Reconstruction, Linguistic

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Reconstruction, Linguistic


the hypothetical recreation of extinct linguistic forms and systems on the basis of their later reflexes, taking into account the possible paths of linguistic development. The method was first used by A. Schleicher in the mid-19th century to reconstruct the Indo-European parent language (protolanguage).

External reconstruction uses the data of a number of related languages; for example, the regular correspondence of Slavic b, Germanic ß, Latin f Greek Φ, Sanskrit bh, and Hittite ρ in historically identical roots permits the reconstruction of Indo-European *bh, which developed differently in the various languages. Internal reconstruction uses the data of one language, as in the reconstruction of the old present tense marker of the Russian verb *-j-, which was transformed after a consonant in such words as brozhu (“I roam”), tashchu (“I pull”), and liubliu (“I love”); zh developed from *dj, shch from *skj, and bl from

Although a protolinguistic reconstruction is always hypothetical, there are certain criteria that must be met and various means of verifying accuracy. A reconstruction should account for the maximum number of facts about the daughter languages. It should be internally (typologically) consistent and should be able to stand comparison with reconstructions of more distantly related language groups. The analysis of ancient borrowings may also be helpful in linguistic reconstruction.


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