(1) Does aconservative language better preserve its roots? (for example, Romanian is said to have best preserved its Latin roots due to being geographically surrounded by countries with non-Romance languages).

(2) Or does conservative refer to the slowness of innovation in modern structures, or to the resistance to change?

(3) I was also tempted to think that maybe it refers to resistance to influences from other languages,that is, when a language will try to find a new word of its own, rather than borrowing a ready one from a different language.

  • 2
    Conservative language is not a term of art. With respect to a particular linguistic dimension (eg lexis, phonology, accentuation, verbal morphology, nominal morpholgy, etc) one can talk about one language being more conservative than another; but without such a restriction, I would venture to say the phrase is more or less meaningless.
    – Colin Fine
    Dec 8 '20 at 22:59
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    Interesting related question: linguistics.stackexchange.com/q/24472/9781 Dec 9 '20 at 13:34
  • @RMonica: Interesting indeed and profitable. Thank you!
    – user31246
    Dec 9 '20 at 13:40

It's a combination of all of those factors. For example;

• Ancient Greek is often considered a grammatically conservative IE language because the Indo-European nominal number system (Singular, Dual and plural) is very well preserved.

• Sanskrit is considered a phonologically conservative IE language, because much of the PIE sound system is preserved.

• Languages being resistant to other languages is often more of a factor of geographic isolation that causes the factors above to be true. However, languages there is no hard and fast rule linking the two.

• The preservation of roots reflects the extent of sound change. More conservative languages preserve the sound systems of their Proto languages better, and therefore preserve vocabulary better. However, semantic drift is often a factor in changing the meanings of terms derived from roots.

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