Episode 3: The Indo-European Family Tree

A look at the family tree of Indo-European languages and the relationship of English to those related languages. The closest relatives of English are highlighted, including the Germanic languages, Latin and Greek. We explore the background of English from the first Indo-Europeans to the first Anglo-Saxons in Britain.

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18 thoughts on “Episode 3: The Indo-European Family Tree

  1. The latest insights with regards to the Frisians are that the entire area got de-populated starting 275 AD. They joined the Franks. There is evidence to that provided by W.J.de Boone in 1954 in his book “The Franks from their first appearance till the death of Childerik”. In a new study from John Hines and Nelleke IJssennagger from 2017, it is demonstrated that those early Frisians spoke a Celtic dialect.
    Friesland got populated again round 425 by people using exactly the same earthenware as the Anglo-Saxons which went to Britain. In the Netherlands there are 24 known runic inscriptions. 22 of them are from Friesland. Exactly the same runic alphabet as found in Britain. So you can make the correct conclusion that when the Anlo’s and Saxon’s came to Britain, some of them stayed in the empty lands of Friesland. And that is exactly why English and Frisian are so much alike. And why English evangelists could speak so well with the Frisians in the late 600’s, early 700’s.

    • Thanks for the note. FYI, I discuss the relationship been Frisian and Old English in some detail in Episode 28. Be sure to check that out.

  2. A couple of comments.

    Firstly, it is my understanding that the High German / Low German distinction arises after the Anglo-Saxon invasion of England, and divides the continental West Germanic languages which underwent a consonant shift (High German) from those which didn’t. At the time of the invasion, I believe the West Germanic languages were divided into Istvaeonic, Ingvaeonic and Hermionic branches, and the Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Friesians spoke Ingvaeonic dialects. This region was only considered to be a source of Low Germanic languages at a later date when that distinction evolved.

    Secondly, I believe that the only reference to the Jutes is through English sources, and that there is no attestation of their existence in continental Europe. I am led to believe that their existence in Jutland is mere guesswork, albeit an educated one.

    • Hi Bob. This episode is intended as a simple overview of the modern Indo-European languages. All of the specific points you mentioned are addressed in future episodes.

  3. Having learned Hoch Deutsch in Appenzell, Schweiz, I was surprised by the assertion Hoch Deutsch came from higher elevations. Since many sources say the Hannover dialect is the closest to Hoch Deutsch or standard German. Hannover is only 57 meters above sea level.

    I understood other Americans who spoke a German dialect like Dutch or Danish better than Americans who learned their German in Germany.
    I did see in other sources the idea that Low, Middle and High German related to altitudes.

    I am really enjoying the podcast. Thanks for your efforts.

    • I am very late to this, but there’s a reason Hannover (at low elevation) speaks the “purest” high-german.

      All high-german speakers have their own unique dialect, which occasionally borders on a language variant (Bavarian vs saxony vs Swabian). Region who used to speak Platt (a low-german language) speak high-german without a dialect, thus making them the “standard” speakers.

  4. I am betting this gets addressed much later, I am just getting into this. I wouldn’t ask til I was farther into the podcast except my brain keeps getting sidetracked. you don’t seem to be listing any of the Celtic languages as influencing English. My understanding is that it has been determined when the Angles and Saxons traveled, it wasn’t a mass invasion with the Britons slaughtered and pushed westward, but more of a gradual migration.

    My readings and podcast listenings about the history of Britain have been saying that some of the proof can be found in the language shifts, and that the Angles & Saxons language merged with the Celts, and many place names still have Celtic origins. Your language genealogy above (love it!!!) doesn’t seem to link Celts with Germanic. Also, it doesn’t take into consideration that Britain was quite Romanized for several centuries. Between the Romans running the place, and Christianity spreading, Latin influenced the language on the island before the Germanics and long before 1066 and Billy the Conc

    Christi

    BTW, THANKS! I am taking online classes for a Master’s, and was super excited that the school I picked has an elective of History of the English Language. Granted, I am betting it will be a basic overview, but I find the topic fascinating.

    • Yeesh… I relistened to this episode without the distractions I had at first, and I retract the majority of my prior comments
      yeesh

      • No problem. If you would like, you can skip ahead to “Episode 30: The Celtic Legacy.” I discuss the somewhat limited impact of the Celtic languages on English in that episode. I hope you enjoy the rest of the series.

    • As noted in the link above, the Turkish languages are a distinct language family not directly related to the Indo-European languages. However, the Turkish languages also originated in the Eurasian steppe region, and that has led some scholars to propose a distant connection to Indo-European languages. Many scholars believe the Turkish languages are related to the Mongolian languages, and some experts have proposed an ancient “Eurasiatic” language family that includes the Turkish, Mongolian, Indo-European, and Uralic languages. This theory remains controversial, and it is not generally accepted by most linguists.

      • quoting wikipedia for anything science-related is highly unscientific. who wrote the article? is there a political agenda behind it? i could go on and on. wikipedia is a nest of conspiracy full of deceipt. if you really are interested in the topic, go to prof. cengiz özakıncı. (he writes in turkish, i don’t know of english translations.) i know… hardly anyone will do.
        for starters: turkish has more links to the so called proto indo-arian language(s) than english. approximately 10-15 times more. in the presented corrupted chart, the nearest link would be the “hittites” (“etiler” in turkish). there is a eti bank in turkey. go figure.
        greetings

  5. Do you delve into why the theory of the “Eurasiatic” language family is controversial or not accepted later in the podcast?
    I did a brief scan of the list of episodes, but i didn’t see a title that popped out. It may be a bit of an offshoot from the aim of this series, but I thought I’d ask 🙂
    Thank you for making this knowledge accessible and approachable.

    • I don’t discuss the proposed Eurasiatic language family in the regular podcast since it has not gained widespread acceptance among linguists. However, I did discuss it in a series of bonus episodes I did at Patreon (patreon.com/historyofenglish) about the development of languages before Proto-Indo-European.

  6. I loved the mind picture of English as having Germanic roots, with the branches and leaves being affected by Latin at many different junctures, mentioned in this episode…do you have a visual for that?

    I did some Googling and found many versions for the IE family tree, but not one for English the way you describe it.

    I teach a course called “Understanding Language Learning” and so much of your podcast helps me explain English in a student-friendly way. Merci, teşekkür ederim, ありがとうございました!!

    • Sorry, I don’t have an illustration of that concept. It had been so long since I prepared those early episodes that I don’t remember if I envisioned that concept myself or if I picked it up from one of my sources. If I come across an illustration, I will post it here.

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