Indo-European languages, History of Indo-European linguistics

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Summary

The Indo-European languages are a family of several hundred related languages and dialects. There are about 439 languages and dialects, according to the 2009 Ethnologue estimate, about half (221) belonging to the Indo-Aryan subbranch. It includes most major current languages of Europe, the Iranian plateau, and the Indian Subcontinent, and was also predominant in ancient Anatolia. With written attestations appearing since the Bronze Age in the form of the Anatolian languages and Mycenaean Greek, the Indo-European family is significant to the field of historical linguistics as possessing the second-longest recorded history, after the [[Afroasi

Details

In the 16th century, European visitors to India began to suggest similarities between Indian, Iranian and European languages. In 1583, Thomas Stephens, an English Jesuit missionary in Goa, in a letter to his brother that was not published until the 20th century, noted similarities between Indian languages, specifically Sanskrit, and Greek and Latin.

Another account to mention the ancient language Sanskrit came from Filippo Sassetti (born in Florence in 1540), a merchant who travelled to the Indian subcontinent. Writing in 1585, he noted some word similarities between Sanskrit and Italian (these included devaḥ/dio "God", sarpaḥ/serpe "serpent", sapta/sette "seven", aṣṭa/otto "eight", nava/nove "nine"). However, neither Stephens's nor Sassetti's observations led to further scholarly inquiry.

In 1647, Dutch linguist and scholar Marcus Zuerius van Boxhorn noted the similarity among Indo-European languages, and supposed that they derived from a primitive common language he called Scythian. He included in his hypothesis Dutch, Albanian, Greek, Latin, Persian, and German, later adding Slavic, Celtic, and Baltic languages. However, Van Boxhorn's suggestions did not become widely known and did not stimulate further research.

The Ottoman Turkish traveller Evliya Çelebi, who visited Vienna in 1665-66 as part of a diplomatic mission, noted a few similarities between words in German and Farsi.

Gaston Coeurdoux and others made observations of the same type. Coeurdoux made a thorough comparison of Sanskrit, Latin and Greek conjugations in the late 1760s to suggest a relationship between them. Similarly, Mikhail Lomonosov compared different language groups of the world including Slavic, Baltic ("Kurlandic"), Iranian ("Medic"), Finnish, Chinese, "Hottentot", and others. He emphatically expressed the antiquity of the linguistic stages accessible to comparative method in the drafts for his Russian Grammar (published 1755).M. V. Lomonosov. In: Complete Edition, Moscow, 1952, vol. 7, pp 652–659Copyright: Attribute—Share Alike

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