Proto-Indo-European language

From Academic Kids

See Pie (disambiguation) for other uses of PIE.

The Proto-Indo-European language (PIE) is the hypothetical common ancestor of the Indo-European languages.

Indo-European languages
Albanian | Anatolian
Armenian | Baltic | Celtic
Germanic | Greek | Indo-Iranian
Italic | Slavic | Tocharian
Language | Society | Religion
Kurgan | Yamna | BMAC | Aryan
Indo-European studies

As PIE is not directly attested, all PIE sounds and words are reconstructed using the comparative method. The standard convention is to mark unattested forms with an asterisk: *Template:Unicode "water", *Template:Unicode "dog", *tryes "three (masculine)", etc. Many of the words in the modern Indo-European languages are derived from such "protowords" via regular sound change (e.g., Grimm's law).

All Indo-European languages are inflected languages (although many modern Indo-European languages, including Modern English, have lost much of their inflection). By comparative reconstruction, it is highly assured that at least the latest stage of the common PIE mother languages (i.e. Late PIE) was an inflectional (and more suffixing than prefixing) language. However, by means of internal reconstruction and morphological (re-)analysis of the reconstructed, seemingly most archaic PIE word forms, it has recently been shown to be very probable that at a more distant stage (then: Early) PIE may have been a root-inflectional language like e.g. Proto-Semitic. As a consequence, it seems to be highly probable that PIE once was of the root-and-pattern morphological type (literature: Pooth (2004): "Ablaut und autosegmentale Morphologie: Theorie der uridg. Wurzelflexion", in: Arbeitstagung "Indogermanistik, Germanistik, Linguistik" in Jena, Sept. 2002).

Other works have tried to show that the Caucasian languages, particularly the Northwest Caucasian family, spoken in Georgia and Turkey, may be the closest relatives to the Indo-European stock. While these are not widely-held theories, substantial evidence presented by the linguist John Colarusso seems to support their theory. In particular, the one-vowel hypothesis which has been put forward for Indo-European would be borne out by the usage of substantial secondary articulation like that found in the Northwest Caucasian languages and, indeed, in the hypothesized PIE. Also, the Northwest Caucasian languages preserve a large number of guttural phonemes which may be the modern equivalents of PIE "laryngeals".



Proto-Indo-European is conjectured to have used the following phonemes:


Proto-Indo-European consonants
CONSONANTS Labials Coronals Palatovelars Velars Labiovelars Laryngeals
Voiceless stops p t Template:Unicode k kw  
Voiced stops b d Template:Unicode g gw  
Aspirated stops bh dh Template:Unicode gh gwh  
Nasals m n
Fricatives s h1, h2, h3
Liquids, Glides w r, l y

The table gives the most common notation in modern publications. Variant transcriptions are given below. Raised h stands for aspiration. The existence of voiceless aspirate stops in the proto-language (Template:Unicode) is disputed. According to the glottalic theory, the "voiced unaspirated stops" of the system as described above were phonetically ejectives, and the "voiced aspirated stops" were phonetically unaspirated.


p, b, bh


t, d, dh




[k]- or [g]-like sounds which underwent a characteristic change in the Satem languages; they were possibly palatalized velars ([kj], [gj]) in Proto-Indo-European.


kw, gw, gwh (also transcribed or Template:Unicode)

Raised w stands for labialization, or lip-rounding accompanying the articulation of velar sounds ([kw] is a sound similar to English qu in queen).


k, g, gh.

The existence of the plain velars as phonemes separate from the palatovelars and labiovelars at the earliest stage of the proto-language is disputed. In most circumstances they appear to be allophones of one of the other two series, although it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what the circumstances of the allophony are. Nevertheless, there is little doubt that all three series were distinct by late Proto-Indo-European, and there is even evidence from the satem languages Albanian (Holger Pedersen, KZ 36 (1900), 277ff.; Norbert Jokl, Ml. Pedersen (1937) 127 ff.) and Armenian (Vittore Pisani, Ricerche Linguistiche 1 (1950) 165ff.) that they treated plain velars differently from the labiovelars in at least some circumstances. Moreover, Luwian apparently has distinct reflexes of all three series: *Template:Unicode > z (probably ; *k > k; *kw > ku (probably ) (Craig Melchert, Studies in Memory of Warren Cowgill (1987) 182–204).


s. The 'laryngeals' may have been fricatives, but there is no consensus as to their phonetic realization. There were also fricatives allophonic of t, s, usually transcribed þ, z.


The symbols h1, h2 and h3 stand for three hypothetical "laryngeal" phonemes. In non-laryngealistic theories, the corresponding phoneme is sometimes called schwa indogermanicum and transcribed ə.

Nasals and Liquids

r, l, m, n, with vocalic allophones Template:Unicode.


w, y (also transcribed Template:Unicode) with vocalic allophones u, i.


  • Short vowels a, e, o
  • Long vowels ā, ē, ō; a colon (:) is sometimes employed to indicate vowel length instead of the macron sign (a:, e:, o:).
  • Diphthongs ai, au, āi, āu, ei, eu, ēi, ēu, oi, ou, ōi, ōu
  • vocalic allophones of consonantal phonemes: Template:Unicode.

Other long vowels may have appeared already in the proto-language by compensatory lengthening: Template:Unicode.

It is often suggested that all a sounds (short and long) were earlier derived from an e preceded or followed by h2, but Mayrhofer (1986: 170 ff.) has argued that PIE did in fact have a and ā phonemes independent of h2.


Indo-European had a characteristic general ablaut sequence that contrasted the vowel phonemes o/e/Ø through the same root. See main article: Ablaut.


Nouns were declined for eight cases (nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, instrumental, ablative, locative, vocative) and three numbers (singular, plural, and dual). There were three genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter.

Masculine and Feminine Neuter
Singular Plural Dual Singular Plural Dual
Nominative -s, 0 -es -h1(e) -m, 0 -h2, 0 -ih1
Accusative -m -ns -ih1 -m, 0 -h2, 0 -ih1
Genitive -(o)s -om -h1e -(o)s -om -h1e
Dative -(e)i -mus -me -(e)i -mus -me
Instrumental -(e)h1 -bhi -bhih1 -(e)h1 -bhi -bhih1
Ablative -(o)s -ios -ios -(o)s -ios -ios
Locative -i, 0 -su -h1ou -i, 0 -su -h1ou
Vocative 0 -es -h1(e) -m, 0 -h2, 0 -ih1



The Indo-European verb system is extremely complex and exhibits a system of ablaut which is preserved in the Germanic languages.


Mayrhofer, Manfred. 1986. Indogermanische Grammatik, i/2. Lautlehre. Heidelberg: Winter.

External Links

bg:Индоевропейски праезик de:Indogermanische Ursprache pl:Język praindoeuropejski ro:Limba proto-indo-europeană zh:原始印歐語


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