I'm not sure if there's a consensus in linguistic nomenclature about using the aforementioned prefix in naming the reconstructed languages.

As we all probably know, in linguistics, there's a custom of naming every unattested, hypothetical, reconstructed mother-language with by adding the prefix "proto-" to the family name.

What I am curious about is, is this a very strict rule and if one would find attestation of even one or two words from the reconstructed language, would it impose a necessity of dropping the prefix from the language name or calling it differently.

In addition, what about the names in the model of "Common Germanic", "Common Indo-Iranian"? Is there any distinction here between these and the "proto" type ? Frankly, I have encountered both of those and I am wondering if the choice of using one indicates anything.

2 Answers 2


When we call a certain word Common Germanic we mean that it is attested in all the major subbranches of Germanic (at least Scandinavian, Western Germanic and Gothic). It may have minor differences in its concrete shape, but we are sure that it is the same word.

It is also usual to term only such words Common Germanic that cannot be reliably related to other languages.

For the proto- prefix I think it is strictly reserved to reconstructions. When you find some ancient words they belong to some concrete language which will be named.

  • 2
    Thank you for your answer ! You wrote about Common Germanic when used in relation to words. But when a language is called Common Germanic instead of Proto-Germanic does it make any difference? I encountered both terms in such context as : " ...in the time of Common Germanic...", "...change took place after the Common Germanic period...". I might be splitting hairs here but I like to have things specifically labeled in my mind :)
    – czypsu
    Aug 13, 2015 at 9:56
  • Well, there can be words reconstructed for proto-Germanic, but not being considered common germanic. This may be the case when the words have clear Indogermanic roots, but are attested only in one or two of the branches of Germanic. Dec 21, 2016 at 19:02

The Proto-Norse language is attested in Runic inscriptions.

  • 3
    Please say more. Jul 28, 2017 at 16:22
  • There's nothing else to say. The language is attested and is prefixed with "Proto-". As far as I know it's the only attested language name with this pattern.
    – Ethan Ward
    Aug 13, 2017 at 20:26

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