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Indo-European Family of Languages: Features and Classifications

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Poet, blogger, college professor, literature, and film enthusiast. Excited about critical and creative writing. Pursuing a Ph.D. in English.


What is meant by Indo European Family of Languages?

Indo-European is one of the number of families into which the world’s languages may be divided. Family of languages refer to a group bound together by unmistakable likeness in words and grammatical forms. If we compare words from a few living languages, and a few dead languages which are preserved in written records, we may assume that a common language might have existed at some earlier stage from which all these languages were descended. This common ancestor is the Indo-European language, also known as Indo-Aryan language.

Origins and Early History of Indo-European Language

Beginning at some period several thousand years B.C. the Indo-European started at a point in Southern Europe near the Asian border. It then spread itself both East and West. While spreading, it mixed with many non-European tongues and was modified by them variously at different stages resulting in different subgroups or branches of language and different dialects. However, there still remains in all members of the family, a body of simple, everyday words easily recognized as connected with some variations. For example, English ”mother” is connected to Latin “mater” and Sanskrit “matr”. Likewise, English “brother” is cognate with Latin “frater” and Sanskrit “bhratr”.

Spread of Indo-European

Spread of Indo-European

The Indo-European family includes eight main groups divided roughly into eastern and western sets. The following table helps to understand the classification:




Lithuanian, Lettic, Russian, Bulgarian, Polish, Czech or Bohemian and Serbian

Ionic and Attic (descending to Modern Greek), Doric, Aeolic



Indian (Sanskrit, Pali) Iranian (Old Persian, Avestan)

Latin (descending to Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Romanian)




Welsh, Cornish, Irish, Scotch and manx


TEUTONIC/GERMANIC BRANCH East Germanic: Gothic North Germanic: Danish, Swedish, Norwegian and Icelandic West Germanic: German, Dutch, Flemish and English



Characteristics of Indo-European language

Two special characteristics indicate the Indo-Europeanness of a language: structure and vocabulary. As regards to structure, the Indo-European languages use forms which have been invented and described by the ancient Greeks as “Parts of Speech”. Secondly, Indo-European languages have many identical fundamental words which form their common basis of vocabulary. For instance, most of the names of family relationships, domestic materials or familiar animals.

By comparing the descendants of the parent languages we can form an approximate idea of what the Indo-European language was like. This comparison shows that the parent language was extremely complicated and full of irregularities. It was a highly inflectional language.

Check out my class lecture on Indo-European Family of Languages (With additional explanations in Bengali for non-native speakers)

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What is Inflection?

Definition of Inflection

Definition of Inflection

Indo-European Language: Some Basic Features

  • 1. Totally different endings of nouns and verbs to express the grammatical relation between the two
  • 2. Eight cases: nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, instrumental, optative, locative and vocative.
  • 3. Dual number in Indo-European besides singular and plural.
  • 4. Different patterns of inflections for different sets of nouns
  • 5. Grammatical gender without any necessary connection to sex.
  • 6. Different inflections in adjectives for different cases, numbers, and genders.
  • 7. Different inflections in pronouns and articles for different cases, numbers and genders.
  • 8. Numerous inflections for verbs
  • 9. Arbitrary shifting of accent
  • 10. Same idea in different modifications expressed in different forms taken from different words.

© 2020 Monami

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