Most of the major language families of Europe and western Asia belong to one superfamily, referred to as Indo-European. The hypothesis that this was so was first proposed by Sir William Jones, who noticed similarities between three of the oldest languages known in his time, Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit. The common ancestral (reconstructed) language is called Proto-Indo-European.
The various subgroups of the Indo-European family include:
- Indo-Iranian languages
- Italic languages (including Latin and its descendants, the Romance languages)
- Germanic languages
- Celtic languages
- Baltic languages
- Slavic languages
- Illyrian languages (Albanian and extinct cousins)
- Anatolian languages (extinct, most notable was the language of the Hittites)
- Tocharian languages (extinct tongues of Tocharians)
- Greek language
- Armenian language
The original homeland of the speakers of Proto-Indo-European (PIE) is not known for certain, but probably lies somewhere around the Black Sea. Most of the subgroups diverged and had spread out over much of Europe and the Middle East during the fourth and third millenia BC. Discussion of PIE culture has been stalled by its association with the racist doctrines of National socialism, but enormous amounts of work has been done on its structure and vocabulary.
These are all Inflected languages. The original sounds appear to be
p t ky k kw Voiceless stops b d gy g gw Voiced stops bh dh ghy gh ghw Voiced aspirated stops
s z H1 H2 H3 Spirants, laryngeals (quality unknown) r l y w m n Semi-vowels, nasals (all can be vocalic) a e i o u Short vowels â ê î ô? û? Long vowels
In the past it has been proposed that Indo-European languages were part of the Nostratic language superfamily, but this theory is regarded as disproven.
There are only a few languages spoken in Europe which do not belong to the Indo-European superfamily, notably the Finno-Ugric languages which include Hungarian, Estonian, Finnish and the languages of the Saami. Other examples are Basque (which does not appear to belong to any family), Turkish and Maltese.