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I know that Indo-European is the name of a family of languages that includes nearly all the major tongues of Europe and several outside Europe, such as Persian and Hindi. Germanic is a sub-category of Indo-European. But I read some paper before, and it said Germanic has some changes from IE. Is it correct to say in that way? Shouldn't we say Germanic develops from Proto-Germanic, and Proto-Germanic develops from Proto-Indo-Europeans?

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    You are getting confused: Germanic is a language family, comprising numerous languages, while proto-Germanic is a (reconstructed) language, hypothetically being the ancestor of all Germanic languages (here "proto" is used in the original Greek meaning, "first", so "proto-Germanic" is the first Germanic language). Apr 14 '20 at 7:55
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Indo-European and Germanic are language families, not individual languages, and Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Germanic are each the single language that is the reconstructed most recent common ancestor of all of the languages in their respective language family. Sometimes people (not usually linguists) use "Germanic" as a noun as a short-hand for either the Germanic languages in general or Proto-Germanic specifically, and more rarely the same for "Indo-European" as well, but that's sloppy at best. Avoid doing that.

By definition, proto-languages are members of the language family formed by their descendants, because they're implicitly created to share all of the distinctive features that their daughter languages have in common as compared to any other branches of the broader family tree, so it's also not really correct to say "Germanic" developed out of Proto-Germanic if by "Germanic" you mean all Germanic languages; Proto-Germanic already is Germanic, and the first language (Greek πρῶτος 'first, earliest') to bear that distinction.

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  • While I agree it’s rare for linguists to use Germanic to refer to Proto-Germanic, it’s very common for linguists (at least Indo-Europeanises) to use Indo-European (or IE) to refer to Proto-Indo-European. I suspect this is because texts in the field of Indo-European linguistics rarely need to refer to the family as such, compared with how often they need to refer to the proto-language itself. Apr 14 '20 at 12:29
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    Also, do you have any sources that define proto-languages as being the earliest member of ‘their’ families? While I’ve never actually seen any kind of definition one way or another, I’ve always considered that it’s the other way around from what you describe: the definition of a language family is the result of splits from a proto-language, making the proto-language the last stage before the family, rather than the first stage in it. Apr 14 '20 at 12:35
  • @JanusBahsJacquet - Do you mean that the Proto-Indo-European language wasn't actually a member of the Indo-European language family? Isn't it the same as saying that your mother isn't your family member?
    – Yellow Sky
    Apr 14 '20 at 13:36
  • @YellowSky Depends on how you define ‘my family’. If you define it as the family that starts with and emanates from me, then she wasn’t. If you mean it as everyone I am related to, then both she and my great-great-grandmother are. But language families are not quite so exactly parallel to human families. I consider it more akin to Jesus, the central figure and starting point of Christianity, who was by definition not himself Christian because Christianity didn’t exist until after him. Apr 14 '20 at 13:45
  • If you write "IE *bher" the asterisk makes it clear that this is a reconstructed form and that consequently "IE" means "PIE". This is not "sloppy"; it is being concise.
    – fdb
    Apr 14 '20 at 14:25

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