What is the Proto-Proto-Indo-European?

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    Proto-Indo-European (PIE) is a term used to describe the oldest ancestor of this family that we can reconstruct (≅make an educated guess) with the available evidence. So by definition the ancestor of PIE is something we don't have evidence even to reconstruct. All proposals of what came before have to be highly speculative and debatable. Commented Oct 14, 2019 at 8:08
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    One could say pre-proto-indo-european, the earliest reconstructed language possible in terms of IE linguistics, but it is not a good answer... Commented Apr 17, 2020 at 17:50

4 Answers 4


The modern Moscow school asserts that PIE was predated by Proto-Eurasiatic. It is quite reconstructable at least in terms of vocabulary (examples include *apa for "father", *'aku and *wete for "water") and some other features (-s ending for the Genitive, *mi(n) for "I" and *ti for "thou", *ku and *io interrogative pronouns, ket(a) for "a pair"). Unlike PIE, numerals cannot be reconstructed for Proto-Eurasiatic which suggests that people did not know counting yet at the time.

The families, included in Eurasiatic are as follows:

  • Indo-European
  • Uralic
  • Altaic
  • Nivkh
  • Chukotko-Kamchatkan
  • Eskimo–Aleut
  • Etruscan

It is further asserted that Proto-Eurasiatic is predated by Proto-Nostratic which includes

  • Eurasiatic
  • Afro-Asiatic
  • Kartvelian
  • Dravidian

A large part of Nostratic vocabulary has been reconstructed, you can find a dictionary here: http://www.dspace.cam.ac.uk/bitstream/1810/196512/49/00ND_ALL.pdf

Further speculation is that Proto-Nostratic was predated by Borean, which includes Nostratic and Dene–Daic (which is subdivided into Dené–Caucasian and Austric).

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    For completeness, just a comment that this goes beyond what mainstream linguistics accepts.
    – user444
    Commented Aug 7, 2012 at 17:37
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    @arjan Yes indeed, waaay beyond...! Commented Aug 11, 2012 at 15:39
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    While the caution that Proto-Eurasiatic & Nostratic are not widely accepted is correct, it should not be implied that it is seen as some kind of mambo jambo hypothesis. Brill includes a Nostratic etymological dictionary, which means that the hypothesis is nevertheless respected. I would put it simple and say it is premature.
    – Midas
    Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 7:01
  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Linguistics Meta, or in Linguistics Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Aug 11, 2023 at 8:24
  • @Midas Do you have a link to Brill nostratic dictionary?
    – Anixx
    Commented Aug 11, 2023 at 14:57

The answer is that we do not know (and possibly never will).

There are a number of theories, such as Eurasiatic mentioned in Anixx's answer, and Nostratic (I wasn't aware that there was a theory that includes both of these), but none of them is widely accepted by linguists.


Nobody knows.

It's sort of like asking a physicist "what's inside the smallest particles we've been able to observe?". By definition, we don't know. Proto-Indo-European is as far back as our current methods are able to reconstruct, so anything before that tends to be shrouded in speculation.

However, this doesn't mean it's unknowable—it just means it's the limit of our current evidence and current method. If someone comes up with a new and improved version of the comparative method, for example, they might be able to show some more conclusive evidence for "Proto-Eurasiatic" or "Proto-Nostratic" or the like. Or, if we find some evidence for a new related language, our current models could project even further back in time; that's what happened when Hittite was discovered.


The Eurasiatic hypothesis is very logical, since the Middle East have been a sort of spread sentral for the world population. But this language surely had numerals, at least up to 10, and probably far higher since counting is an obvious act of human intelligence and since the number of our fingers easily suggest the need for numbers up to 10. But at the earliest stages the numerals probably had a strong tendency to be shifted out with new ones.

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    The origin of Eurasiatic is the Urals, not Middle East. It had numerals up to 3 or 4 at best.
    – Anixx
    Commented Aug 15, 2015 at 21:42
  • Ooh, a few days ago I ran into a reference to a tribe that counts by the spaces between their fingers (not the fingers themselves). Unfortunately, I had only noted the fact in passing, and don't even remember where I ran into it. :-( Commented Jul 23, 2016 at 23:32
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    To Charles Rockafellor: this could account for base 8 and could also suggest being able to count higher than 8 if the point of using the space between fingers was to hold e.g. grass stems or twigs etc to show multiples of 8.
    – drbabs
    Commented Apr 17, 2020 at 6:32
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    @CharlesRockafellor: Maybe what indicates Wikipedia: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finger-counting#cite_ref-16 : "The Yuki language in California and the Pamean languages[11] in Mexico have octal (base-8) systems because the speakers count using the spaces between their fingers rather than the fingers themselves. [12]" ? Being the ref [12] Marcia Ascher. "Ethnomathematics: A Multicultural View of Mathematical Ideas". The College Mathematics Journal. JSTOR 2686959.
    – 今夜九
    Commented Aug 2, 2021 at 15:21

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