Some of the indo-european languages* are documented to be up to 3800 years old, like Hethitic, or 3600 years for Greek. So one would expect that the others are not substantially younger. (* I refer to the proto languages that followed proto IE, like proto Germanic, proto Celtic and so on.)

Now there seems to be a hypothesis that proto Germanic could be as "young" as only 2500 years, which is based on some "facts" concerning the dating of Grimm's law. As far as I found out myself so far, it deals with:

  1. a few names in latin texts (like Vahalis for the river Waal), but those are questionable because Latin had no letters for fricatives.
  2. a few names in Germanic (like welsh from the celtic tribe of the Volcae), but there are no clues when those entered the germanic vocabulary.
  3. the "hemp-hypothesis" (Barber 1991) that germanic *hanapiz was not inherited from proto indo-european but instead is a loanword from Cimmerian from the mid 1st millenium BC. But this hypothesis violates Occam's razor and raises several questions.

I'd like to dig deeper into those things, maybe someone can point me to the right publications.

  • this has been answered before. here under the relevant tags or on reddit, e.g. r/badling, r/indoeuropean, I don't quite remember. short answer: yes, as you said, if words were loaned from Latin, show effects of Grimm's law, and can by arcaeological and historical evidence not be assumed to have been needed in Germanic any sooner. That's just the argument I remember, there might be more, and I'm not fully convinced of it, that proto-germanic was monolithic, that the reconstructions are sound (good, but far from perfectl), that there were few changes before that for hundreds of years.
    – vectory
    Jul 31, 2020 at 17:33
  • if kannabis is not compared to kanna, I canna really not have any hope in this field, or at least not in myself to ever achieve the level of rigor mortis needed to not conflate pairs like this. Like, you cannot not move--panta rhei, banners fly, borders move, hunters cry.
    – vectory
    Jul 31, 2020 at 17:45
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    There's a misunderstanding in your first paragraph. The fact that Hittite and Greek are documented in the second millennium BC doesn't imply that all other IE languages should be dated to the same period -- would you expect that English should be "not substantially younger"? Proto-Germanic is just a name for one of the stages between PIE and English.
    – TKR
    Jul 31, 2020 at 18:19
  • 3
    The point is that the "post proto-IE proto-languages" is not a meaningfully defined set that can be expected to have anything in common. A proto-language is just a (reconstructed) language. Our understanding of the branching of IE depends largely on accidents of historical preservation; there's no reason to expect that the top nodes of what we happen to know of that tree should be contemporaneous with each other.
    – TKR
    Jul 31, 2020 at 18:59
  • 3
    Migration is a constant in human history. There's no reason to assume all the migrations that gave rise to IE branches happened at the same time -- a priori that's very unlikely. PIE speakers didn't split neatly into ten groups one morning and each wander off in a different direction.
    – TKR
    Jul 31, 2020 at 19:23

1 Answer 1


Well, by definition, proto-Germanic is the reconstructed ancestor of all attested Germanic languages. Since the Germanic languages are really closely related, and their attestation does not go back very far in time, it is no surprise that proto-Germanic is rather young.

Another problem is dating sound laws. AFAIK, there is still an ongoing debate whether Grimm's law or Verner's law happened first. And this is just about the relative order of sound laws.

Giving absolute dates is even more difficult and is usually done by judging loan words to and from Germanic languages. Because words like Keller "cellar" and Kaiser "emperor" are not touched by Grimm's law we can conclude that it was no longer active in the 1st century BCE. I have no good arguments for the earliest onset of Grimm's law, but I think that 5th c. BCE is the consensus in the community.

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