Skip to main content

LANGUAGE FAMILY

LANGUAGE FAMILY. A group of languages which are assumed to have arisen from a single source: ENGLISH, FRENCH, GERMAN, GREEK, PERSIAN, RUSSIAN, SANSKRIT, and WELSH are all members of the INDO-EUROPEAN language family, and are considered to have descended from a common ancestor. Common ancestry is established by finding systematic correspondences between languages: English repeatedly has /f/ where Latin has /p/ in words with similar meaning, as in father/pater, fish/piscis, flow/pluo rain. It also often has /s/ where Greek has /h/, as in six/héx, seven/heptá, serpent/hérpein to creep. In addition, English and German compare adjectives in similar ways, as in rich, richer, richest: reich, reicher, reichste. These and other correspondences indicate that the languages are cognate (genetically related). Various related words can be compared in order to reconstruct sections of a hypothetical ancestor language. The process of comparison and reconstruction is traditionally known as comparative PHILOLOGY, more recently as comparative historical linguistics. This process formed the backbone of 19c language study, though in the 20c it has become one branch among many. A ‘family tree’ diagram (not unlike a genealogy) is commonly used to represent the relationships between the members of a linguistic family, in which an initial parent language ‘gives birth’ to a number of ‘daughters’, which in turn give birth to others. This can be useful, but is rarely an accurate representation of how languages develop, since it suggests clean cuts between ‘generations’ and between ‘sister’ languages, and implies that languages always become more divergent. In fact, languages generally change gradually, and there is often considerable intermixing among those which remain geographically adjacent. See LANGUAGE CHANGE, LINGUISTIC TYPOLOGY.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"LANGUAGE FAMILY." Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 May. 2019 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"LANGUAGE FAMILY." Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 23, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/language-family

"LANGUAGE FAMILY." Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. . Retrieved May 23, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/language-family

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.