Indo-European studies

Indo-European studies is a field of linguistics and an interdisciplinary field of study dealing with Indo-European languages, both current and extinct.[1] Its goal is to amass information about the hypothetical proto-language from which all of these languages are descended, a language dubbed Proto-Indo-European (PIE), and its speakers, the Proto-Indo-Europeans, including their society and religion. The studies cover where the language originated and how it spread. This article also lists Indo-European scholars, centres, journals and book series.

Study methods

The comparative method was formally developed in the 19th century and applied first to Indo-European languages. The existence of the Proto-Indo-Europeans had been inferred by comparative linguistics as early as 1640, while attempts at an Indo-European proto-language reconstruction date back as far as 1713. However, by the 19th century, still no consensus had been reached about the internal groups of the IE family.

The method of internal reconstruction is used to compare patterns within one dialect, without comparison with other dialects and languages, to try to arrive at an understanding of regularities operating at an earlier stage in that dialect. It has also been used to infer information about earlier stages of PIE than can be reached by the comparative method.

Using the method of mass comparison, the IE languages are sometimes hypothesized to be part of super-families such as Nostratic or Eurasiatic.

History of Indo-European studies

Preliminary work

By the time of Socrates (469399 BC), the Ancient Greeks were aware that their language had changed since the time of Homer (about 730 BC). Aristotle (about 330 BC) identified four types of linguistic change: insertion, deletion, transposition and substitution. In the 1st century BC, the Romans were aware of the similarities between Greek and Latin. There were also linguistic traditions in Mesopotamia and India; in the 4th century BC, Pāṇini wrote Aṣṭādhyāyī, a detailed grammar of Sanskrit.

In the post-classical West, with the influence of Christianity, language studies were undermined by the naïve attempt to derive all languages from Hebrew since the time of Saint Augustine. Prior studies classified the European languages as Japhetic. One of the first scholars to challenge the idea of a Hebrew root to the languages of Europe was Joseph Scaliger (1540–1609). He identified Greek, Germanic, Romance and Slavic languages groups by comparing the word for "God" in various European languages. In 1710, Leibniz applied ideas of gradualism and uniformitarianism to linguistics in a short essay.[2] Like Scaliger, he rejected a Hebrew root, but also rejected the idea of unrelated language groups and considered them all to have a common source.[3]

Around the 12th century, similarities between European languages became recognised. In Iceland, scholars noted the resemblances between Icelandic and English. Gerald of Wales claimed that Welsh, Cornish, and Breton were descendants of a common source. A study of the Insular Celtic languages was carried out by George Buchanan in the 16th century and the first field study was by Edward Llwyd around 1700. He published his work in 1707,[4] shortly after translating a study by Paul-Yves Pezron[5] on Breton.[6]

Grammars of European languages other than Latin and Classical Greek began to be published at the end of the 15th century. This led to comparison between the various languages.

In the 16th century, visitors to India became aware of similarities between Indian and European languages. For example, Filippo Sassetti reported striking resemblances between Sanskrit and Italian.[7]

Early Indo-European studies

In his 1647 essay,[8] Marcus Zuerius van Boxhorn proposed the existence of a primitive common language he called "Scythian". He included in its descendants Dutch, German, Latin, Greek, and Persian, and his posthumously published Originum Gallicarum liber[9] of 1654 added Slavic, Celtic and Baltic.[10] The 1647 essay discusses, as a first, the methodological issues in assigning languages to genetic groups. For example, he observed that loanwords should be eliminated in comparative studies, and also correctly put great emphasis on common morphological systems and irregularity as indicators of relationship.[11] A few years earlier, the Silesian physician Johann Elichmann (1601/1602–1639) already used the expression ex eadem origine (from a common source) in a 1640 study[12] published relating European languages to Indo-Iranian languages (which include Sanskrit).[11]

The idea that the first language was Hebrew continued to be advanced for some time: Pierre Besnier (1648–1705) in 1674 published a book which was translated into English the following year: A philosophical essay for the reunion of the languages, or, the art of knowing all by the mastery of one.[13]

Leibniz in 1710 proposed the concept of the so-called Japhetic language group, consisting of languages now known as Indo-European, which he contrasted with the so-called Aramaic languages (now generally known as Semitic).

The concept of actually reconstructing an Indo-European proto-language was suggested by William Wotton in 1713, while showing, among others, that Icelandic ("Teutonic"), the Romance languages and Greek were related.[11]

In 1741 Gottfried Hensel (1687–1767) published a language map of the world in his Synopsis Universae Philologiae. He still believed that all languages were derived from Hebrew.

Mikhail Lomonosov compared numbers and other linguistic features in different languages of the world including Slavic, Baltic ("Kurlandic"), Iranian ("Medic"), Finnish, Chinese, Khoekhoe ("Hottentot") and others. He emphatically expressed the antiquity of the linguistic stages accessible to comparative method in the drafts for his Russian Grammar published in 1755:[14]

Imagine the depth of time when these languages separated! ... Polish and Russian separated so long ago! Now think how long ago [this happened to] Kurlandic! Think when [this happened to] Latin, Greek, German, and Russian! Oh, great antiquity!

Gaston-Laurent Coeurdoux (1691–1779) sent a Mémoire to the French Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres in 1767 in which he demonstrated the similarity between the Sanskrit, Latin, Greek, German and Russian languages.[15]

Despite the above, the discovery of the genetic relationship of the whole family of Indo-European languages is often attributed to Sir William Jones, a British judge in India who in a 1786 lecture (published 1788) observed that

The Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs and the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong indeed, that no philologer could examine them all three, without believing them to have sprung from some common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists.[16]

In his 1786 The Sanscrit Language, Jones postulated a proto-language uniting six branches: Sanskrit (i.e. Indo-Aryan), Persian (i.e. Iranian), Greek, Latin, Germanic and Celtic. In many ways his work was less accurate than his predecessors', as he erroneously included Egyptian, Japanese and Chinese in the Indo-European languages, while omitting Hindi.[11]

In 1814 the young Dane Rasmus Christian Rask submitted an entry to an essay contest on Icelandic history, in which he concluded that the Germanic languages were (as we would put it) in the same language family as Greek, Latin, Slavic, and Lithuanian. He was in doubt about Old Irish, eventually concluding that it did not belong with the others (he later changed his mind), and further decided that Finnish and Hungarian were related but in a different family, and that "Greenlandic" (Kalaallisut) represented yet a third. He was unfamiliar with Sanskrit at the time. Later, however, he learned Sanskrit, and published some of the earliest Western work on ancient Iranian languages.

August Schleicher was the first scholar to compose a tentative reconstructed text in the extinct common source that Van Boxhorn and later scholars had predicted (see: Schleicher's fable). The reconstructed Proto-Indo-European language (PIE) represents, by definition, the common language of the Proto-Indo-Europeans. This early phase culminates in Franz Bopp's Comparative Grammar[17] of 1833.

Later Indo-European studies

The classical phase of Indo-European comparative linguistics leads from Bopp to August Schleicher's 1861 Compendium[18] and up to Karl Brugmann's 5-volume Grundriss[19] (outline of Indo-European languages) published from 1886–1893. Brugmann's Neogrammarian re-evaluation of the field and Ferdinand de Saussure's proposal[20] of the concept of "consonantal schwa" (which later evolved into the laryngeal theory) may be considered the beginning of "contemporary" Indo-European studies. The Indo-European proto-language as described in the early 1900s in its main aspects is still accepted today, and the work done in the 20th century has been cleaning up and systematizing, as well as the incorporation of new language material, notably the Anatolian and Tocharian branches unknown in the 19th century, into the Indo-European framework.

Notably, the laryngeal theory, in its early forms barely noticed except as a clever analysis, became mainstream after the 1927[21] discovery by Jerzy Kuryłowicz of the survival of at least some of these hypothetical phonemes in Anatolian. Julius Pokorny in 1959 published his Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch, an updated and slimmed-down reworking of the three-volume Vergleichendes Wörterbuch der indogermanischen Sprachen of Alois Walde and Julius Pokorny (1927–32). Both of these works aim to provide an overview of the lexical knowledge accumulated until the early 20th century, but with only stray comments on the structure of individual forms; in Pokorny 1959, then-recent trends of morphology and phonology (e.g., the laryngeal theory), go unacknowledged, and he largely ignores Anatolian and Tocharian data.

The generation of Indo-Europeanists active in the last third of the 20th century, such as Oswald Szemerényi, Calvert Watkins, Warren Cowgill, Jochem Schindler, Helmut Rix, developed a better understanding of morphology and, in the wake of Kuryłowicz's 1956 L'apophonie en indo-européen,[22] ablaut. Rix's Lexikon der indogermanischen Verben appeared in 1997 as a first step towards a modernization of Pokorny's dictionary; corresponding tomes addressing the noun, Nomina im Indogermanischen Lexikon, appeared in 2008, and pronouns and particles, Lexikon der indogermanischen Partikeln und Pronominalstämme, in 2014.[23] Current efforts are focused on a better understanding of the relative chronology within the proto-language, aiming at distinctions of "early", "middle" and "late", or "inner" and "outer" PIE dialects, but a general consensus has yet to form. From the 1960s, knowledge of Anatolian began to be of a certainty sufficient to allow it influence the image of the proto-language (see also Indo-Hittite).

Such attempts at recovering a sense of historical depth in PIE have been combined with efforts towards linking the history of the language with archaeology, notably with the Kurgan hypothesis. J. P. Mallory's 1989 In Search of the Indo-Europeans and 1997 Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture gives an overview of this. Purely linguistic research was bolstered by attempts to reconstruct the culture and religion of the Proto-Indo-Europeans by scholars such as Georges Dumézil, as well as by archaeology (e. g. Marija Gimbutas, Colin Renfrew) and genetics (e. g. Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza). These speculations about the realia of Proto-Indo-European culture are however not part of the field of comparative linguistics, but rather a sister-discipline.

Some concepts of Indo-European studies also influenced the Nazis. (See Aryan Race.) In the period after World War II, several Indo-European scholars (e.g. Roger Pearson, Jean Haudry and the influential Georges Dumézil[24]) and writers influenced by Indo-European studies (e.g. Alain de Benoist) were accused of having sympathies for Fascism or Nazism, and it was alleged that their political beliefs may have influenced their studies.[25] Arvidsson speculated that the fact that many Indo-European scholars identify themselves as the descendants of the ancient Indo-Europeans may explain why the field of Indo-European studies has also been ideologically abused.[26] Anthony remarked that "Indo-European linguistics and archaeology have been exploited to support openly ideological agendas for so long that a brief history of the issue quickly becomes entangled with the intellectual history of Europe."[27]

In the 20th century, great progress was made due to the discovery of more language material belonging to the Indo-European family, and by advances in comparative linguistics, by scholars such as Ferdinand de Saussure.

List of Indo-European scholars

(historical; see below for contemporary IE studies)


Book series

Contemporary IE study centres

The following universities have institutes or faculties devoted to IE studies:

This list is incomplete; you can help by expanding it.
 Croatia University of Zagreb[31]
 Czech Republic Charles University in Prague[32]
 Denmark Copenhagen[33][34][35]
 Italy Universita degli Studi di Padova
 Netherlands Leiden[54]
 Poland Jagiellonian University[55]
 Slovenia Ljubljana[56]
 Sweden Uppsala[59]
 United Kingdom Oxford[65]
 United States


The term Indo-European itself now current in English literature, was coined in 1813 by the British scholar Sir Thomas Young, although at that time, there was no consensus as to the naming of the recently discovered language family. However, he seems to have used it as a geographical term. Among the other names suggested were:

Rask's japetisk or "Japhetic languages", after the old notion of "Japhetites" and ultimately Japheth, son of the Biblical Noah, parallels the term Semitic, from Noah's son Shem, and Hamitic, from Noah's son Ham. Japhetic and Hamitic are both obsolete, apart from occasional dated use of term "Hamito-Semitic" for the Afro-Asiatic languages.

In English, Indo-German was used by J. C. Prichard in 1826 although he preferred Indo-European. In French, use of indo-européen was established by A. Pictet (1836). In German literature, Indoeuropäisch was used by Franz Bopp since 1835, while the term Indogermanisch had already been introduced by Julius von Klapproth in 1823, intending to include the northernmost and the southernmost of the family's branches, as it were as an abbreviation of the full listing of involved languages that had been common in earlier literature. Indo-Germanisch became established by the works of August Friedrich Pott, who understood it to include the easternmost and the westernmost branches, opening the doors to ensuing fruitless discussions whether it should not be Indo-Celtic, or even Tocharo-Celtic.

Today, Indo-European, indo-européen is well established in English and French literature, while Indogermanisch remains current in German literature, but alongside a growing number of uses of Indoeuropäisch.

Indo-Hittite is sometimes used for the wider family including Anatolian by those who consider that IE and Anatolian are comparable separate branches.

See also


  1. UCLA Interdepartmental Graduate Program in Indo-European Studies: General Information
  2. Gottfried Leibniz, "Brevis designatio meditationum de originibus gentium, ductis potissimum ex indicio linguarum", Miscellanea Berolinensia. 1710.
  3. Henry Hoenigswald, "Descent, Perfection and the Comparative Method since Leibniz", Leibniz, Humboldt, and the Origins of Comparativism, eds. Tullio De Mauro & Lia Formigari (Amsterdam–Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 1990), 119–134.
  4. Edward Lhuyd, Archaeologia Britannica: an Account of the Languages, Histories and Customs of Great Britain, from Travels through Wales, Cornwall, Bas-Bretagne, Ireland and Scotland, vol. 1, 1707.
  5. Paul-Yves Pezron, Antiquité de la Nation et de la langue celtes autrement appelez Gaulois (Paris: Jean Boudot, 1703).
  6. Daniel Le Bris, "Les études linguistiques d'Edward Lhuyd en Bretagne en 1701", La Bretagne linguistique 14 (2009).
  7. Nunziatella Alessandrini, "Images of India through the eyes of Filippo Sassetti, a Florentine Humanist merchant in the 16th century", Sights and Insights: Interactive Images of Europe and the Wider World, ed. Mary N. Harris (Pisa: PLUS-Pisa University Press, 2007), 43–58.
  8. Marcus Zuerius van Boxhorn, Antwoord van Marcus Zuerius van Boxhorn gegeven op de Vraaghen, hem voorgestelt over de Bediedinge van de afgodinne Nehalennia, onlancx uytghegeven, in welcke de ghemeine herkomste van der Griecken, Romeinen ende Duytschen tale uyt den Scythen duydelijck bewesen, ende verscheiden oudheden van des volckeren grondelijck ontdeckt ende verklaert worden. (Leiden: Willem Christiaens vander Boxe, 1647).
  9. Marcus Zuerius van Boxhorn, Originum Gallicarum liber. In quo veteris et nobilissimae Gallorum gentis origines, antiquitates, mores, lingua et alia eruuntur et illustrantur. Cui accedit antiquae linguae Britannicae lexicon Britannico-Latinum, cum adiectis et insertis eiusdem authoris Adagiis Britannicis sapientiae veterum Druidum reliquiis et aliis antiquitatis Britannicae Gallicaeque nonnullis monumentis (Amsterdam: apud Ioannem Ianssonium, 1654).
  10. Daniel Droixhe, La Linguistique et l'appel de l'histoire (1600-1800): rationalisme et révolutions positivistes (Geneva: Droz, 1978), 93-99.
  11. 1 2 3 4 Roger Blench, "Archaeology and Language: methods and issues", A Companion to Archaeology, ed. J. Bintliff (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004), 52–74.
  12. Johann Elichmann, Tabula Cebetis Graece, Arabice, Latine. Item aurea carmina Pythagorae (Lugduni Batavorum: Typis Iohannis Maire, 1640).
  13. Pierre Besnier, La reunion des langues, ou L'art de les apprendre toutes par une seule. 1674.
  14. M. V. Lomonosov. In: Complete Edition, Moscow, 1952, vol. 7, pp 652-659: Представимъ долготу времени, которою сіи языки раздѣлились. ... Польской и россійской языкъ коль давно раздѣлились! Подумай же, когда курляндской! Подумай же, когда латинской, греч., нѣм., росс. О глубокая древность!
  15. Gaston-Laurent Cœurdoux, “Mémoire” [Letter addressed to Abbé Barthélémy, dated 1767], Memoires de littérature de [. . .] l’Académie Royale des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres 49 (Paris: Anquetil Duperron, 1784–93), 647–67.
  16., cited on page 14–15.
  17. Franz Bopp, Vergleichende Grammatik des Sanskrit, Zend, Griechischen, Lateinischen, Litauischen, Gotischen und Deutschen, 6 vols. (Berlin: Druckerei der Konigl. Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1833–52 [3rd edn, 3 vols. 1868–71]); English translation by E. B. Eastwick, 1845.
  18. August Schleicher, Compendium der vergleichenden Grammatik der indogermanischen Sprachen, 2 vols. (Weimar: H. Böhlau, 1861–2).
  19. Karl Brugmann, Grundriß der vergleichenden Grammatik der indogermanischen Sprachen, 5 vols. (Strasbourg: Trübner, 1886–1893).
  20. Ferdinand de Saussure, Mémoire sur le système primitif des voyelles dans les langues indo-européennes (Leipzig: B. G. Treubner, 1879).
  21. Jerzy Kuryłowicz, "ə indo-européen et ḫ hittite", Symbolae grammaticae in honorem Ioannis Rozwadowski, vol. 1, eds. W. Taszycki & W. Doroszewski (1927), 95–104.
  22. Jerzy Kuryłowicz, L'apophonie en indo-européen (Wrocław: Zakład im. Ossolińskich, 1956), 430 p.
  23. Archived from the original on January 14, 2006. Retrieved September 9, 2005. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  24. 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. 2, 3, 241 ff., 306
  25. Arvidsson 2006. Bruce Lincoln. Theorizing Myth: Narrative, Ideology, and Scholarship (1999).
  26. Arvidsson 2006:3, 308, 320
  27. David Anthony, "Nazi and Eco-Feminist Prehistories: Ideology and Empiricism in Indo-European Archaeology", Nationalism, Politics and the Practice of Archaeology, eds. P. Kohl & Fawcett (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 82-96.
  46. Archived from the original on November 2, 2005. Retrieved August 4, 2005. Missing or empty |title= (help)

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