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More specifically, what are the most historically entrenched westernmost and easternmost Indo-European languages? For my purposes, this excludes the spread of English, Spanish etc. through relatively modern colonization efforts.

If the context helps, it's for part of a talk I'm planning on doing where I want to give a sense of scale of how exactly large the Indo-European language family is.

My initial guess would be Icelandic or Danish in the West (depending on how long ago lasting Norse settlement began in earnest in Greenland) and possibly Assamese or Bengali in the East.

Is this approximately correct?

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    Probably approximately correct. The eastern-most language might be Tokharian, depending on exactly where it was spoken. Whether or not you should count Danish in Greenland depends on your cutoff for "modern" colonization, but if you make the cutoff late enough to include Danes in Greenland then you'd have to include Spanish in the New World and The Phillipines. – user6726 Dec 25 '15 at 20:26
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    It doesn't seem meaningful to arbitrarily exclude the spread of English and Spanish but include Greenland... people have always been migrating and colonising other lands through all of history. Pick a year and ask about that instead. – curiousdannii Dec 26 '15 at 7:19
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    Tocharian (sc. Turfanian) was spoken around Turfan on the east side of the Tarim Basin, at around 89ºE. Assamese is spoken at Tinsukia around 95ºE, which places it further east than Turfanian, and also east of Chakma and Rohingya, the two IE languages spoken in Burma. – Gaston Ümlaut Dec 26 '15 at 23:10
  • curiousdannil: let's say, before the Renaissance (c. 1350 CE) – readyready15728 Jan 5 '16 at 18:22
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The easternmost Indo-European language is Assamese, spoken in the extreme east of India.

The now extinct Tocharian language (sc. Turfanian) was spoken around Turfan on the north-east side of the Tarim Basin, at around 89º E, as can be seen in this map from WP which shows the major linguistic groupings in the 3rd Century CE:

Satellite view of Tarim Basin showing main ethnic groups as of the 3rd Century CE

Assamese however extends as far east as the Indian town of Tinsukia, around 95º E, placing it to the east of Turfanian. The locations of the major easternmost Indo-Aryan languages, including Assamese, are shown in this map from WP (the languages in yellow):

Map showing locations of major Indo-Aryan languages

Although not shown in the graphic there are two IE languages spoken in Burma's Rakine State, Chakma and Rohingya, but these do not extend as far east as Assamese.

The westernmost IE language is Icelandic, extending up to 24º W. If Iceland were excluded due to being a relatively 'recent' settlement (~847 CE) then the westernmost IE language is Gaeilge, the Celtic language of Ireland, at 10.5º W, just marginally further west than Portuguese.

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  • Of course, if Iceland is included then there's an argument for including the Azores (at 31.5º W), making Portuguese the westernmost language. – Gaston Ümlaut Dec 29 '15 at 22:44
  • There were also significant Sogdian (Eastern Iranian) mercantile colonies in Turfan, but also throughout the Chinese empire. So perhaps Sogdian should be reckoned the most easterly Indo-European language in pre-modern times. – fdb Dec 29 '15 at 22:50
  • @fdb That's true, but we have to draw a line somewhere or we'll have all sorts of anomalies, e.g. Italian easternmost because of Marco Polo in Indonesia and Norse westernmost because of the Vikings in North America. It would also make it hard to rule out the modern post-colonial world. My rough metric is to prefer where languages have been in their location since prehistoric times. The case of presently extinct languages is difficult too, but fortunately the languages at the prehistoric east-west bounds of IE are still there (Gaeilge and Assamese). – Gaston Ümlaut Dec 30 '15 at 0:37
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Xinjiang region of NW China is farthest eastern Indo-European Language according to "The History of English Podcast" http://historyofenglishpodcast.com/2013/08/04/episode-3-the-indo-european-family-tree-4/

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    Do they name the language? I assume it was Tocharian, aka Turfanian? – Gaston Ümlaut Dec 29 '15 at 7:32
  • @GastonÜmlaut No they do not – SophArch Jan 1 '16 at 15:55
  • Ok I've listened to it and while Tocharian is not mentioned by name in the audio, it's the only group left out that is in the family tree list, so it's clear that's the one he's referring to as being in Xinjiang. And it is the only IE language historically present in that area so I'm sure it's the one they're referring to. – Gaston Ümlaut Jan 2 '16 at 2:11
  • That's historically true but now this language is no longer alive and the ethnography of that region has probably changed considerably. – xji Jan 4 '16 at 7:41
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I think the westernmost language is Old Norse, due to their colonies in Canada (Vinland) around the year 1000 CE

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    Welcome to Linguistics.SE. This post may have a good seed for an answer if it were expanded, providing with further information. Check the other answers to see what kind of posts we appreciate. – bytebuster Sep 3 '16 at 22:32

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