I was thinking about the possible existence of a branch of the Indo-European family that combines features of several branches.

For example, a branch that is something in between the Germanic and the Balto-Slavic one. It might be a strange question to ask, but this piqued my curiosity.

  • 3
    It's a reasonable question. The relationships among the various languages is not entirely established, and some groupings (for example, Italo-Celtic) are not universally accepted by scholars. Furthermore, even if we could go back in time and find a group of people speaking proto-Germanic or proto-Greek, or whatever, these people would live in a real world of language contact, and there might be regions where there was some mixing. – Colin Fine Dec 16 '18 at 18:01
  • 1
    Out of curiosity: What's your motivation for asking this? – jknappen Dec 16 '18 at 22:00
  • Every branch of IE has features in common with other branches, so the question doesn't make sense to me. – TKR Dec 16 '18 at 22:53
  • 1
    English is a mixed language combining Germanic and Romance features and vocabulary. – curiousdannii Dec 17 '18 at 0:20
  • @curiousdannii Vocabulary: OK, but which Romance features absent from Germanic are in English? – jknappen Dec 18 '18 at 11:15

Yes, depending on your definition of "combining features"

First, here's a good 'tree' of many languages in the Indo-European category.

See how many languages there are? And this doesn't even have many dialects on it (for example, it has Irish but not subdivided into Connacht, Munster, Ulster, etc.).

Now consider that this is just one possible organization. There are many languages that include words/grammar generally associated with one language family but not another.

Let's talk about Italo-Celtic. Italo-Celtic is a proposed grouping of the Italic (Latin and other Romance languages mostly) and the Celtic (Gaelic, Welsh, Breton, etc.) languages.

These are completely different groups, so why are they considered similar? They share some of the same characteristics, such as a long i (ī) in the genitive (2nd declension for Latin, female 2nd for Irish), similar superlative suffixes (ismo, em), and a merging of the aorist and perfect tenses. There's also some vocabulary, but similar words aren't quite as convincing as grammar and morphology.

This likely is the result of a Proto-Italo-Celtic language that both of the subgroups descended from.

But Italo-Celtic is more a supergroup than an in-between group. Are there any real "in-the-middle" branches?

The answer is no under the current classification scheme, mainly due to the fact that that makes no sense. The goal of a classification is for everything to fit neatly into a category, so the categories are pretty broad. You won't find anything that's quite in-between groups, though there are plenty of languages like Albanian that are grouped in their own category.

Generally, when linguists find related languages that aren't quite the same, they group them into another Indo- group. Indo-Iranian (containing Indo-Aryan and Iranian groupings) and Balto-Slavic (with Baltic and Slavic groupings) are good examples. Instead of having languages that are part of both groups, they subdivide the groupings closer and call them 'cousins'.

This goes to show that all of our beautiful classification scheme is only mortal and not infallible. With the way languages work, any geographically close languages may undergo some mixing. Linguistic categories today aren't necessarily the same in a couple centuries, or millennia.

So, mixed branches definitely exist, but it all depends on what time period you're in and what classification scheme you're using.

  • 1
    "…a long i (ī) in the genitive plurals (2nd and 3rd declensions for Latin…)" genitive singular, and first and second declensions, surely? The second and third genitive plural are -ōrum and -um. – Draconis Dec 16 '18 at 20:55
  • 1
    @Draconis whoops I was thinking of dative, sorry. Fixed. Also, isn't the first declension -ae? – Riker Dec 16 '18 at 21:06
  • I believe it developed from earlier -a-i (i.e. a suffix -i plus the thematic vowel), but I'm not sure. – Draconis Dec 16 '18 at 21:27
  • @jknappen look some of the pronouns and verbs in turkish vs hungarian, they're pretty similar in some cases. Googling pulled up this result pretty quick. – Riker Dec 16 '18 at 22:09
  • M-T-pronouns wals.info/feature/136A#2/24.8/153.8 are not good to prove a specific relationship between Hungarian and Turkish: They are also in Indogermanic, Georgian, and some other languages, And they are of course also in Finnish. – jknappen Dec 16 '18 at 22:18

In fact, it looks like all major branches of Indo-Germanic came into existence out of a language continuum at one time. All proposals for subgrouping (except the well-established groups Indo-Iranian and Balto-Slavic) have little to no support. This picture shows some overlapping features between different branches of Indo-Germanic.

So, the existence of a now extinct branch of Indo-Germanic that lies between two established branches is totally plausible.

  • Balto-Slavic is not well established I don't think. There are few experts, so it's not mainstream for starters, and each with their own theory, so there's only a rough consensus about the similarities, but not the origin (or the origins one has to say in spirit of the questioner). – vectory Dec 18 '18 at 13:29
  • The time depth of indo-aryan poses a different problem and leaves a lot of questions. – vectory Dec 18 '18 at 13:31
  • 1
    @vectory: Proto-Balto-Slavic is reconstructable and reconstructed, and a Balto-Slavic branch is also clearly seen in all dendrograms of Indogermanic I have ever seen. For more information look at this wikipedia article en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balto-Slavic_languages – jknappen Dec 18 '18 at 13:36
  • @vectory What problems do you see in the time depth of Indo-Aryan? – jknappen Dec 18 '18 at 13:38
  • You have old parts of the rich vedas that are hard to date or decipher. Then you have Avestan supposedly 2000 years younger, another lithurgical piece, not necessarily common (vulgar) vernacular, and old Persian. That's no complete picture. The role of Mitanni in this would be interesting, though there's not much to say as far as I'm aware. On the other hand, the origin of the Indo-Aryans is highly debatable of course. Genetic relation based solely on linguistic evidence is a bit iffy. Hhowever, I don't really doubt the classification, I'm just well curious. – vectory Dec 18 '18 at 14:27

I would suggest there are probably many historical languages which combined characteristics of various modern language groups, and this wouldn't even need to be the result of mixing, it would simply be that those languages either died out, or changed into modern language groups. As a Biologist, I'll give a Biological example: dinosaurs combined characteristics of modern reptiles and modern birds (e.g. - feathers and teeth), not because they were the result of breeding between ancient birds and ancient reptiles, but because all three groups shared an ancestor. So, to continue with the example of Italo-celtic used by other answers, I don't see why there couldn't have been a historical language with a mix of modern Italic and modern Celtic features. A real example is that Latin contains features found in modern German, such as the three grammatical genders, which are not found in modern Italic languages.

  • 1
    The three genders of Latin and German are a shared old feature going back to proto-Indogermanic (perhaps to the state after the separation of the Anatolic branch containing the Hittite language) – jknappen Dec 18 '18 at 11:31
  • Yes, but I wouldn't consider it a feature of Italic languages (although I know Romanian has some kind of neuter nouns), just as I wouldn't consider teeth to be a feature of birds. I guess it depends whether you're using modern or historical languages as your reference point. – Tim Foster Dec 18 '18 at 11:47
  • Unlike biological species, languages cannot only diverge but also converge. The result of linguistic convergence is called a sprachbund. – jknappen Dec 18 '18 at 12:41
  • "an ancestor" I didn't know dinosauroids procreated asexually. To lend another example from biology: The Liger is a cross of a male lion and a female tiger; A mule is a hybrid of f. horse and m. donkey; Mestizo Mexicans are a mix of Europeans and Mesoamericans. A "Liliger" is the mix of a Liger and a lion. If one side of the mix outproportions the other side over many generations, you basically get Spanish with almost no trace of Aztek, Incan, Taino but saying it was straight Spanish is, maybe, overly simplistic. – vectory Dec 18 '18 at 13:04
  • @vectory Biological hybrids are only possible between closely related species and they often have significant problems to reproduce (like the sterile mules you mentioned). A sprachbund can contain genetically unrelated languages. – jknappen Dec 18 '18 at 13:09

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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