Which Indo-European language is the oldest

Which languages ​​belong to a language family ?: Part 1 - Language families in and around Europe


by Konstanze Fassbinder


The Indo-European language family

Most of the languages ​​spoken in Europe belong to the Indo-European language family. This in turn is divided into the Baltic and Slavic (Balto-Slavic), the Celtic, Italian, Anatolian and Germanic languages.
In addition, Greek, Albanian, Armenian, and Tocharic belong to the Indo-European family, although they are not part of any of the sub-branches just listed. Furthermore - as the name of the family already suggests - the Indian (or Indo-Aryan) and the Iranian (Indo-Iranian) languages ​​are members of the Indo-European language family.

The Urals languages

Another language family in Europe is the Urals. Although only 25 million people speak one of the family's 20 languages, their language area stretches from northern Sweden to Siberia.
The family is divided into two very differently sized branches, the Samoyed and the Finnish-Ugric branches. The former consists of four languages ​​and a total of only 10,000 speakers, most of whom live nomadically in the area between Novaya-Zemlya and Jenissey.
The latter includes two important European languages ​​that do not belong to the Indo-European family, namely Finnish and Hungarian, as well as the language of the Lapps, who live as scattered nomads in northern areas of Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia, and other languages ​​located in the Volga region.
The main languages ​​of the Uralic family are Hungarian (Magyar), Finnish (Suomi), Estonian, Mordovian (spoken in the eastern part of European Russia and in the titular nation of Mordovia), Mari (or Cheremissian, spoken in the autonomous republic of Mari El in the eastern part of Europe Russia), Udmurt (spoken in the Udmurt Republic, part of the Volga federal district of Russia) and Komi (spoken in the Komi republic of Russia).
The hypothetical original language is called "Proto-Ural" and was probably spread in the middle Urals 8000 years ago. The individual languages ​​today have developed far apart, both within the entire family and within the Finno-Ugric branch.
A Finn probably doesn't find it easier to learn Hungarian than a Swede who belongs to the Indo-European language family, despite the language relationship.
The similarities that make up the family as such can be found here more in the sound image (phonology) and linguistic structure (grammar, syntax, morphology) than in the vocabulary.

The Afro-Asian languages

This family - formerly known as "Hamito-Semitic" - comprises more than 300 languages ​​and over 300 million speakers. Its distribution area extends in an east-west direction from the Atlantic to the Persian Gulf and in a north-south direction from the Mediterranean to Ethiopia and Somalia, i.e. from north Africa to west Asia.
It includes languages ​​that are thousands of years old, such as Ancient Egyptian and its modern continuation, Coptic, as well as Babylonian-Assyrian, the language of most books of the Old Testament and long considered the oldest language at all, and Aramaic, the language still spoken in Iran and Iraq today Jesus Christ.
The Afro-Asian language family consists of around 350 languages ​​spoken by around 350 million speakers. Around 40 of the languages ​​she knows are now extinct.
The family is now divided into six branches, the Egyptian, the Kushitic, the Chadian, the Omotic, the Berber and the Semitic branches, which has the most speakers.
As the only language in Europe, Maltese belongs to the Afro-Asian languages, more precisely to the Semitic languages.
The most important and well-known Semitic languages ​​are Arabic and Hebrew.

The Altaic languages

Altai languages, or Altai for short, is a family of languages ​​that is widespread in Eurasia and consists of around 60 languages ​​with around 160 million speakers. Their name goes back to the Central Asian Altai Mountains; it includes the Turkish, Tungusian and Mongolian languages.
The common origin of these three branches is, however, only an assumed one, it has not been proven. In the past, this family was often combined with the Uralic to form the "Uralic-Altaic" languages.
The Turkic languages ​​extend over a large area from the edge of Europe to far into Siberia and Persia; there are a confusing number of very closely related individual languages. The modern Turkish is probably best known to most Europeans. The most important official Turkic languages ​​include Azerbaijani, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Uzbek and Turkmen.
Mongolian, the state language of the Mongolian Republic, is the largest of the Mongolian languages; related to it are the languages ​​Buryat, Tuvinian and Kalmuck, all of which are spoken in the territory of the former Soviet Union. Other languages ​​in this branch can be found in China, Afghanistan, Tibet and Manchuria.

The Caucasian languages

Even before the Indo-European, Semitic and Turkic (or Turkish) population groups immigrated, Caucasian languages ​​were spoken in the Caucasus region. There are around 40 different ones, spoken by around 9 million speakers.
The Caucasian languages ​​pose numerous puzzles to researchers and linguists. Their confusing diversity allows the designation as a family only with reservations. Roughly speaking, all languages ​​on both sides of the Caucasus can be described as such. However, if you take a closer look, this name only applies to those languages ​​that are not Indo-European in the described area, which results in around 30 to 40 languages ​​spoken by around 10 million people.
As with the Altaic languages, it is uncertain whether these languages ​​are really all genetically related to one another, especially because written certificates are almost completely missing.
The Caucasian languages ​​are divided into three groups: Northwest Caucasian or Abkhazo-Adygean is located on the Black Sea; to it belong the languages ​​Abkhazian, Karachay and Kabardian. The northeastern Caucasian or post-Dagestani branch on the Caspian Sea includes Chechen, Ingush and the languages ​​spoken in Dagestan. The third Caucasian branch, South Caucasian or Kartvelian, extends south of the main Caucasian mountain range. Georgian, probably the best-known Caucasian language, belongs to him.
After we have presented you first of all those language families that are located in Greater Europe, we will leave Europe in our next article to present you with other language families from around the world.