Publish Date: December 15, 2017      Author: Matteo Preabianca

One of my previous articles was about Chinese Family Tree, so it gave me the opportunity to think about a wider concept of family tree.

 

Before speaking of a language family tree, it might be useful to introduce the concepts of familiarity and kinship in languages. There is a genealogical classification for languages used as a criteria to understand their kinship and, as a result, to include them in a particular linguistic family.

Just as family members, we classify genealogical languages as well. This issue rise numerous discussions from an ethical, philosophical, practical point of view and all concerning the classification of languages and the genealogy that derives from it. The classification of languages is based on kinship: daughter languages and mother tongues. All these languages from daughters become mothers as well as a true genealogical descent, going back to a parent language.

All modern European languages are the daughters of mother tongues such as the Neo-Latin languages, derived precisely from Latin (, such as Italian, Spanish, French, Portuguese, etc; also known as Romance languages), Germanic languages (e.g. English, German), Slavic languages (Slovak, Czech, Russian, etc.), Baltic languages (Lithuanian, Latvian, etc.), and many other ones which share common denominations. It has to be said that there are many common points between Germanic, Slavic and Baltic languages. While Neo-Latin languages have nothing to do with them.

Another thing we should take into account about Romance languages is that their mother tongue from which they derive is well known (it is Latin), which is deeply studied both at school and by researchers engaged in the various language classifications. The other families do not have a well-defined language as their mother tongue because of the lack of texts that can classify that family. For example, Germanic languages are derived from the common Germanic (proto-Germanic). We do not have knowledge through important texts, such as Latin.

Differences between language families

The difference between Neo-Latin family and Germanic family (and  also Baltic and Slavic families) is that the family of Romance languages is studied through a known mother tongue, so one can understand what kind of descent there is between them. While the other languages are classified by means of distinctive features that unite them and through them we try to trace back to a “common” mother tongue, in recent times they have found very little evidence in order to have a clearer picture.

Looking for the progenitor

However, we can continue to investigate in the same way as linguistic scholars have been doing for centuries. If we know there are common characteristics between, for example, common Slavic and  common Baltic, then we can also assume that they are the daughters of another mother tongue. Obviously, these hypotheses are plausible, just as they are not very concrete. But according to this method we can continue to study and dig into the history of a language in order to be able to place them all on a family tree of common languages, with a mother tongue at the tip of this tree.

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