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Encyclopedia > Language family

A language family is a group of languages related by descent from a common proto-language. As with human biological families, the evidence of relationship is observable shared characteristics. An accurately identified family is a phylogenetic unit; that is, all its members derive from a common ancestor. Many languages are known to belong to language families; for many others, however, family relationships are not known and only tentatively proposed. Proto-language may refer to either: a language that is the common ancestor of a set of related languages (a language family), or a system of communication during a stage in glottogony that may not yet be properly called a language. ... In biology, phylogenetics (Greek: phylon = tribe, race and genetikos = relative to birth, from genesis = birth) is the study of evolutionary relatedness among various groups of organisms (e. ...

The concept of language families is based on the concept of historical ancestors for languages—normally the gradual evolution over time of one language into other languages, rather than the sudden creation of new languages. The concept of linguistic ancestry is less clear-cut than the concept of biological ancestry, because there are cases of extreme historical language contact, due to conquest or trade. In the formation of creole languages and other types of mixed languages, it may be unclear which language should be considered the ancestor of a given language. However, these types of cases are relatively rare and most languages can be unambiguously classified into families. Language contact occurs when speakers of distinct speech varieties interact. ... A creole language, or simply a creole, is a stable language that originated from a non-trivial combination of two or more languages, typically with many features that are not inherited from any parent. ... A mixed language is a language that arises when speakers of different languages are in contact and show a high degree of bilingualism. ...

The common ancestor of a language family is seldom known directly, since most languages have a relatively short recorded history. However, it is possible to recover many features of a proto-language by applying the comparative method—a reconstructive procedure worked out by 19th century linguist August Schleicher. This can demonstrate the validity of many of the proposed families in the list of language families. For example, the reconstructible common ancestor of the Indo-European language family is called Proto-Indo-European. Proto-Indo-European is not attested by written records, since it was spoken before the invention of writing. The comparative method (in comparative linguistics) is a technique used by linguists to demonstrate genetic relationships between languages. ... Alternative meaning: Nineteenth Century (periodical) (18th century — 19th century — 20th century — more centuries) As a means of recording the passage of time, the 19th century was that century which lasted from 1801-1900 in the sense of the Gregorian calendar. ... August Schleicher August Schleicher (February 19, 1821 - December 6, 1868) was a German linguist. ... // [edit] Some major language families Examples of language families (see image summary [1]) Afro-Asiatic Altaic (disputed) Austro-Asiatic Austronesian Dravidian Eskimo-Aleut Indo-European Khoisan Na-Dené Niger-Congo Nilo-Saharan (disputed) Pama-Nyungan Sino-Tibetan Tai-Kadai Uralic [edit] Largest families According to the numbers in Ethnologue[2... The Proto-Indo-European language (PIE) is the hypothetical common ancestor of the Indo-European languages, spoken by the Proto-Indo-Europeans. ...

Sometimes, though, a proto-language can be identified with an historically known language. Provincial dialects of Latin ("Vulgar Latin") gave rise to the modern Romance languages, so the Proto-Romance language is more or less identical with Latin (if not exactly with the literary Latin of the Classical writers). Similarly, dialects of Old Norse are the proto-language of Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Faroese and Icelandic. For other uses, see Latin (disambiguation). ... Vulgar Latin, as in this political graffito at Pompeii, was the speech of ordinary people of the Roman Empire — different from the classical Latin used by the Roman elite. ... The Romance languages (sometimes referred to as Romanic languages) are a branch of the Indo-European language family, comprising all the languages that descend from Latin, the language of the Roman Empire. ... Old Norse or Danish tongue is the Germanic language once spoken by the inhabitants of the Nordic countries (for instance during the Viking Age). ...

Language families can be divided into smaller phylogenetic units, conventionally referred to as branches of the family, because the history of a language family is often represented as a tree diagram. However, the term family is not restricted to any one level of this "tree". The Germanic family, for example, is a branch of the Indo-European family. Some taxonomists restrict the term family to a certain level, but there is little consensus in how to do so. Those who affix such labels also subdivide branches into groups, and groups into complexes. The terms superfamily, phylum, and stock are applied to proposed groupings of language families whose status as phylogenetic units is generally considered to be unsubstantiated by accepted historical linguistic methods. The term tree diagram is used in different ways in different disciplines. ... This article does not cite any references or sources. ... The Indo-European languages comprise a family of several hundred related languages and dialects [1], including most of the major languages of Europe, as well as many spoken in the Indian subcontinent (South Asia), the Iranian plateau (Southwest Asia), and Central Asia. ... Look up taxonomy in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ...

Languages that cannot be reliably classified into any family are known as isolates. A language isolated in its own branch within a family, such as Greek within Indo-European, is often also called an isolate; but the meaning of isolate in such cases is usually clarified. For instance, Greek might be referred to as an Indo-European isolate. The isolation of modern Greek, however, is not typical of its relationship to other languages at other times in its history. Several Greek dialects evolved out of the larger Indo-European language group; and later, Greek words influenced many other languages. By contrast, the Basque language is a living modern language and a near perfect isolate. The history of its lexical, phonetic, and syntactic structures is not known, and is not easily associated to other languages, though it has been influenced by Romance languages in the region, like Castilian Spanish, Occitan, and French). A language isolate, in the absolute sense, is a natural language with no demonstrable genealogical (or genetic) relationship with other living languages; that is, one that has not been demonstrated to descend from an ancestor common to any other language. ... Basque (native name: euskara) is the language spoken by the Basque people who inhabit the Pyrenees in North-Central Spain and the adjoining region of South-Western France. ... This article is about the international language known as Spanish. ... Occitan (IPA AmE: ), known also as Lenga dòc or Langue doc (native name: occitan [1], lenga dòc [2]; native nickname: la lenga nòstra [3] i. ...

Connections among and between language families are often used by anthropologists, in combination with DNA evidence and fossil evidence, to help reconstruct pre-historic migrations of peoples, and other pre-historic events, such as the spread of agriculture. See Anthropology. ... The structure of part of a DNA double helix Deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, is a nucleic acid molecule that contains the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms. ... For other uses, see Fossil (disambiguation). ...

The Linguist List is now working on a National Science Foundation funded project entitled Multitree, to build a database of all hypothesized language relationships, with a full searchable bibliography for each. Linguist List provides information on language and language analysis. ...

See also

An international auxiliary language (sometimes abbreviated as IAL or auxlang) is a language used (or to be used in the future) for communication between people from different nations who do not share a common native language. ... A constructed or artificial language — known colloquially as a conlang — is a language whose phonology, grammar, and/or vocabulary have been devised by an individual or group, instead of having naturally evolved as part of a culture. ... An endangered language is a language with so few surviving speakers that it is in danger of falling out of use. ... An extinct language is a language which no longer has any native speakers, in contrast to a dead language, which is is a language which has stopped changing in grammar, vocabulary, and the complete meaning of a sentence. ... ISO/DIS 639-5 Codes for the representation of names of languages – Part 5: Alpha-3 code for language families and groups, being developed by ISO/TC 37/SC 2. ... Current distribution of Human Language Families Main article: Language family Language families are groups of languages that share common features. ... // [edit] Some major language families Examples of language families (see image summary [1]) Afro-Asiatic Altaic (disputed) Austro-Asiatic Austronesian Dravidian Eskimo-Aleut Indo-European Khoisan Na-Dené Niger-Congo Nilo-Saharan (disputed) Pama-Nyungan Sino-Tibetan Tai-Kadai Uralic [edit] Largest families According to the numbers in Ethnologue[2... Indo-European languages (~48% of mankind) Sino-Tibetan languages (~23%) Niger-Congo languages (~10%) Afro-Asiatic languages (~5%) Austronesian languages (~5%) Dravidian languages (~3%) Altaic languages (~3%) (those contains Turkish) Japonic languages (~2%) Austro-Asiatic languages (~1 %) Uralic languages (~0,4%) Caucasian languages (~0,2%) Nilo-Saharan languages (~0,12... This is a list of languages, ordered by the number of native-language speakers, with some data for second-language use. ... A proto-language is a language which was the common ancestor of related languages that form a language family. ...


  • Boas, Franz. (1911). Handbook of American Indian languages (Vol. 1). Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 40. Washington: Government Print Office (Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology).
  • Boas, Franz. (1922). Handbook of American Indian languages (Vol. 2). Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 40. Washington: Government Print Office (Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology).
  • Boas, Franz. (1933). Handbook of American Indian languages (Vol. 3). Native American legal materials collection, title 1227. Glückstadt: J.J. Augustin.
  • Campbell, Lyle. (1997). American Indian languages: The historical linguistics of Native America. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509427-1.
  • Campbell, Lyle; & Mithun, Marianne (Eds.). (1979). The languages of native America: Historical and comparative assessment. Austin: University of Texas Press.
  • Goddard, Ives (Ed.). (1996). Languages. Handbook of North American Indians (W. C. Sturtevant, General Ed.) (Vol. 17). Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution. ISBN 0-16-048774-9.
  • Goddard, Ives. (1999). Native languages and language families of North America (rev. and enlarged ed. with additions and corrections). [Map]. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press (Smithsonian Institute). (Updated version of the map in Goddard 1996). ISBN 0-8032-9271-6.
  • Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (Ed.). (2005). Ethnologue: Languages of the world (15th ed.). Dallas, TX: SIL International. ISBN 1-55671-159-X. (Online version: http://www.ethnologue.com).
  • Greenberg, Joseph H. (1966). The Languages of Africa (2nd ed.). Bloomington: Indiana University.
  • Harrison, K. David. (2007) When Languages Die: The Extinction of the World's Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge. New York and London: Oxford University Press.
  • Mithun, Marianne. (1999). The languages of Native North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-23228-7 (hbk); ISBN 0-521-29875-X.
  • Ross, Malcom. (2005). Pronouns as a preliminary diagnostic for grouping Papuan languages. In: Andrew Pawley, Robert Attenborough, Robin Hide and Jack Golson, eds, Papuan pasts: cultural, linguistic and biological histories of Papuan-speaking peoples (PDF)
  • Ruhlen, Merritt. (1987). A guide to the world's languages. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • Sturtevant, William C. (Ed.). (1978-present). Handbook of North American Indians (Vol. 1-20). Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution. (Vols. 1-3, 16, 18-20 not yet published).
  • Voegelin, C. F.; & Voegelin, F. M. (1977). Classification and index of the world's languages. New York: Elsevier.

Andrew Pawley is Head of the Department of Linguistics at the Australia National University, Australia. ...

External links

  Results from FactBites:
The Individualist: Dravidian language family (0 words)
The Dravidian family of languages includes approximately 26 languages that are mainly spoken in southern India and Sri Lanka, as well as certain areas in Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and eastern and central India, as well as in parts of Afghanistan and Iran.
The existence of the Dravidian language family was first suggested in 1816 by Alexander D. Campbell in his Grammar of the Teloogoo Language, in which he and Francis W. Ellis argued that Tamil and Telugu were descended from a common, non-Indo-European ancestor.
A grammar of the Teloogoo language, commonly termed the Gentoo, peculiar to the Hindoos inhabiting the northeastern provinces of the Indian peninsula / by A.D. Campbell.
Language - MSN Encarta (1293 words)
In northern Asia there are a number of languages that appear either to form small, independent families or to be language isolates, such as the Chukotko-Kamchatkan language family of the Chukchi and Kamchatka peninsulas in the far east of Russia.
The family stretches from the eastern edge of Siberia to the Aleutian Islands, and across Alaska and northern Canada to Greenland, where one variety of the Inuit language, Greenlandic, is an official language.
Languages of the Algonquian and Iroquoian families constitute the major indigenous languages of northeastern North America, while the Siouan family is one of the main families of central North America.
  More results at FactBites »



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