Introduction to Proto-Indo-European Linguistics

November 1st 2023

Thank you to wikipedia, chatgpt, if you find errors in this, blame them.

If anyone is interested in verifying what I say, or interested in the etymology of words in general, try wiktionary. It’s what I use, and blame them if I say something wrong.

What is Proto-Indo-European?

  • (almost) all languages of europe are related and northern india languages
  • Proto-Indo-European (PIE) is the hypothetical common ancestor of the Indo-European language family.
  • spoken before the invention of writing but reconstructed using the comparative method.


History of PIE

Discovery of similarities with European languages.

  • Europeans had been studying latin and ancient greek
  • really complicated grammar (for English speakers at least)
  • after they discovered sanskrit, they found certain similarities that they were able to connect them
  • they then theorized that there was originally one language, and this language then developed into latin, greek and sanskrit
  • also later tied Germanic, Slavic into the mix
  • Later discovered tocharian and hittite

Example grammatical features

Aspect Ancient Greek German
Nominative Subject of the verb. Subject of the verb.
Genitive Possession or origin. Possession.
Dative Indirect object or means. Indirect object.
Accusative Direct object or goal. Direct object.
Vocative Direct address. -
Dual ✓ (for two items) -

Ok, but what is a proto language

  • A proto-language is a hypothetical or reconstructed ancestor language from which a group of related languages have descended. It is not directly attested in any historical records but is inferred through the comparative method.

  • Reconstruction: Proto-languages are reconstructed using linguistic evidence from descendant languages.
  • Notation: Often, an asterisk (*) is used before a word to indicate that it’s a reconstructed form and not directly attested.
  • Another proto language would be proto germanic, which would be a daughter of PIE

Grimm’s law

  • How they got Germanic involved

In techenical terms, it is a chain shift voiced plosives -> voiced plain stops -> voiceless stops -> voicless fricative

  • Voiceless Stops to Voiceless Fricatives:
    • Example 1: PIE *p → Proto-Germanic *f

      Compare latin root pes vs English foot

    • Example 2: PIE *t → Proto-Germanic *θ (as in “th”) Compare latin root tres vs english three
    • Example 3: PIE *k → Proto-Germanic *h Latin: centum vs english hundred
  • Voiced Stops to Voiceless Stops:
    • Example 2: PIE *d → Proto-Germanic *t latin: dens vs English tooth
    • Example 3: PIE *g → Proto-Germanic *k latin: genus vs English kin
  • Aspirated Stops to Voiced Stops:
    • Example 1: PIE *bʰ → Proto-Germanic *b latin: frater English brother

come up with more examples.

Basic Features of PIE


  • Rich consonantal system.
  • Lots of throating sounds
    • velars can be palatal, plain, or labialized
    • additionally, there are three voicings of plain, voiced, or voiced aspirated
    • giving 9 total velars
    • Three laryngeal sounds, although their exact articulation is uncertain.
  • had 2 vowels lol
  • pitch accent system


  • Noun inflections for cases, numbers, and genders.
  • Verb conjugations based on tense, mood, voice, and person.