing westward trajectories of languages point to an eastward locus, and the spread of IE along all three trajectories points to a locus well to the east of the Caspian Sea. The satem shift also spread from a locus to the south-east of the Caspian, with satem languages showing up as later entrants along all three trajectory terminals. (The satem shift is a post-PIE but very early IE development). The locus of the IE spread was therefore somewhere in the vicinity of ancient Bactria-Sogdiana.” ...
  • “The locus is a smallish part of the range which functions in the same way as a dialect-geographical centre: an epicentre of sorts from which innovations spread to other regions and dialects, and a catchpoint at which cultural borrowings and linguistic loanwords entered from prestigious or economically important foreign societies to spread (along with native linguistic innovations) to the distant dialects. If an innovation arose in the vicinity of the locus, or a loanword entered, it spread to all or most of the family; otherwise, it remained a regionalism. Diversification of daughter dialects in a spread zone takes place far from the locus at the periphery, giving the family tree a distinctive shape with many major early branches, and creating a distinctive dialect map where genetic diversity piles up at the periphery. These principles make it possible to pinpoint the locus in space more or less accurately even for a language family as old as IE. Here it will be shown that the locus accounting for the distribution of loanwords, internal innovations and genetic diversity within IE could only have lain well to the east of the Caspian Sea.”...
  • “Central Eurasia is a linguistic bottleneck, spread zone, and extinction chamber, but its languages had to come from somewhere. The locus of the IE spread is a theoretical point representing a linguistic epicentre, not a literal place of ethnic or linguistic origin, so the ultimate origin of PIE need not be in the same place as the locus. There are several linguistically plausible possibilities for the origin of Pre-PIE. It could have spread eastward from the Black Sea steppe (as proposed by Mallory 1989 and by Anthony 1991, 1995), so that the locus formed only after this spread but still very early in the history of disintegrating PIE… It could have come into the spread zone from the east as Mongolian, Turkic, and probably Indo-Iranian did. Or it could have been a language of the early urban oases of southern central Asia.”...
  • The vast interior of Eurasia is a linguistic spread zone [....] where [....] a single language or language family spreads out over a broad territorial range.
  • The central Eurasian spread zone ... was part of a standing pattern whereby languages were drawn into the spread zone, spread westward, and were eventually succeeded by the next spreading family. The dispersal for each entering family occurred after entry into the spread zone. The point of dispersal for each family is the locus of its proto-homeland, and this locus eventually is engulfed by the next entering language [....] the locus is one of the earliest points to be overtaken by the next spread.
  • The vast interior of Eurasia is a linguistic spread zone—a genetic and typological bottleneck where many genetic lines go extinct, structural types tend to converge, a single language or language family spreads out over a broad territorial range, and one language family replaces another over a large range every few millennia. The linguistic geography of the central and western grasslands, from at least the Neolithic until early modern times, has consisted of an overall westward trajectory of language spreads... The central Eurasian spread zone... was part of a standing pattern whereby languages were drawn into the spread zone, spread westward, and were eventually succeeded by the next spreading family.
    • Johanna Nichols in Archaeology and Language, Vol. I: Theoretical and Methodological Orientations edited by Roger Blench and Matthew Spriggs, Routledge, London and New York, 1997. (Paper by Johanna Nichols). Quoted in Talageri, S. (2000). The Rigveda: A historical analysis. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.
  • Prior to the Iranian expansion, in the early Bronze Age, IE spread to cover the entire steppe and the Danube plain (and subsequently all of Europe), with substantial speech communities also in Anatolia (Hittite and congeners) and northern Mesopotamia (surviving in Armenian) and, in all probability, coverage of much or all of western central Asia (probably by ancestral Indo-Iranian). What is historically attested of the IE spread fits closely the pattern followed later by Iranian, Turkic, and Mongolian.
    • Johanna Nichols NICHOLS. 1998. The Eurasian spread zone and the Indo-European dispersal. in : Blench, R., & Spriggs, M. (2012). Archaeology and Language II: Archaeological Data and Linguistic Hypotheses. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis.
  • This is a familiar story. Crossland, writing as a skeptic about traditions concerning the origin of Greco-Roman civilization, remarks: ‘The role of the Indo-European peoples in the ancient world has been portrayed too often as the incarnation of northern virility sweeping down in massed chariots to bring new vigour to the decadant south’.
    • Crossland, quoted from LEACH, Edmund. 1990. Aryan Invasions Over Four Millennia. in E. Ohnuki-Tierney (ed.), ‘Culture Through Time, Anthropological Approaches’. Stanford University Press. Stanford (California)
  • After the dispersals of the early PIE dialects [...] there were still those who remained [...] Among them were the ancestors of the Greeks and Indo-Iranians [...] also shared by Armenian; all these languages it seems, existed in an area of mutual interaction.
    • Heaven, Heroes and Happiness: The Indo-European Roots of Western Ideology. Winn, Shan M.M. University Press of America, Lanham-New York-London, 1995. (WINN 1995:323-324)Quoted in Talageri, S. G. (2010). The Rigveda and the Avesta. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.
  • The biological situation among the speakers of modern Indo-European languages can only be explained through a transfer of languages like a baton, as it were, in a relay race, but not by several thousand miles’ migration of the tribes themselves.
  • [This is a very important insight for understanding the large common (partly pre-IE substratal) element in the European IE languages, distinguishing them collectively from Anatolian, Tokharic and Indo-Iranian:] “The study of the lexicon of the Northern European languages, especially Germanic and Baltic, reveals that a large number of terms relevant to the ecology of the habitat of the early populations of the area and to their socioeconomic activities have no plausible Indo-European etymology. (…) it is possible to ascribe to the pre-Indo-European substrate in the Baltic area a number of names of plants, animals, objects and activities characteristic of the Neolithic cultures.” [Many of these terms also extend to Celtic, Slavic and sometimes Italic and Greek.]
    • Edgar C. Polomié: “The Indo-Europeanization of Northern Europe: the Linguistic Evidence”, Journal of Indo-European Studies, fall 1990, p.331-337., quoted in Elst, Koenraad (1999). Update on the Aryan invasion debate New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.
  • It is disappointing to have to say that at present there seems to be no hope of estimating objectively and with a useful degree of precision how long an originally homogeneous Indo-European language would have taken to develop into derivative groups or languages which diverged as much as Greek, Sanskrit and Hittite did when the earliest texts in them were composed. Some linguists seem to think that they can make intuitive judgements about the minimum time which a particular phonetic or other change in a language would have taken. But the results of intuition when applied to estimating the minimum time in which a group of cognate languages or dialects would have differentiated to an observed extent vary so much that no useful deductions can be made from them. . . . I sympathize with archaeologists and other prehistorians who are not primarily linguists over this. Linguists are unable to provide the information which would be most useful.
    • Crossland (1972) ** in Bryant, E. F. (2001). The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture : the Indo-Aryan migration debate. Oxford University Press. chapter 12
  • What has always filled me with wonder is the assurance with which many historical linguists assign a date to their reconstructed proto-language. . . . We are told that proto-Indo- European was spoken about 6,000 years ago. What is know with a fair degree of certainty is the time between proto-Indo-Aryan and the modern Inclo-Aryan languages—something in the order of 3,000 years. But how can anyone tell that the development from proto- Indo-European to proto-Indo-Aryan took another 3,000 years? . . . Languages are known to change at different rates. There is no way of knowing how long it took to go from the presumed homogeneity of proto-Indo-European to the linguistic diversity of proto-Indo- Iranian, proto-Celtic, proto-Germanic, etc. The changes could have been rapid or slow. We simply don't know. . . .Why couldn't proto-lndo-European have been spoken about 10,500 years ago? . . . The received opinion of a date of around 6000 BP for proto-Indo- European . . . is an ingrained one. I have found this a difficult matter to get specialists to even discuss. Yet it does seem to be a house of cards. (47-49)
    • Dixon (1997) in Bryant, E. F. (2001). The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture : the Indo-Aryan migration debate. Oxford University Press. chapter 12
  • "It must be stressed, and cannot be said often enough, that whatever date is given for 'PIE,' it is necessarily no more than pure speculation" (372). ... "Every attempt, then, to give absolute dates for 'Proto-Indo-European' (or dates for alleged different stages of'PIE') is either based on the speculative identification of an archaeological culture with the speakers of the 'language of the PIE's' (e.g. Gimbutas, Renfrew, Mallory) or on what may be called 'intelligent guesses,' deliberations of probability and feelings of appropriateness (e.g. Meid, Gamkrelidze-Ivanov)" (372). ... "The first type of proposal is usually contested by fellow archaeologists and doubted by linguists, the second, being purely subjective because objective arguments simply do not exist, is bound to remain noncommittal. As is easily to be seen, many dates of both types have found their way to an often far too skeptical public" (372)... "It is therefore historically irresponsible for the linguist to speak of 'Proto-Indo-European' in the 4th millen- nium, and linguistically meaningless for the archaeologist to argue about 'Proto-Indo-Europeans' living somewhere before ca 2500 B.C." (374-375; ).
    • Zimmer (1988), ** in Bryant, E. F. (2001). The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture : the Indo-Aryan migration debate. Oxford University Press. chapter 12
  • They would not have it, they would not believe that there could be any community of origin between the people of Athens and Rome, and the so-called Niggers of India. The classical scholars scouted the idea, and I still remember the time, when I was a student at Leipzig and begun to study Sanskrit, with what contempt any remarks on Sanskrit or comparative grammar were treated by my teachers . . . No one ever was for a time so completely laughed down as Professor Bopp, when he first published his Comparative Grammar of Sanskrit, Zend, Greek, Latin and Gothic. All hands were against him.
    • Max Muller (1883: 28) quoted from Bryant, E. F., & Patton, L. L. (2005). The Indo-Aryan controversy : evidence and inference in Indian history. Routledge 472
  • The difficulties besetting the larger IE issue are due, I think, to the fact that linguists continue to arrogate to themselves the competence of these other disciplines. Just as experts from other sciences do not intervene in linguistics, so linguists should not tell historians, archaeologists et al what to do or how to do it just because the latter’s finds are at variance with linguistic wishes.
    • Kazanas, N. (2002). Indigenous Indo-Aryans and the Rigveda: Indo-Aryan migration debate. Journal of Indo-European Studies, 30(3-4), 275-334.
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