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Discovering Ancient Greek and Latin
Discovering Ancient Greek and Latin

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1.4 Indo-European

The discovery of connections with Sanskrit made it possible to place Greek and Latin within a larger group known today as the ‘Indo-European’ family of languages. This family embraces almost all of Europe, Iran and Northern India. All of these speakers use languages descended from a common ancestor known as ‘Proto-Indo-European’ which, though lost, can be reconstructed to a certain extent. These shared origins across Indo-European languages are particularly clear in similarities of vocabulary, notably in words denoting family relationships.

Table 1 Words for ‘father’ in Indo-European languages
Language Word for ‘father’
Sanskrit piter
Greek patēr
Latin pater
Irish Gaelic athair
German Vater
English father

Although the Indo-European family contains a relatively small number of languages (around 100; there are an estimated 6000 languages in use in the world today), it contains a larger number of native speakers than any other family. One estimate puts the number of people whose native language is Indo-European at roughly 1.7 billion.

Described image
Figure 3 Some of the main branches of Indo-European languages.