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LANGUAGE MAP OF EUROPE AND WESTERN ASIA

The rise and fall of the third chimpanzee

Indo-European

A Albanian

Ar Armenian

B Baltic

C Celtic

Ge Germanic

Gr GreeK

I Italic

II Indo-Iranian

S Slavic

An Anatolian"] extinct Toe Tocharianj

Non-Indo-European

1 WA Basque

2 I I Finno-Ugric

3 II I II Turkic and Mongolian

4 k\N Semitic

5 Exx^l Caucasian

6 ETO Dravidian

This map shows language distribution, circa 1492, just before the European discovery of the New World. There must have been other Indo-European language branches that had become extinct before then. However, lengthy written texts exist only in languages of the Anatolian branch (including Hittite) and the Tocharian branch, whose homelands became occupied by speakers of Turkic and Mongolian languages before 1492.

What proves that all these tongues are related to each other and distinct from other language stocks? One obvious clue is shared vocabulary, as illustrated by the table of vocabulary on page 226 and thousands of other examples. A second clue is similar word endings (so-called inflectional endings) used to form verb conjugations and noun declensions. These endings are illustrated by part of the conjugation of 'to be' below. It becomes easier to recognize such similarities when you realize that word roots and endings shared between related languages are generally not shared identically. Instead, a particular sound in one language is often replaced by another sound in the other language. Familiar examples are the frequent equivalence of English 'th' and German 'd' (English 'thing' equals German 'ding, 'thank' equals 'danke'), or of English V and Spanish 'es' (English 'school' equals 'escuela, 'stupid' equals 'estupido'). Those resemblances among the Indo-European languages are detailed, but much grosser features of sounds and word formation set Indo-European languages apart from other language families. For example, my atrocious French accent embarrasses me as soon as I open my mouth to ask, 'Ow est le metro' But my difficulties with French are nothing compared with my total inability to produce the click sounds of some southern African languages, or to produce the eight gradations of vowel pitch in the Lakes Plain languages of the New Guinea lowlands. Naturally, my Lakes Plain friends loved teaching me bird names that differed only in pitch from words for excrement, then watching me ask the next villager I met for more information about that 'bird'.


INDO-EUROPEAN VERSUS NON-INDO-EUROPEAN VOCABULARY | The rise and fall of the third chimpanzee | INDO-EUROPEAN VERSUS NON-INDO-EUROPEAN VERB ENDINGS: TO BE OR NOT TO BE