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Pre-Indo-European languages

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Title: Pre-Indo-European languages  
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Pre-Indo-European languages

Pre-Indo-European languages are any of several old languages, not necessarily related to one another, that existed in prehistoric Europe and South Asia before the arrival of speakers of Indo-European languages. The oldest Indo-European language texts date from 19th century BC in Kültepe in modern-day Turkey, and while estimates vary widely, spoken Indo-European languages are believed to have developed at the latest by the third millennium BC (see Proto-Indo-European Urheimat hypotheses). Thus the Pre-Indo-European languages must have developed earlier than, or in some cases alongside, the Indo-European languages.

A handful of these languages still survive. Some of the pre-Indo-European languages are attested only as linguistic substrates in Indo-European languages; however, some others (like Etruscan, Minoan, Iberian etc.) are also attested from inscriptions.


Before World War II all the unclassified languages of Europe and Near East were commonly referred to as Asianic languages; this term encompassed several languages that were later found to be Indo-European, e.g. Lydian, while others (Hurro-Urartian, Hattic etc.) were classified as distinct language families. The term pre-Indo-European is not commonly accepted, as some linguists maintain the idea of the relatively late arrival of their speakers to Europe; they prefer to speak about non-Indo-European languages. A new term, Paleoeuropean, was coined recently. The latter term is not applicable to the languages that predated and/or coexisted with Indo-European outside Europe, e.g. Iran or India.

Surviving languages

Surviving pre-Indo-European languages include:

Languages that contributed a substrate to Indo-European languages

Examples of suggested or known substrate influences on specific Indo-European languages:

Attested languages

Several of these languages are attested in inscriptions. These include Etruscan, Minoan, Aquitanian, Iberian, and Urartian.

Later Indo-European expansion

Languages replaced or engulfed by Indo-European in ancient times must be distinguished from languages replaced or engulfed by Indo-European languages in more recent times. In particular, many of the major languages spread by colonialism have been Indo-European, and this has in the last few centuries led to superficially similar linguistic islands being formed by e.g. indigenous languages of the Americas (now surrounded by English, Spanish, Portuguese, and French), and of several Uralic languages (now surrounded by Russian).

See also


Archaeology and culture

  • Anthony, David with Jennifer Y. Chi (eds., 2009). The Lost World of Old Europe: The Danube Valley, 5000–3500 BC.
  • Bogucki, Peter I. and Pam J. Crabtree (eds. 2004). Ancient Europe 8000 BC—1000 AD: An Encyclopedia of the Barbarian World. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
  • Gimbutas, Marija (1973). Old Europe c. 7000–3500 B.C.: the earliest European civilization before the infiltration of the Indo-European peoples. The Journal of Indo-European Studies 1/1-2. 1-20.
  • Tilley, Christopher (1996). An Ethnography of the Neolithic. Early Prehistoric Societies in Southern Scandinavia. Cambridge University Press.

Linguistic reconstructions

  • Bammesberger, Alfred and Theo Vennemann (eds., 2003). Languages in Prehistoric Europe. Heidelberg: Carl Winter.
  • Blench, Roger and Matthew Spriggs (eds. 1). Archaeology and Language. Vol. I. Theoretical and Methodological Orientations.
  • Dolukhanov, Pavel M. (2003) Archaeology and Languages in Prehistoric Northern Eurasia // Japan Review, 15:175-186.
  • Gimbutas, Marija (1989). The Language of the Goddess
  • Greppin, John and T.L.Markey (eds., 1990). When Worlds Collide: The Indo-Europeans and the Pre-Indo-Europeans, Ann Arbor.
  • Haarmann, H. (2014). Ethnicity and language in the ancient Mediterranean. In J. McInerney (Ed.). A companion to ethnicity in the ancient Mediterranean (pp. 17–33). Wiley Blackwell.
  • Lehmann, Winfred P. Pre-Indo-European. Washington, DC: Institute for the Study of Man. 2002. ISBN 0-941694-82-8.
  • Mailhammer, Robert (2010). Diversity vs. Uniformity. Europe before the Arrival of Indo-European Languages. // to appear in: Mailhammer, Robert and Theo Vennemann. Linguistic Roots of Europe. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press.
  • Pre-Indo-European // Encyclopedia of the Languages of Europe. Edited by: Glanville Price. 2000. ISBN 978-0-631-22039-8.
  • Vennemann, Theo. Languages in Prehistoric Europe north of the Alps.
  • Vennemann, Theo (2008). Linguistic reconstruction in the context of European prehistory. Transactions of the Philological Society. Volume 92, Issue 2, pages 215–284, November 1994
  • Woodard, Roger D. (ed., 2008) Ancient Languages of Asia Minor. Cambridge University Press.
  • Woodard, Roger D. (2008) Ancient Languages of Europe. Cambridge University Press.


External links

  • (French) Reconstructed migration of language families and archaeological cultures in Europe during the Neolithic and Chalcolithic
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