Genetic Relationship (Linguistics)

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In linguistics, languages that go back to a common original language are called genetically related . In addition, “genetic” in linguistics generally refers to a class of questions and problems that affect certain aspects of the origin or origin of a language. Genetically related languages ​​are grouped together to form a language family or, more generally, a genetic unit . Both are defined via the characteristic of the common innovations (e.g. in phonology , word formation , morphology ). The genetic language relationship usually takes the form of a family tree ( family tree theory ). Languages ​​are therefore referred to as related if they derive from a common original language or basic language (see also language change ).

Similarities between languages ​​do not have to be based on a common origin from an original language; there are also similarities that arise from language contact or from internal laws of languages ​​of the same language type .


Proof that two or more languages ​​are genetically related is deemed to have been provided if the languages ​​have a sufficient number of common features and the following two possible causes for the similarities can be sufficiently "excluded":

  • The similarities arose “independently of one another” in each of the languages.
  • The similarities arose through language contact between the languages under consideration or through contact between the languages ​​under consideration and a third language.

The question of when the alternative causes are “sufficiently” excluded is a subject of linguistic discussion.

Since the question of the monophyly of the languages ​​of the world remains unanswered, there is no way to prove that two languages ​​are “not” genetically related.


The concept of genetic relationship in linguistics must be differentiated from the concept of genetic relationship in biology , in the special case in anthropology or ethnology : The speakers of genetically related languages ​​do not have to be ethnically (biological-genetic) related. English can serve as an example of this : not every native English speaker is directly descended from Anglo-Saxons .

The Creole languages cannot be understood in terms of genetic relationship either. They are examined by a separate subdivision of linguistics, Creolistics .

Similar to the Creole languages, most of the planned languages are difficult or impossible to classify genetically, although their origin is usually known exactly.

See also


German speaking
  • Helmut Glück (Ed.): Metzler Lexicon Language. 4th edition, Metzler, Stuttgart-Weimar 2010. (Here in particular the lemmas "Genetic", "Linguistic relationship" and "Historically comparative linguistics")
  • Hadumod Bußmann (Ed.) With the collaboration of Hartmut Lauffer: Lexikon der Sprachwissenschaft. 4th, revised and bibliographically supplemented edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2008, ISBN 978-3-520-45204-7 , (Here in particular the lemmas “Classification of Languages”, “Proto Language”, “Language Family”).
  • John Lyons : Introduction to Modern Linguistics. 8th edition, C. H. Beck, 1995. ISBN 3406394655 .
  • Sylvain Auroux (Ed.): History of Linguistics: An International Handbook on the Development of Linguistics from Its Beginnings to the Present. Walter de Gruyter, 2006. ISBN 3110167360 .
English speaking
  • Merritt Ruhlen: A Guide to the World's Languages, Volume 1: Classification . Stanford University Press, Stanford 1987, reprint 2000 (the basic work on the history of genetic classification)
  • Joseph H. Greenberg : Genetic Linguistics. Essays on Theory and Method. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2005.
  • M. Paul Lewis (Ed.): Ethnologue: Languages ​​of the World , 16th ed., Dallas: SIL, 2009. (contains current hypotheses of genetic classifications of all languages ​​worldwide)
  • William Croft: Typology and Universals . 2nd Edition. Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. 2003. ISBN 0521004993 .
  • Merritt Ruhlen: On the Origin of Languages: Studies in Linguistic Taxonomy. Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA. 1994

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Jost Gippert : Genetic. In: Helmut Glück (Ed.): Metzlers Lexikon Sprache. Verlag J. B. Metzler , Stuttgart / Weimar 2005, p. 220.
  2. Gerhard Jäger: How bioinformatics helps to reconstruct the history of language. University of Tübingen, pp. 1–27
  3. ^ Reinhard Köhler, Gabriel Altmann, Raĭmond Genrikhovich Piotrovskiĭ: Quantitative Linguistics. Vol. 27 Handbooks for Linguistics and Communication Studies, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin 2005, ISBN 3-1101-5578-8 , p. 633 ff.
  4. Methodical to the kinship of languages.
  5. Genetics and Language. Family tree of biological genes and languages