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Peopling of the World: Europe

European Language Development

What did one Neanderthal say to the other Neanderthal?
The Aesthetic Ambivalence of the Neanderthals
The Origins of Mediterranean Cave Art
The Muslim Expansion into Europe
Celts in the British Isles
European Language Development
Indo-European Language Family


The majority of modern European languages include English, Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, and Slavic languages. Many of these have come from a common ancestor. Languages such as the romantic languges, which include Spanish and French, and the germanic languages, which include English and German are members of the Indo-European language family.

Roman Colloseum

The Indo-European Family of Languages

Italic languages are also a part of the Indo-European language family. These languages are spoken in much of Italy and include Latin which was originally the language of Rome. Etruscan, which is spoken in what is now Tuscany and was the most important language spoken in Italy around 500 BC, this language is not part of the Indo-European language family and was abandoned as Latin took over the area along with the Roman Empire.


The languages spoken in Europe today hold their origins in the oldest languages spoken in Europe, the Indo-European languages. Through archaeological evidence we have been able to deduce that there was an ancestor of Indo-European languages, the Proto-Indo-European language. (Renfrew, 1988) The Proto-Indo-European language family is very controversial and there is a lot of disagreement as to where the original geographic location is. Some places mentioned in the literature are Urheimat considered to be the original homeland, Armenia just northwest of the Black Sea, and Anatolia. The location of the Indo-European language origin is more stable and is said to be in a region situated in the southern of Russia around 4,000 B.C. This population started its spread into the Danube area of Europe and beyond around the 3,500 B.C.

The Proto-Indo-European family was formed of nine languages: Celtic, Germanic, Italic, Albanian, Greek, Balto-Slavic, Armenian, Iranian and Indo-Aryan. Celts were the first Indo-European people to spread across Europe, in the 5th century, reaching the Black Sea and Asia Minor, south-west Spain, central Italy and the whole Britain.

Proto-Indo-European Language


The evidence for the origins and development of the Proto-Indo-European and Indo-European languages and their spread through continuity, although limited, are both genetic and archaeological.

Genetic Evidence:


In genetics, Luca Cavalli Sforza and his associates have contributed the bulk of discoveries about the relationship between genetics and linguistics. They have found (1) the aerial distribution of genetic markers largely corresponds to that of the world languages (Cavalli Sforza, Menozzi, Piazza, 1978); (2) language differentiation must have proceeded step by step with the dispersal of humans. (3) Independent geneticists working on DNA have recently determined that 80% of the genetic stock of Europeans goes back to Paleolithic (Sykes, 2001).

Radiocarbon Dating

Archaeological Evidence:

In archaeology, the chronologies of European prehistory have been obtained by radiocarbon and other dating techniques. In contrast to the previous Indo-European Calcholithic Invasion Theory of invasions and wars that replaced cultures and languages there is absolutely no trace of a massive warlike invasion that would have caused a linguistic replacement and there is evidence that all Neolithic cultures of Europe either are a direct continuation of Mesolithic ones, or have been created by Mesolithic groups after the Neolithic by intrusive farmers from the Middle East. There is also possible evidence for demic and cultural continuity, from the Paleolithic to the Metal Ages. Continuity is now universally considered the basic pattern of European prehistory, "the archaeologists' easiest pursuit the demonstration of relative continuity and absence of intrusion" (Mallory, 1989).

Works Cited:

D'iakonov, I. 1985. On the Original Home of the Speakers of Indo-European. Journal of Indo-European Studies 13: 92

Cavalli-Sforza, L.L., Menozzi, P., Piazza, A. 1994. The History and Geography of Human Genes. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Mallory, J. 1989. In search of the Indo-Europeans, Language, Archaeology and Myth, London: Thames & Hudson.

Renfrew C. 1988. Archeology and Language: The Puzzle of Indo-European Origins. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Swadesh M. 1972. The Origin and Diversification of Language. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Sykes, B. 2001. The seven daughters of Eve. London: Corgi Books.

Created by Heather Cooan