One well-known division of Indo-European languages is Centum - Satem. However, my wikipedia-induced understanding is that due to the existence of Tocharian it is at best unclear whether it corresponds to an actual evolution of PIE into two dialects/languages.

But perhaps I'm wrong and many serious linguists do consider the Centum - Satem division as corresponding to dialects of PIE? For example on the (striking but maybe naive?) basis of the similarity of the word "five" in Balto-Slavic, Indo-Iranian and Tocharian languages?

Are there any other binary divisions of Indo-European languages which are considered by serious linguists to correspond to an evolution of PIE into two branches? I'm particularly interested whether anyone serious considers Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian to have had evolved together for a while, perhaps together with other families, but in separation from Centum languages.

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    Most IEists would support a primary division of IE into Anatolian vs. everything else. Beyond that, very little is clear. – TKR Aug 10 '16 at 22:54

As for the centum-satem distinction, nowadays indoeuropeanists usually don't think of it as a west-east dialect division but they rather view the satem palatalisation as an innovation which took place in central IE dialects in opposition to the peripheral or outside IE dialects which did not undergo that change. In such a scenario, following the principles of grouping dialects on the basis of common innovations and not common retentions, one could only posit an existence of a Central PIE dialect, leaving the outside ones out of the equation. A binary oppposition of centum-satem, in this shape, is well embraced by modern scholars. It turns out that the central-peripheral version is more flexible and allows to take into account such peculiarities as weird centum lexemes in Slavic, and the great distance between for example Tocharian and Celtic, which in the older view should have belonged to the same dialect.

Unfortunately one can point multitude of other isoglosses, involving other language changes, which do not necessarilly overlap. This is a thing that proves a task to confidently divide PIE into two dialects very difficult if not impossible. Needless to say one also has to deal with time depth and a fact that division of PIE was not a instant event, that some groups of people left Common PIE speaking communities earlier and some later.

  • Thanks for your answer. Is the Central PIE dialect which you mentioned studied somewhere? Perhaps even reconstructed? Also I gather from your answer that indeed Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian had evolved together for a while, in separation from the western/southern european langauges. Do you know for how long and whether there existed a Proto-Balto-Indo-Irano-Slavic language? (perhaps in fact the Central PIE dialect you mention could be referred to as such?) – Łukasz Grabowski Aug 12 '16 at 16:36
  • I have never seen any publications focused on the reconstruction of the specific Central dialect. The existence of such is just assumed on the basis of centum-satem data. Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian would have developed together just when they were part of this Central dialect. – czypsu Aug 13 '16 at 9:48
  • Woudn't it be considered interesting to study this Central PIE and its descendants before the split into Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian (and maybe others)? From what you say, it might be almost trivial to professional linguists, but I still find it interesting that, say, Polish, is "genetically" closer to Sanskrit than to German, if I understand you correctly. In any case the influence due to geographical proximity almost "cancels" having a relatively recent common ancestor, but still some quantitative study sure would be interesting (most interestingly - for how long did they evolve together?) – Łukasz Grabowski Aug 14 '16 at 12:42
  • This Central PIE is extracted on the basis of the satem change. So the research would have ended in a conclusion that in the Central PIE we had this change where certain velars got palatalised. We can just add the satem change to our reconstructed PIE and we have the Central dialect. As I wrote before, other isoglosses of other language changes within PIE and its descendants do not overlap with the centum-satem isogloss, so there is no really explicit dialect to reconstruct. The notion of Central PIE is brought up just to label the satem langauges in a vague reference to spatial relations. – czypsu Aug 14 '16 at 14:48
  • czypsu, thanks for your response. I have to say though that I don't understand your dismissiveness - If you pose the existence of Central PIE, of which, at least currently, balto-slavic and indo-iranian are the two biggest groups, then I think at least the question "for how long did balto-slavic and indo-iranian evolve together before splitting" is a valid research question, and I can't find an answer, neither in your responses nor elsewhere. Independently of this point, wikipedia article on centum/satem has some suggestions of other common innovations shared between balto-slavic and iranian. – Łukasz Grabowski Aug 15 '16 at 12:34

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