Sunday, 29 March 2015

A Tree of Indo-European Languages

Over the last few weeks I have looked at the origins of the names of cities from many European countries. In doing this I wanted to examine the links between the various languages by comparing the elements which make up these names to English place names.

Last time I looked at Greek places which, for the most part, were derived from mythological figures. Conversely many of the other place names are derived from words which ultimately can be traced to more ancient tongues. Without a doubt the most commonly mentioned early language is Greek. In truth this is probably because more is known about this particular language than any other of comparable age.

I thought this might the ideal time to take a short break from looking at the place names and take a brief glimpse into the Indo-European group of languages and examine the family tree. The following image will show the development best of all. Note the timelines are approximate and only represent the first accepted appearance of a distinct tongue.

It is worthwhile highlighting the languages which have resulted in the majority of English place names. The Celtic languages first emerged and diversified around five thousand years ago, around the same time as the Germanic and Italic groups. The Celtic tongues have produced many of the topographical names, while the Germanic group contains Old English and Old Scandinavian, the two tongues which have contributed more to English place names than any other.

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