The Indo-European linguistic family

The existence of a common original language for most of Europe and Asia is nowadays a practically undisputed reality. From an extemporaneous perspective, the fact that peoples sometimes very distant from each other in time and space express themselves in languages that have important similarities, similarities that cannot be explained by mere coincidences, is surprising. In this sense, the concept of Indo-European arises as an arbitrary and generalist denomination that indicates the reconstruction of a common language from the characteristics shared by the same linguistic family, which includes the group of languages known as ‘Indo-European’.

Language and reality

If there is one element of human behavior that distinguishes our species from other animals, it is undoubtedly the ability to use articulate language. In the evolutionary history of the hominid lineage to which we belong, the human arises with the emergence of language. Likewise, there is an intrinsic relationship between language and reality, since language is the instrument that allows us to interpret reality through the elaboration of concepts. When a child learns to speak, they are not only acquiring a means of communication with their peers, but language enables them to interpret the reality that surrounds them. Language also contains a vision of the world that reflects the culture and collective mentality of a people or community. Therefore, it can be affirmed that if we knew the language of a people, even if nothing else is known about it, a good part of its opinions, beliefs and conceptions would be within our reach. It is logical, therefore, that the origin of language has been arousing the interest of men since ancient times.

Reconstruction of Indo-European

The discovery of the kinship between the Indo-European languages is closely related to the advances that took place in the field of comparative linguistics during the 19th century. By the end of the 18th century, it had already been discovered that Sanskrit, the sacred language of ancient India, shared common elements with Latin, Greek and other European languages, which contributed to the postulation of the idea of the possible existence of a mother tongue. On the other hand, the 19th century witnessed the application of scientific methodology to the study of language: the success of the positivist perspective in the natural sciences led the so-called ‘neogrammatists’ to reconstruct a proto-language (Indo-European) from the coherence of linguistic change. The appreciable degree of kinship between the different languages ruled out the borrowing theory, since there was a systematic correspondence of phonemes. Look at the table of correspondences:



πατήρ / πούς (*ποδ-ς)



pater / pes (* ped-s)

cor (cor-d)

Ancient Indian

pitar / –


father / foot



Vater / Fuß



Case 1: the voiceless labial stop /p/ is fricativized in Germanic languages /f/.

Case 2: in Germanic languages, aspiration of the voiceless velar stop /c/ > /h/ has occurred.


Nevertheless, it is important to emphasize that the study of Indo-European is entirely determined by the fact that it is a reconstructed language. In short, it is a matter of going back in time in search of points of confluence attributable to the proto-language through the comparison of the facts appreciable in the languages derived from the common trunk. Indo-European is, therefore, a prehistoric language, since there are no written documents attesting to its existence.


Likewise, a division has been established between two large groups within the Indo-European linguistic family: a western branch, which includes the Italo-Celtic, Greek and Germanic language families (among others), and an eastern branch, which includes the Balto-Slavic, Indio-Iranian, etc. families. These would have continued to subdivide, giving rise to another series of languages, including Latin, which, in turn, eventually fragmented into Romance languages.

Cultural context of the Indo-European people

Through linguistic evidence, a possible original nucleus for the primitive Indo-Europeans has been established in the steppes of Russia and Ukraine, from where successive migrations in different directions would have taken place. In this region the so-called «Kurgan culture», excavated by Lithuanian archaeologist Marija Gimbutas and linked by many to the Indo-European people, existed around the 3rd millennium BC.

As far as the Indo-European languages are concerned, there are no common words referring to state structures or denoting a complex social organization, so it does not seem that it was a hierarchical society associated with great political power. On the contrary, words referring to the family are common to the Indo-European languages, so it is very likely that they were organized in patriarchal tribes. 


Carlos Sánchez Luis