Family of Languages

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Family of Languages


a group of languages that are later forms of a single language; a group of languages originating from a single language. Examples include the Indo-European and Uralic language families.

The term “family of languages” has traditionally been used only in reference to isolated groups of cognate languages and not in reference to branches of language families; for example, the Slavic languages are not called a family of languages because they are a branch of the Indo-European family. This use of the term is inconvenient since it is sometimes questionable whether many families of languages can be isolated. In addition, the essence of the relationship of languages grouped as a family, as in the case of the Indo-European family, does not depend on whether a protolanguage is known. Therefore, many linguists more frequently use the term “family of languages” in a broader sense, speaking, for instance, of the Bantu family of languages, which itself belongs to the Niger-Congo family of languages.

Some specialists on the languages of America, Oceania, and other areas have introduced a system of terms to refer to language families at different stages of removal from the protolanguage: “family,” “stock,” “phylum,” “macrophylum,” and so on. Corresponding Russian terms include “microfamily” (mikrosem’ia), or “group” (gruppa); “family” (sem’ia); and “macrofamily” (makrosem’ia)—as in “Slavic microfamily,” “Indo-European family,” and “Nostratic macrofamily.”


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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