It's (generally) accepted that Proto-Indo-European (PIE) evolved into the subfamilies Proto-Italic, Proto-Germanic, and Proto-Iranian among others.

English uses a Latin Writing system which evolved form a Greek writing system (which evolved from a Phoenician writing system, which probably evolved from an Egyptian one). English shares many words, ideas, concepts and constructs as languages such as Spanish, French and Italian.

Spanish, French, Italian and other languages evolved from Proto-Italic are relatively easy for native English speakers to learn because the languages are similar. However, languages such as Russian that evolved from the Proto-Slavic family are generally harder to learn.

Coming from such different regions as Italy and Northern Europe, How similar were Proto-Italic and Proto-Germanic, and why are their descendant languages so mutually easy to learn compared to other Proto-Indo-European descended languages?

  • 9
    Writing systems are a complete red herring. Proto Germanic and Proto Italic were pretty different - Germanic had undergone the phonetic changes of Grimm's Law, and significant vowel changes as well. The underlying inflections were similar, but I'm not sure they would appear so to somebody untutored. The ease with which English speaker can learn Romance languages is mainly down to the huge component of Latin and French vocabulary in English, plus the relative atrophy of grammatical endings in the modern Romance languages against most of the Slavonic ones.
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 16, 2017 at 22:32
  • English has a lot of borrowed Romance vocabulary, whereas Russian has much less.
    – Anixx
    Jan 17, 2017 at 19:06
  • 1
    Italian and Spanish have more flectional forms in the verbal system than Russian and a lot of complicated constructions where the verb is the central part that can be regarded as an extended flectional system, In these languages the verbal endings are not eroded at all, but some have been replaced by new ones, but most of the noun declension has gone away. Also the way you express motion differs greatly from that in English. but this is true also about Russian.
    – Knut Holt
    Oct 10, 2018 at 1:52

2 Answers 2


As you noticed, there is something common between modern Romance and Germanic languages which is not shared by other Indo-European languages. It does not come from their ancestral languages (Latin and Proto-Germanic), but to the fact that they are part of a sprachbund, called Standard Average European (SAE).

Many characteristics of SAE are obviously absent from Latin, and this excludes a genetic origin. For example, define/indefinite articles (en:The/a ; fr: Le/un), of a perfect with have (en: He has eaten, fr:il a mangé). As anecdotal evidence, I’ve often seen Russian colleagues having difficulty to grasp the a vs the difference in English, while it is totally instinctive to Germans or Frenchs. Of course, if the first speak a IE language, it is not SAE, compared to the latter ones.

The mutual influences allowing such a sprachbund has likely started during the 1st millenium migrations, and continued later.



Even if these languages belong to the Indo-European family, there's a huge gap of time and space standing between Pre-Italic and Pre-Germanic languages.

"A probable cladistic tree of the IE family"(a) shows e.g. that the Italo-Celtic subfamily and the "Central IE" subfamily (including Germanic) diverges long before Germanic and Indo-Iranian diverged.

"The last common ancestor of Germanic and Italo-Celtic was probably spoken at least 5,000 years ago".(c) "We can [...] say [...] that PGmc was spoken [...] not earlier than about 500 BC"(d)

By contrast, "There are [...] four or five Latin inscriptions datable to before 600 BC" and "A number of [languages other than the Latin one] are known from Italy in the first millenium BC".(b)

The differences are consequently innumerable; I will take only one consequence of such a huge gap between Germanic and Latin languages, described in (e). When these last two languages enter in contact, each one borrowed some words from the other one and applied to these words its own linguistical rules. E.g. Latin "Caesar" > Proto-Gmc *kaisaraz .

(a) Ringe, From Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanic, p. 5

(b) The Blackwell history of the Latin language, p.38

(c) Ringe, From Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanic, p. 67

(d) Ringe, From Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanic, p. 213

(e) Ringe, From Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanic, p. 296

  • 2
    You might also want to add Grimm's law, a pretty important piece of the differences between the two.
    – Travis
    Jan 16, 2017 at 23:13
  • 1
    A few of these languages also form sprachbunds. Even languages that are completely unrelated phylogenetically, but are found in close proximity, can have remarkably many characteristic in common, often resulting in a relative "ease" of learning one if you know another.
    – LjL
    Jan 17, 2017 at 2:00

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.