The Grammarphobia Blog

In the beginning were the words

Q: Several years ago, I read a story about research being done on the “original language.” I have tried, to no avail, to find any reference to the subject. Of course I have no idea where I read it, or anything else about it, just that it was very interesting. Do you have any suggestions?

A: The article may have been referring to the prehistoric Proto-Indo-European language, which was spoken “in an as yet unidentified area between eastern Europe and the Aral sea around the fifth millennium B.C.,” according to The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots, edited by Calvert Watkins.

The Indo-European family of languages – including English and the other Germanic languages, the Celtic languages, Latin and its descendants, Greek, the Balto-Slavic languages, Sanskrit, Iranian, and many others – all are descended from prehistoric Proto-Indo-European.

Of course Proto-Indo-European does not include many, many more languages and language groups, like Arabic, Hebrew, ancient Egyptian, Finnish, Hungarian, Turkish, Mongolian, Dravidian (the languages of southern India), Korean, Japanese, Chinese languages, Polynesian, Amer-Indian, Eskimo-Aleut, and on and on.

While some linguists like to speculate that everything ultimately came from one pot – some “Proto-World” language that may have existed 100,000 years ago – that at the moment is just a leap of the imagination.

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