Language families and languages


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Most languages are known to belong to language families ("families" hereforth). An accurately identified family is a phylogenetic unit, i.e., all its members derive from a common ancestor. The ancestor is very seldom known to us directly, since most languages have a very short recorded history. However, it is possible to recover many of the features of the common ancestor of related languages by applying the comparative method -- a reconstructive procedure worked out by 19th-century linguist August Schleicher. It can demonstrate the family status of many of the groupings listed below.

Language families can be subdivided into smaller units, conventionally referred to as "branches" (because the history of a language family is often represented as a "tree" diagram).

The common ancestor of a family (or branch) is known as its "protolanguage". For example, the reconstructible protolanguage of the well-known Indo-European family is called Proto-Indo-European (not known from written records, since it was spoken before the invention of writing). Sometimes a protolanguage can be identified with a historically known language. Thus, provincial dialects of Latin ("Vulgar Latin") gave rise to the modern Romance languages, so the Proto-Romance language is more or less identical with Latin (if not exactly with the literary Latin of the Classical writers), and dialects of Old Norse are the protolanguage to Norwegian, Swedish, Danish and Icelandic.

Languages that cannot be reliably classified into any family are known as language isolates.


Natural languages

Major language families (grouped geographically without regard to inter-family relationship)

In the following, each "bulleted" item is a known language family. The geographic headings over them are meant solely as a tool for grouping families into collections more comprehensible than an unstructured list of the dozen or two of independent families. Geographic relationship is convenient for that purpose, but these headings are not a suggestion of any "super-families" phylogenetically relating the families named.

Families of Africa and southwest Asia

Families of Europe, and north, west, and south Asia

Families of east and southeast Asia and the Pacific

Families of the Americas

See main article, Native American languages

Proposed language super-families

Creole languages, pidgins, and trade languages

Isolate languages

Sign languages

Other natural languages of special interest

Languages other than natural languages

Besides the above languages that have arisen spontaneously out of the capability for vocal communication, there are also languages that share many of their important properties.

External links

ar:عائلات لغوية af:Taalfamilies an:Familias_lingüisticas [[ast:Familia (lling�istica)]] cs:Seznam jazyků (podle skupin) de:Sprachfamilien eo:Lingva familio es:Familias de lenguas fr:Langues par famille ia:Familias Linguistic it:Famiglie di linguaggi ja:言語の分類一覧 ko:어족 la:Linguae mundi lt:Kalbų šeimos nl:Taalfamilies [[no:Spr�kfamilier]] pl:Rodzina językowa ro:Familii de limbi ru:Генеалогическое дерево языков simple:Language families and languages sl:Jezikovne družine in jeziki th:ตระกูลของภาษา tl:Pamilya ng mga wika zh-cn:语言系属分类

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