Language family

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See also: List of language families Language family_sentence_0

A language family is a group of languages related through descent from a common ancestral language or parental language, called the proto-language of that family. Language family_sentence_1

The term "family" reflects the tree model of language origination in historical linguistics, which makes use of a metaphor comparing languages to people in a biological family tree, or in a subsequent modification, to species in a phylogenetic tree of evolutionary taxonomy. Language family_sentence_2

Linguists therefore describe the daughter languages within a language family as being genetically related. Language family_sentence_3

According to Ethnologue there are 7,117 living human languages distributed in 142 different language families. Language family_sentence_4

A "living language" is simply one that is currently used as the primary form of communication of a group of people. Language family_sentence_5

There are also many dead languages, or languages which have no native speakers living, and extinct languages, which have no native speakers and no descendant languages. Language family_sentence_6

Finally, there are some languages that are insufficiently studied to be classified, and probably some which are not even known to exist outside their respective speech communities. Language family_sentence_7

Membership of languages in a language family is established by research in comparative linguistics. Language family_sentence_8

Sister languages are said to descend "genetically" from a common ancestor. Language family_sentence_9

Speakers of a language family belong to a common speech community. Language family_sentence_10

The divergence of a proto-language into daughter languages typically occurs through geographical separation, with the original speech community gradually evolving into distinct linguistic units. Language family_sentence_11

Individuals belonging to other speech communities may also adopt languages from a different language family through the language shift process. Language family_sentence_12

Genealogically related languages present shared retentions; that is, features of the proto-language (or reflexes of such features) that cannot be explained by chance or borrowing (convergence). Language family_sentence_13

Membership in a branch or group within a language family is established by shared innovations; that is, common features of those languages that are not found in the common ancestor of the entire family. Language family_sentence_14

For example, Germanic languages are "Germanic" in that they share vocabulary and grammatical features that are not believed to have been present in the Proto-Indo-European language. Language family_sentence_15

These features are believed to be innovations that took place in Proto-Germanic, a descendant of Proto-Indo-European that was the source of all Germanic languages. Language family_sentence_16

Structure of a family Language family_section_0

Language families can be divided into smaller phylogenetic units, conventionally referred to as branches of the family because the history of a language family is often represented as a tree diagram. Language family_sentence_17

A family is a monophyletic unit; all its members derive from a common ancestor, and all attested descendants of that ancestor are included in the family. Language family_sentence_18

(Thus, the term family is analogous to the biological term clade.) Language family_sentence_19

Some taxonomists restrict the term family to a certain level, but there is little consensus in how to do so. Language family_sentence_20

Those who affix such labels also subdivide branches into groups, and groups into complexes. Language family_sentence_21

A top-level (i.e., the largest) family is often called a phylum or stock. Language family_sentence_22

The closer the branches are to each other, the closer the languages will be related. Language family_sentence_23

This means if a branch off of a proto-language is 4 branches down and there is also a sister language to that fourth branch, then the two sister languages are more closely related to each other than to that common ancestral proto-language. Language family_sentence_24

The term macrofamily or superfamily is sometimes applied to proposed groupings of language families whose status as phylogenetic units is generally considered to be unsubstantiated by accepted historical linguistic methods. Language family_sentence_25

For example, the Celtic, Germanic, Slavic, Italic, and Indo-Iranian language families are branches of a larger Indo-European language family. Language family_sentence_26

There is a remarkably similar pattern shown by the linguistic tree and the genetic tree of human ancestry that was verified statistically. Language family_sentence_27

Languages interpreted in terms of the putative phylogenetic tree of human languages are transmitted to a great extent vertically (by ancestry) as opposed to horizontally (by spatial diffusion). Language family_sentence_28

Dialect continua Language family_section_1

Main article: Dialect continuum Language family_sentence_29

Some close-knit language families, and many branches within larger families, take the form of dialect continua in which there are no clear-cut borders that make it possible to unequivocally identify, define, or count individual languages within the family. Language family_sentence_30

However, when the differences between the speech of different regions at the extremes of the continuum are so great that there is no mutual intelligibility between them, as occurs in Arabic, the continuum cannot meaningfully be seen as a single language. Language family_sentence_31

A speech variety may also be considered either a language or a dialect depending on social or political considerations. Language family_sentence_32

Thus, different sources, especially over time, can give wildly different numbers of languages within a certain family. Language family_sentence_33

Classifications of the Japonic family, for example, range from one language (a language isolate with dialects) to nearly twenty—until the classification of Ryukyuan as separate languages within a Japonic language family rather than dialects of Japanese, the Japanese language itself was considered a language isolate and therefore the only language in its family. Language family_sentence_34

Isolates Language family_section_2

Main article: Language isolate Language family_sentence_35

Most of the world's languages are known to be related to others. Language family_sentence_36

Those that have no known relatives (or for which family relationships are only tentatively proposed) are called language isolates, essentially language families consisting of a single language. Language family_sentence_37

There are an estimated 129 language isolates known today. Language family_sentence_38

An example is Basque. Language family_sentence_39

In general, it is assumed that language isolates have relatives or had relatives at some point in their history but at a time depth too great for linguistic comparison to recover them. Language family_sentence_40

It is commonly misunderstood that language isolates are classified as such because there is not sufficient data on or documentation of the language. Language family_sentence_41

This is false because a language isolate is classified based on the fact that enough is known about the isolate to compare it genetically to other languages but no common ancestry or relationship is found with any other known language. Language family_sentence_42

A language isolated in its own branch within a family, such as Albanian and Armenian within Indo-European, is often also called an isolate, but the meaning of the word "isolate" in such cases is usually clarified with a modifier. Language family_sentence_43

For instance, Albanian and Armenian may be referred to as an "Indo-European isolate". Language family_sentence_44

By contrast, so far as is known, the Basque language is an absolute isolate: it has not been shown to be related to any other modern language despite numerous attempts. Language family_sentence_45

Another well-known isolate is Mapudungun, the Mapuche language from the Araucanían language family in Chile. Language family_sentence_46

A language may be said to be an isolate currently but not historically if related but now extinct relatives are attested. Language family_sentence_47

The Aquitanian language, spoken in Roman times, may have been an ancestor of Basque, but it could also have been a sister language to the ancestor of Basque. Language family_sentence_48

In the latter case, Basque and Aquitanian would form a small family together. Language family_sentence_49

(Ancestors are not considered to be distinct members of a family.) Language family_sentence_50

Proto-languages Language family_section_3

Main article: Proto-language Language family_sentence_51

A proto-language can be thought of as a mother language (not to be confused with a mother tongue, which is one that a specific person has been exposed to from birth), being the root which all languages in the family stem from. Language family_sentence_52

The common ancestor of a language family is seldom known directly since most languages have a relatively short recorded history. Language family_sentence_53

However, it is possible to recover many features of a proto-language by applying the comparative method, a reconstructive procedure worked out by 19th century linguist August Schleicher. Language family_sentence_54

This can demonstrate the validity of many of the proposed families in the list of language families. Language family_sentence_55

For example, the reconstructible common ancestor of the Indo-European language family is called Proto-Indo-European. Language family_sentence_56

Proto-Indo-European is not attested by written records and so is conjectured to have been spoken before the invention of writing. Language family_sentence_57

Other classifications of languages Language family_section_4

See also Language family_section_5

Credits to the contents of this page go to the authors of the corresponding Wikipedia page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Language family.