Pre-Indo-European languages


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The Pre-Indo-European languages are any of several ancient languages, not necessarily related to one another, that existed in Prehistoric Europe and Southern Asia before the arrival of speakers of Indo-European languages. The oldest Indo-European language texts date from the 19th century BC in Kültepe (modern Turkey), and while estimates vary widely, the spoken Indo-European languages are believed to have developed at the latest by the 3rd millennium BC (see Proto-Indo-European Urheimat hypotheses). Thus, the Pre-Indo-European languages must have developed earlier than or, in some cases, alongside the Indo-European languages that ultimately displaced them.[1][2][3]

A diagram showing Pre-Indo-European languages. Red dots indicate populations before the Indo-European peoples migrated from the steppes.

A handful of the pre-Indo-European languages still survive; in Europe, Basque retains a localised strength, with fewer than a million native speakers, but the Dravidian languages remain very widespread in the Indian subcontinent, with over 200 million native speakers. Some of the pre-Indo-European languages are attested only as linguistic substrates in Indo-European languages.


Before World War II, all the unclassified languages of Europe and the Near East were commonly referred to as Asianic languages, and the term encompassed several languages that were later found to be Indo-European (such as Lydian), and others (such as Hurro-Urartian, Hattic), which were classified as distinct language families. In 1953, the linguist Johannes Hubschmid identified at least five pre-Indo-European language families in Western Europe: Eurafrican, which covered North Africa, Italy, Spain and France; Hispano-Caucasian, which replaced Eurafrican and stretched from Northern Spain to the Caucasus Mountains; Iberian, which was spoken by most of Spain prior to the Roman conquest of the Iberian peninsula; Libyan, which was spoken mostly in North Africa but encroached into Sardinia; and Etruscan, which was spoken in Northern Italy.[4] The term pre-Indo-European is not universally accepted, as some linguists maintain the idea of the relatively late arrival of the speakers of the unclassified languages to Europe, possibly even after the Indo-European languages, and so prefer to speak about non-Indo-European languages. A new term, Paleo-European, is not applicable to the languages that predated or coexisted with Indo-European outside Europe.

Surviving languagesEdit

These pre-Indo-European languages have survived to modern times:[5]

Languages that contributed substrates to Indo-European languagesEdit

Examples of suggested or known substrate influences on specific Indo-European languages include the following:[citation needed]

Other propositions are generally rejected by modern linguists:

Attested languagesEdit

Languages attested in inscriptions include the following:[citation needed]

Later Indo-European expansionEdit

Further, there have been replacements of Indo-European languages by others, most prominently of most of the Celtic languages by Germanic or Romance varieties because of Roman rule and the invasions of Germanic tribes.

Also, however, languages replaced or engulfed by Indo-European in ancient times must be distinguished from languages replaced or engulfed by Indo-European languages in more recent times. In particular, the vast majority of the major languages spread by colonialism have been Indo-European, which has in the last few centuries led to superficially similar linguistic islands being formed by, for example, indigenous languages of the Americas (now surrounded by English, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, and French), as well as of several Uralic languages (now surrounded by Russian).[citation needed] Many creole languages have also arisen based upon Indo-European colonial languages.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ David W. Anthony, The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World (Oxford, 2010)
  2. ^ Haarmann, Harald. Pre-Indo-European Writing in Old Europe as a Challenge to the Indo-European Intruders Indogermanische Forschungen; Strassburg Vol. 96, (Jan 1, 1991): 1
  3. ^ Roger Blench, Matthew Spriggs (eds.) Archaeology and Language III: Artefacts, Languages and Texts, (2012, Routledge)
  4. ^ Craddock, Jerry Russell (1967). The unstressed suffixes in the western Mediterranean with special regard to Hispano-Romance (Thesis). University of California, Berkeley. p. 40.
  5. ^ Peter R. Kitson, "Reconstruction, typology and the original home of the Indo-Europeans", in (ed.) Jacek Fisiak, Linguistic Reconstruction and Typology, Berlin, Walter de Gruyter, 1997, p. 191.
  6. ^ Aikio, Ante (2012). "An essay on Saami ethnolinguistic prehistory" (PDF). Mémoires de la Société Finno-Ougrienne. Helsinki, Finland: Finno-Ugrian Society. 266: 63–117. Retrieved 5 July 2017.


Archaeology and cultureEdit

  • Anthony, David with Jennifer Y. Chi (eds., 2009). The Lost World of Old Europe: The Danube Valley, 5000–3500 BC.
  • Bogucki, Peter I. and Pam J. Crabtree (eds. 2004). Ancient Europe 8000 BC—1000 AD: An Encyclopedia of the Barbarian World. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
  • Gimbutas, Marija (1973). Old Europe c. 7000–3500 B.C.: the earliest European cultures before the infiltration of the Indo-European peoples. The Journal of Indo-European Studies 1/1-2. 1-20.
  • Tilley, Christopher (1996). An Ethnography of the Neolithic. Early Prehistoric Societies in Southern Scandinavia. Cambridge University Press.

Linguistic reconstructionsEdit

  • Bammesberger, Alfred & Theo Vennemann, eds. Languages in Prehistoric Europe. Heidelberg: Carl Winter, 2003.
  • Blench, Roger, & Matthew Spriggs, eds. Archaeology and Language. Vol. 1, Theoretical and Methodological Orientations. London/NY: Routeledge, 1997.
  • Dolukhanov, Pavel M. “Archaeology and Languages in Prehistoric Northern Eurasia”, Japan Review 15 (2003): 175–186.
  • Gimbutas, Marija. The Language of the Goddess: Unearthing the Hidden Symbols of Western Civilization. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989.
  • Greppin, John and T.L.Markey, eds. When Worlds Collide: The Indo-Europeans and the Pre-Indo-Europeans. Ann Arbor: 1990.
  • Haarmann, H. “Ethnicity and language in the ancient Mediterranean”, in A companion to ethnicity in the ancient Mediterranean. Edited by J. McInerney. Wiley Blackwell, 2014, pp. 17–33.
  • Lehmann, Winfred P. Pre-Indo-European. Washington, DC: Institute for the Study of Man. 2002. ISBN 0-941694-82-8.
  • Mailhammer, Robert. “Diversity vs. Uniformity. Europe before the Arrival of Indo-European Languages”[permanent dead link], in The Linguistic Roots of Europe: Origin and Development of European Languages. Edited by Robert Mailhammer & Theo Vennemann. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 2016.
  • “Pre-Indo-European”, in Encyclopedia of the Languages of Europe. Edited by Glanville Price. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998. ISBN 978-0-631-22039-8.
  • Ringe, Don (January 6, 2009). "The Linguistic Diversity of Aboriginal Europe". Language Log. Mark Liberman. Retrieved 22 September 2011.
  • Vennemann, Theo. Languages in Prehistoric Europe north of the Alps.
  • Vennemann, Theo (2008). Linguistic reconstruction in the context of European prehistory. Transactions of the Philological Society. Volume 92, Issue 2, pages 215–284, November 1994
  • Woodard, Roger D. (ed., 2008) Ancient Languages of Asia Minor. Cambridge University Press.
  • Woodard, Roger D. (2008) Ancient Languages of Europe. Cambridge University Press.

External linksEdit

  • (in French) Reconstructed migration of language families and archaeological cultures in Europe during the Neolithic and Chalcolithic