Show Summary Details

p. 454. Language familieslocked

  • P. H. Matthews


‘Language families’ discusses why linguists are certain that, for all the Indo-European languages, a single ancestor must once have existed, and how they demonstrate this. The ‘comparative’ method involves a step-by-step comparison of different languages, seeking detailed correspondences that have no reasonable alternative explanation. These correspondences may involve the ‘reconstruction’, as an entity that hypothetically existed in prehistory, not just of a phonetic unit, but also of a grammatical ending. For any similarity or set of similarities, linguists must discount alternative explanations: that they are accidental, that they reflect a prehistoric contact among people whose languages were not immediately related, or a combination of these.

Access to the complete content on Very Short Introductions online requires a subscription or purchase. Public users are able to search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter without a subscription.

Please subscribe or login to access full text content.

If you have purchased a print title that contains an access token, please see the token for information about how to register your code.

For questions on access or troubleshooting, please check our FAQs, and if you can't find the answer there, please contact us.