Linguistics 105 * Words and Sounds
Lecture Number Twenty-Two
The *Proto-Indo-European Language

  1. The Comparative Method and IE Languages

    1. The (Proto)Indo-European Language

      1. The original *IE language was spoken around 5,000 BC by a people who either lived between the Vistula River in Poland and the Caucasus Mountains in the Southwestern USSR (traditional) or in Anatolia in modern day Turkey (Renfrew, see "The Origins of the Indo-European Languages" in this book.)

      2. As the tribe grew larger and spread throughout the region, dialects arose which, over time, became more and more mutually incomprehensible. When different dialects become mutually incomprehensible, they are different languages. Then dialects developed in the new languages as the tribes prospered and expanded until a tree of related languages and dialects developed and all the languages spoken throughout the IE area.

      3. We may reestablish the IE language by comparing the languages spoken today which devolved from it and establishing the historical rules by which each dialect developed into independent languages (The Comparative Method).

      4. Some of the cardinal rules of the IE languages.

        1. The Consonant System of PIE
          There were 9 oral stops in PIE: Aspirated voiced stops bh, dh, gh; unaspirated voiced stops b, d, g; and unaspirated voiceless stops p, t, k.
          There were also nasal stops m and n.
          There were continuants s and z.
          There were r and l.
          There were "glides" j and w, which would be vocalized between vowels (i, u)

        2. Ablaut: PIE stems containing /o/ or /e/ usually had a correlate in the other plus a third correlate with no vowel at all (or a reduced one), e.g. English grown vs. green, gold vs. yellow, hole vs. hell.

        3. Germanic Languages. The phonology of the Germanic languages developed according to several laws, the central of which is "Grimm's Law", named after Jakob, one of the brothers Grimm of fairy tale fame.

          • voiceless stops became voiceless fricatives: p, t, k > f, Ê, x

            Latin pater father Russian (ot-(e)c)
            Latin mater mother Russian mat(-er)
            Latin centum hundred Russian sto
            Latin lux (lukt-) light Russian lu
            Latin nox (nokt-) night Russian no'
            Latin rect-us right Russian [re' 'speech']
            Latin dent- teeth Polish zb [zÐb]
            Russian pol-n-yj full Skt prna- (r/l > r in Skt)
            Greek pod- foot/feet Latin ped-


          • voiced stops became voiceless: b, d, g > p, t, k

            Latin scrib-o

            I scrape

            Latin ped-


            Latin duo


            Greek dont-


            Greek gno-sco


            Slavic nag-yj


          • aspirated stops became voiced unaspirated stops: bh, dh, gh > b, d, g

            Sanskrit bhara-


            Latin fer-o



            Latin forn-is

            Slavic grad


            Latin hort-us

            Sanskrit bhrtr


            Latin frter

        4. The O/A-Shift. , > o and , > a (Slavic languages underwent the opposite process: , > o, , > a)

    2. Comparison. Consider the following words for "heart" in six languages spread halfway around the globe:






















      Possible proto-forms *[h/k/s]Vr[d/t/c]

      1. Are the phonological parallels coincidental, or is it possible that these words are somehow related, as are words pronounced differently in different dialects? To relate them in some way, we need the answers to the following questions:

        1. How would we explain -is in Latin and -ce in Russian?
          Latin case ending; Russian diminutive
        2. How would we explain the absence of any kind of occlusive in French?
          Consonant deletion (more generally, Lenition)
        3. How would we explain the relation of /d/: /t/ between English, Latin, and Russian?
          Grimm's Law
        4. How do we explain the /c/ (/ts/) in German?
        5. How do we explain the relation of /k/ : /h/ between Latin and Germanic?
          Consonant weakening (more generally, Lenition)
        6. How do we explain the relation of /k/ in Latin and the /s/ in Russian?
          Good question
        7. How do we explain the different positions of the vowel and the liquid in Hindi?

      2. Hypothesized proto-form: *kord-/kerd-/krd- "heart"

        The variation of stems with long and short /o/ and /e/ and no vowel is known as ABLAUT. We don't know what it signified in *PIE but it was a common relation.
        1. Some of the IE reflexes of *kord-/kerd-/krd- "heart" (we ignore the inflectional endings since they are determined by the morphological system of each language)

          Sanskrit: hrd "heart"

          Latin: cor/cord-is "heart"

          Greek: kard-þa "heart"

          Germanic: hairto > German: Herz, English: heart

          Slavic: sìrd-ìce > Russian: serd-ce "heart", sered-ina "center", sred-a "Wednesday"

        2. Diachronic Derivations
          Diachronic (historical) derivations are different from synchronic ones in that they take place over time. The rules which apply to them apply in chronological order, which often provides interesting historical information. Here are some of the derivations of *kord-/kerd-/krd- "heart" in a few IE languages.

          *Proto-Indo-European *Proto-Indo-European
          Forms Rules Forms Rules
          *krd- * * * *kord-is * * *
          hrd- (Sanskrit) Consonant reduction kord-s Syncope
          hird- Epenthesis kor (Latin) Consonant deletion
          hrid(aj) Metathesis kr Vowel fronting
          Hindi French

      Here are some neat examples to try yourself. Click them out.

  2. Conclusion

    The Comparative Method of historical (diachronic) linguistics discovers the words and rules of proto-languages by comparing related languages. Phonologically and morphologically this means comparing the phonemic and semantic status of current words to see if an original can be established using known rules of language, such as the morphological and phonological processes we studied in the beginning of the course.

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