Indo-European Linguistics

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Indo-European Linguistics


a branch of comparative historical linguistics that deals with the Indo-European languages. It is based on the study of correspondences among similar elements of the Indo-European languages (with an orientation toward their ancient status) and interpretation of the correspondences. The founders of Indo-European linguistics were the German scholar F. Bopp (conjugation system of Sanskrit in comparison with Greek, Latin, Germanic, and other languages) and the Danish scholar R. Rask (comparison of the data of the Germanic languages with Greek, Latin, and Balto-Slavic and establishment of their affinity).

The main achievements of the first period (early 19th century) in the development of Indo-European linguistics were the determination of the sphere of the Indo-European languages and the creation of the first comparative historical grammar (Bopp) and the principles of Indo-European etymology (the German scholar A. Pott). The second period (mid-19th century) was marked by the works of the German scholar A. Schleicher (a new version of comparative grammar; the interpretation of the similarities among the Indo-European languages as resulting from their origin from a common Indo-European parent language), the German scholar J. Schmidt (the wave theory, which explains the interelationships of the Indo-European languages and which had exceptional influence on linguistic geography, dialectography, areal linguistics, and the theory of contacts), and the German scholar A. Fick (Indo-European etymology). The third period (late 19th and early 20th century) is associated above all with the neogrammarian school (the German scholars K. Brugmann, H. Osthoff, and B. Delbriick and their followers A. Bezzen-berger, A. Leskien, W. Streitberg, and C. Bartholomae), the Swiss scholar F. de Saussure, the Russian scholar F. F. For-tunatov, the Swiss scholar J. Wackernagel, the French scholars A. Meillet and R. Gauthiot, the Austrian scholar P. Kretsch-mer, the German scholar F. Sommer, the Danish scholar H. Pedersen, and the German scholars A. Walde and H. Hirt; many of these scholars also continued their successful work after this period.

The neogrammarians deserve credit for posing the question on the reliability of correspondences and their formulation of strict criteria (compare law of regular sound changes), which led to the discovery of a. series of laws (the laws of Verner, Brugmann, Fortunatov and de Saussure, and Wackernagel) and the creation of new theories of vocalism and alternations which established the principles of Indo-European morphophonology. The main work of the neogrammarian school was the comparative grammar of the Indo-European languages by Brugmann and Del-briick (2nd ed., vols. 1-5, 1897-1916). The introduction of the concept of analogy (notable for its explanatory role in studies of morphology) must be classed among their theoretical achievements. Saussure, the first to use a systemic approach to language (1879), succeeded in discovering (theoretically) a special sound element, later confirmed by the data of newly discovered Indo-European languages, which contributed to the creation of a new picture of Indo-European vocalism. Meillet, who had given up research on all the groups of Indo-European languages, devoted his attention to dialect correspondences within the Indo-European parent language. The subsequent development of Indo-European linguistics was characterized by an expansion of material (the discovery of Hittite and other Anatolian languages, Tocharian, and a number of Middle Iranian languages) and increased attention to the little-known Illyrian, Messapian, Thracian, Phrygian, and Venetic languages; the use of structural methods and the development of criteria for reconstruction (compare “internal” reconstruction); new theories of vocalism and consonantism (laryngeal theory, accentuation, and morpho-phonological aspect) and the structure of nominal stems and roots; original ideas associated with the structure of the case paradigm and the verb; marked progress in the reconstruction of syntactic phenomena; and new hypotheses on the dialect differentiation of the ancient Indo-European continuum and its genetic relationships (with the “Nostratic” languages). The leading figures of this period are E. Benveniste (France); J. Kurylowicz (Poland); F. Specht, H. Krahe, and J. Pokorny (Germany); V. Pisani, G. Bonfante, and G. Devoto (Italy); W. Porzig and P. Thieme (Germany); C. Watkins (USA); and V. V. Ivanov (USSR).

In the 150 years of its existence, Indo-European linguistics has led the field of comparative historical linguistics in every respect, providing a model for the study of other related groups of languages. Important (basic) works on Indo-European linguistics are taken into consideration in the bibliographical publication Indogermanisches Jahrbuch and in the leading journals Zeitschrift für vergleichende Sprachforschung auf dem Gebiete der indogermanischen Sprachen (Gottingen, since 1852) and In-dogermanische Forschungen (Berlin-Leipzig, since 1892).


Delbriick, B. “Vvedenie v izuchenie iazyka.” In S. Bulich, Ocherk istorii iazykoznaniiav Rossii. St. Petersburg, 1904.
Tomsen, V. Istoriia iazykovedeniia do kontsa XIX v. Moscow, 1938.(Translated from Danish.)
Obshchee i indoewopeiskoe iazykoznanie: Obzor literatury. Moscow, 1956. (Translated from German.)
Desnitskaia, A. V. Voprosy izucheniia rodstva indoewopeiskikh iazykov. Moscow-Leningrad, 1955.
Bosch-Gimpera, P. Les Indo-Européens: Problemes archéologiques. Paris, 1961.
Hencken, H. Indo-European Languages and Archaeology. Menasha, Wisconsin, 1955.
Devoto, G. Origini indeuropee. Florence, 1962.
Schmitt, R. Dichtung und Dichtersprache in indogermanischer Zeit. Wiesbaden, 1967.
Benveniste, E. Le Vocabulaire des institutions indoeuropéennes. Vols.1-2. Paris, 1969.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
"Indo-European linguistics, exploiting the procedes of natural science, adapted the philosophy of a society based on religion and substituted linguistic for the religious devisions of mankind, isolated the circle of Indo-European languages, and devoted itself to the exclusive and separate study of the Indo-European peoples," wrote Marr.
Handbook of Comparative and Historical Indo-European Linguistics
unearthing the achievements Indo-European Linguistics offered him, since
5 Hermann Osthoff and Karl Brugmann, "Preface to morphological investigations in the sphere of the Indo-European languages I", A Reader in Nineteenth Century Historical Indo-European Linguistics 14 (1967).
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Byrd is an expert in ancient Indo-European linguistics, and for his recording, he edited and recited his own version of a reconstructed PIE fable that is known as 'The Sheep and the Horses,' as well as a version of a Sanskrit story called 'The King and the God,' the Huffington Post reported.
Comparative Indo-European Linguistics (An Introduction).
The fourth volume in the series, the text provides an up-to-date etymological account of the Slavic inherited lexical stock, which combines recent insights from the field of comparative Indo-European linguistics with modern Balto-Slavic accentology.
In traditional Indo-European linguistics, for instance, we can rarely (if ever) capture the social values connected with linguistic variables and responsible for the final outcome of a process of change.
Indeed, if this tendency in Western scholarship is pushed to its logical conclusion, then the entire set of data for Slavic should be deleted completely from the field of Indo-European linguistics.

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