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What is an IE language (was: Re: Workshops Review from Yitzik the Snakie)

From:Christophe Grandsire <christophe.grandsire@...>
Date:Thursday, December 19, 2002, 10:21
En réponse à lblissett <blissett@...>:

> > I might have a conlang which qualifies as this. What > consitutes an > IE language, though? I posted this question to the list last month, but > no > one responded. >
Strictly speaking, an IE language is a language which evolved from Proto-Indo- European or one of its offsprings. The offsprings in question are (in no particular order): Italic languages (Oscan, Umbrian, Latin and its offsprings the Romance languages, etc...), Celtic languages (Gaulish, Irish, Welsh, Manx, etc...), Germanic languages (English, German, Dutch, Scandinavian languages, etc...), Greek, Armenian, Albanian, Indo-Iranian languages (Sanskrit, Hindi, Sindhi, Bengali, Farsi, etc...), Baltic languages (Lithuanian, Latvian, etc...), Hittite, Tocharian, Slavic languages (Russian, Polish, Bulgarian, Czech, etc...). I may have forgotten some but I don't think so :)) . As for conlangs, the condition "evolved from" can be relaxed a bit. If your conlang contains general IE features (which means quite a lot, since there is a surprising variety among IE languages :)) ), bases its roots somewhat on IE words (i.e. when it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck... ;))) ), in other words looks and feels like an IE language, you can probably safely call it an IE conlang, unless of course you have a conhistory associated to it that prevents it :) . As for IE features, as I said, they are very varied. But IE languages seem to have always some things in common (note that the list doesn't apply to *all* IE languages. Rather, those are features that are found in a majority of IE languages each, but not all IE languages have each of them): - the following parts of speech: noun, verb, adjective, adverb, pronoun and preposition. Among this list, the adjective always patterns with the noun (and not with verbs), there are often grammatical mechanisms (affixes) to convert adjectives into adverbs (even if this mechanism consists in just using the adjective root as adverb). Definite and indefinite articles are common in Europe. Pronouns often make distinctions (case, number) not made anymore by nouns. - a synthetic morphology (i.e. an affix can encode more than one grammatical function at a time, like case and number are often expressed together through one affix) using mostly suffixes and some rare prefixes (grammatical prefixes are extremely rare, derivative prefixes are a bit more common) with strong analytic tendencies (the tendency to replace synthetic constructions with compounded ones, i.e. replacement of case by prepositions, of simple tenses by compound tenses, etc... Sometimes the movement went so far that the analytic constructions get to coalesce together into an agglutinative or even polysynthetic grammar, like we have in Spoken French. But that's an extreme case :)) ). - case and number marked on nouns, using a nominative-accusative system. Number is usually singular-plural, dual exists but is rare. There are usually a handful of cases (most common being nominative, accusative, genitive, dative and instrumental), but many IE languages completely lost cases while others kept more or invented new ones. Pronouns usually make more case distinctions than nouns (see English with pronouns marking subject and object functions while nouns don't), and show them in rather irregular ways. There are usually reflexive pronouns, referring back to the subject. Nouns usually also have gender, and there are agreement patterns according to gender. There are no more than three genders: masculine, feminine and neuter, but often there are only two (in which case it can be masculine-feminine or common-neuter) or no gender distinction at all. When the neuter is present and there are cases, the neuter is *always* specific in having an identical form in the nominative and the accusative. - Deixis has usually two or three levels (here, there, yonder) and is usually used in both spatial and temporal meaning, but also as anaphorics and cataphorics (pointing back or forth to something in the discourse). - verbs are extremely varied, but there seem to be still a few common points. There is usually a copula (a "to be" verb used with predicative adjectives). A verb "to have" is quite rare in IE languages in general, but seems still more common than in other language families :)) . Verbs are usually conjugated (even though some languages like Afrikaans completely lost conjugations) using suffixes expressing person, number, tense, aspect, mood and voice (yep, together! Latin is an example of this extreme syntheticity :)) ). Tenses and aspects are usually mixed up in non-obvious ways (although Slavic languages like Russian seem to have a pretty thorough system where each and every tense is doubled according to aspect), mood contains usually two moods: indicative and subjunctive (many IE languages also have an optative). Voice is the usual active vs. passive opposition although many IE languages, especially older ones, add to it a middle or a mediopassive voice. There is a strong tendency to replace synthetic forms with analytic forms (e.g. Latin had a synthetic passive which has been replace in *all* Romance languages with an analytic construction using the local "to be" with the past participle, as in English. French has completely replaced its simple past with the compound past. Person marks tend to disappear on the verb, obliging people to use personal pronouns), although many IE languages seem to do very well without it :)) (look at Russian for instance :)) ). Tense is the usual past-present-future, although in many cases the future is not expressed in the same way as the past and the present (look at English, which marks past and present directly on the verb, but needs an auxiliary to mark future), or can be inferred using a simple present tense and an adverb or another expression indicating a future event. The existence of irregular verbs (having irregular past formations for instance, with vowel alternations mostly) is common. - Word order is usually SOV or SVO (although Celtic languages are consistently VSO, except Breton, but that's due to French influence, and remnants of VSO are still present in the language), adjectives can be either in front or after the noun (in some languages both orders are possible) but relative subclauses always follow the noun (and are introduced with a relative pronoun referring back to the noun the subclause completes, giving its function in the subclause). In questions, reordering the sentence is common. VSO becomes the predominant word order, and when a question word is present it is normally always first, whatever its function in the sentence. As you see, the variety of IE features is impressive (and I didn't talk about minoritary features like the Celtic mutations, because those don't exist in a majority of IE languages). But if you understand my much too long and unclear list ;)) , you can realise that those features still give a definite figure of what an IE language feels like, differently from languages of any other family. And if your conlang's most features are found among the list I gave, you can safely say that it's an IE or IE-based conlang. Christophe. Take your life as a movie: do not let anybody else play the leading role.


Jan van Steenbergen <ijzeren_jan@...>
John Cowan <jcowan@...>What is an IE language (was: Re: Workshops Review from Yitzik the
Amanda Babcock <langs@...>