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Language families of Europe

The questions quite often come up in lessons: Which languages are related to this one?

How closely related is Romanian to Spanish?

Or Dutch to German? Or to English for that matter.

This graphic gives the answers to so many questions at a glance.

Most notable for me:

· Greek has no ‘sister’ languages

· And by contrast, how many different Romance languages have evolved from Latin

· Still on Greek: despite drawing so heavily for its alphabet (Cyrillic), Russian has a relatively tenuous semantic connection with Greek

· I’m not sure what the units are for measuring lexical distance, but the stronger the line, the more closely related they are. German/Dutch; Spanish/Portuguese; Slovakian/Czech are close enough to be mutually comprehensible. Serbian and Croatian are considered practically the same language, according to this chart.

· English appears in the Germanic group, and this is generally uncontroversial. There is, however, a growing swell of opinion, which holds that English should be placed in its own unique category: Romance-Germanic. The rationale is that while English undeniably derived from the same source language as German, Dutch Icelandic, etc. there has been such heavy influence from French (thanks to William the Conqueror) and Latin (thanks to the church) that modern English actually has more words from these languages than from Germanic. Purists maintain that a language should be classified according to the original source, and not according to how many of which words in the modern dictionary came from where.

Finally, it’s not clear from graphic, but Finnish, Estonian, and Hungarian are related to each other, but linguists consider them a completely separate family of languages, which evolved from a different original source to *all* other European languages, that of Proto Indo-European (PIE).

*Basque is an outlier, a complete loner of a language. It is unrelated to any other language known to man. This is highly unusual.

Andrew Wenger considers himself lucky in that he makes his living doing what he loves: nerding about languages. If you sign up for a French/German/Spanish class with SameSky Languages, it would be rare to find a lot of any given lesson devoted to linguistic history, but it is often mentioned in passing.

Please make contact here if you would like to find out more about signing up for a class

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