Recently, I've been asked what the difference between the "Leiden school" and "mainstream" Indo-Europeanists is. The asker is planning to study in Leiden and has been concerned with the many vague criticisms he has encountered in connection with the "Leidenites". I've noticed the differences mainly pertain to the (methodology of the) reconstruction of Proto-Indo-European (especially in connection to the accentuation, "glottalism", Germanic substrate theories etc), but there seems to be no detailed, coherent, comprehensive list of the particulars, just bits and pieces scattered here and then. Could somebody possibly make a list like that here, or provide suitable references? It might be both useful and interesting to see what differences there are between other schools and, within the "mainstream", between its "undercurrents".

  • I fear that the "mainstream" Indo-Europeanists are just a minority adopting the term "mainstream". Having an opposing view, for whatever reason, doesn't make you the "mainstream". Leiden is a very respected institution for anyone to try to separate it from the mainstream. I understand that there are some sensitive subjects included in their spectrum of material (e.g. Nostratic) but that doesn't separate them from linguistic concensus as a whole.
    – Midas
    Aug 18, 2015 at 15:56

2 Answers 2


Leiden school are people who propose some strict rules for PIE and strictly adhere to them. Strict root structure, no vowels except /o/ and /e/, three laryngeals etc.

Their opponents are conservatives who are either skeptic about some of the Leiden rules or those who supports more loose rules (for instance, vowel /a/ in borrowed words, 4 laryngeals, some roots with two vowels etc).

In short, Leiden is for extensive, numerous, strict, regular rules, their opponents are for less rules and more exceptions.

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    Could you be more specific as to how the rules the critics of the "Leiden school" support are "more lo[o]se", rather than just different, and in what ways is their methodology worse then? Aug 19, 2015 at 19:33
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    I don't think that Anixx has made a sharp statement about which school is "better" or "worse". It's obvious that we don't know who is right. In the past, the language rules could have been stricter but they could have been more loose, too. Attempts to study ancient tribes as if they were some rigorous modern axiomatic mathematicians may be right but it may also be counterproductive. Aug 20, 2015 at 6:37
  • @Luboš Attempts to study ancient tribes as if they were some rigorous modern axiomatic mathematicians is quite different from what my question implied. Nor did I say anything about Anixx making sharp statements. Anixx, nevertheless, does state that at least part of the "non-Leideners" (to avoid the contentious mainstream) "support more loose rules" and appears to be supportive of Leiden, hence my question concerning the methodological cons of, say, reconstructing */a/ in some words, which is, after all, something Kortlandt does too - in the supposed non-IE substrate loanwords. Aug 20, 2015 at 22:47
  • Oh, I see, Pavel, so your claim wasn't about who is better or worse, or how things should proceed in the idealized world of linguistics. Your comment was that if you observe the non-Leidenites, it seems to you that they are doing the same thing (qualitatively) as the Ledenites, except for some different technical details, but with a similar degree of well-definedness. Did I get you right now? Well, in that case, you just doubt the crux of Anixx's answer. He may have given no detailed examples but neither have you (for the opposite claim), except for one which is not enough. Aug 21, 2015 at 6:06
  • @LubošMotl Firstly, if it's me who's asking in search of answers, am I not entitled to also question one that doesn't seem to do the job? Secondly, how am I supposed to give any more detailed examples of something that eludes me? After all, that's why I've asked this question in the first place. Lastly, I merely objected to Anixx's assertions I saw as incorrect: I believe 3 laryngeals and no */a/ is widely perceived as mainstream or standard by most IEists now; on the other hand, */a/ in LWs is also proposed by Kortlandt, thus the differences must consist in something else. Aug 26, 2015 at 11:34

Presumably 'the Leiden School' refers to the views of the professor (who is respected) there. To discover his views look at Kortlandt, Frederik 'Studies in Germanic, Indo-European and Indo-Uralic' (Amsterdam, 2012).

Every University that teaches Indo-European studies will have a leading professor who, if he's worth his pay, will have his own views on the subject.

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    I am personally interested in the ancient languages Leiden deals with. If I need something on Luwian or the Pre-Greek substrate, I don't know if there is such a thing as "mainstream" opposed to what C. Melchert and R. Beekes say (especially if we think of the anarchy in past pre-Greek substrate studies). Leiden has certainly some of the top people on the field. I have paid several times to get access to their libraries and I was never dissapointed, neither felt I am entering a twiligt zone.
    – Midas
    Aug 19, 2015 at 10:51
  • Thanks for the reference in your answer. I know about Kortlandt, of course, though I haven't read that book yet. The problem is that I really do hear people from literally all around the world (not just my university) criticize some of the work originating from Leiden (not all of it, of course); @Midas I agree. C. Melchert's recent series of lectures on Anatolian, for example, was superb! :-) I guess it always depends on a particular (sub-)field and on particular people representing it. Aug 20, 2015 at 22:57
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    @PavelJetušek > Exactly! I think the criticism is in regards to specific sub-fields (e.g. Nostratic - that's where I often see the smoke of war) and that's something a broad institution like Leiden can never get away with.
    – Midas
    Aug 21, 2015 at 6:08
  • @Midas Indeed. I'm really mostly interested in the particulars pertaining the reconstruction of PIE and/or the other (intermediary) proto-languages and/or the reconstruction of changes from PIE to its daughters/branches. Perhaps, it's really a matter of details only. Anyway, I've just acquired a copy of Studies in Germanic, Indo-European and Indo-Uralic suggested by Ned Ramm (thanks again!), and I feel I'm getting the gist of how Kortlandt sees it, at least. Thank you all for your kind comments and/or answers, I hope to get back here soon and amend my question if necessary. Aug 26, 2015 at 11:41

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