I've always been interested in the concept of 'proto' - for sort of artistic or conceptual reasons (or for conceptual art aspects). I had thought a few years ago about an art or photo or writing project, a blog, or some sort of site, bought a good internet name for it and all that, though never did anything with it. But I'm also into psychology - and particularly the role that language plays, and the social, the social mind, as such (for me, really that 'all psychology is social psychology and all mind is social mind). And I'm intrigued then of course about how language forms, and what form language is (in) or in the form it takes in human baby and infant development. Development of mind and language.

I am big into Vygotsky, and I think he'd have it that sounds are sort of accidental before 'proto' i.e., that social being (or a little being for it to be 'social' and conscious of itself as a powerful being in time in space - or having that type of human consciousness, I should or could say, is a whole 'proto' but not 'proto' (non- intentional thing/entity or process, really). I know this is vague stuff. But anyway, I thought I'd try and find what the linguistic folks have - even if also vague thoughts - going on with proto languages thoughts or information (e.g. information on research or ideas you might have come across recently) on proto language or proto words and what have you.

Yes, so if any pointers or ideas of your own, thoughts on proto, I'd be really interested. And thanks in advance. Or just for reading this far, reading the post anyway.

  • 1
    proto-what? The prefix can't stand alone
    – Tristan
    Commented Jul 10, 2020 at 15:30
  • 4
    Meh: neither can "meta", and yet people do it all the time. Nothing in the question implies anything about word status; concepts are not limited to "free-standing words".
    – user6726
    Commented Jul 10, 2020 at 15:43
  • @user6726 Meta has developed it's own sense as a free morpheme. "proto" has not AFAIK. As to this question, I have no idea what it's about. And even if others do understand it "What are you thoughts on a topic" is not an allowed question format here.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jul 11, 2020 at 7:38

1 Answer 1


There's hardly any discernable question. I presume you want to know what "proto" meant.

"Proto" is not used as a word stand-alone in Linguistics, nor anywhere else in English that I'm aware of.

It's used as a prefix in certain taxonomies with different implications and some degree of overlap in the meaning. A proto-stage is a later results' formative stage, or at least a former stage in an ongoing development, whose beginning is often difficult to pinpoint, either for lack of material evidence or at least for lack of a sufficiently clear definition of a starting point and all that goes into it.

"Proto-" is thought to mean "first", as it were in the donor language of this loan word, cp. prime-, first (*p > Germanic /f/ after Grimm's law; note especially the ending -(s)t for comparison), and I should be surpriswd if former didn't belong here, too. However, the word has obviously certain connotations, cp. prototype. In some of these senses, it would be idiosyncratic to describe a current thing. In other cases it might work to extend the connotation, but that would effectively be a neologism.

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