Macro family

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In linguistics, the term macrofamily , macrophylum or superfamily refers to the combination of several language families generally recognized in the specialist world into a larger genetic unit . The historical phase of these units is usually very distant (10,000 years or more), so that it is impossible to prove and refute them. This is the reason why macro families are not recognized by many linguists.

It is therefore part of the essence of macro families that they are hypothetical and that, as a rule, they have so far been denied broad scientific recognition. Some hypothetical macro families have, however, been able to carry out the quality change to the “large language family ” and to general recognition by the professional world; this includes Afro-Asian , the Niger-Congo languages and, to some extent, Nilo-Saharan . These three now recognized extended families were shaped by Joseph Greenberg (see African languages ), who is also the founder of Eurasian , Amerindian and Indo-Pacific .

Suggested Macro Families

Some macro families in the world.
  • Amerindian
  • Andaman
  • Australian
  • Australian
  • Dene-Caucasian
  • Khoisan speeches
  • Congo-Saharan
  • Nostratic
  • Papuan languages
  • The most important macro families currently proposed are (originators in brackets):

    The Australian macro family is a special case as its genetic unit is accepted by many researchers. Now, however, the former main representative of this unit - RMW Dixon - has questioned this unit again in his new comprehensive work Australian Languages (2002), so that the Australian languages ​​should now be viewed more as a macro family. Another possible candidate for a macro family is the Khoisan , the genetic unit of which has now been rejected by most of the relevant experts.

    Macro outline of the languages ​​of the earth

    With the proposed macro families, the roughly 6,500 languages ​​of the world can be summarized in relatively few genetic units , as Merritt Ruhlen showed in 1991 and 1994. The following illustration is based on the web link given below. The Eurasian Greenbergs was incorporated into the Nostratische after a suggestion by A. Bomhard.

    Structure of the languages ​​of the world in macro families according to Ruhlen 1991 and 1994

    • Australian (after Wurm, Hattori, Dixon) (genetic unit is doubted today)
    • Khoisan (after Greenberg) (today generally no longer regarded as a genetic unit)

    This means that the languages ​​of the world can be grouped into eight macro families. The “creators” of the macro families are indicated; Joseph Greenberg's excessive contribution to this classification work is unmistakable. The future will show how much of this program can be implemented. Until then, linguistics will have to be content with an abundance of several hundred detectable genetic units.


    The most extensive hypothesis in the field of macro families is the conception of the monogenesis of all languages, i.e. the idea that all languages ​​worldwide descend from “ a common original language”, the so-called proto-world language . Because of the enormous age of this original language (very rough order: 100,000 years), it is hardly possible to provide evidence but also refutations, so that the hypothesis itself cannot claim any scientific value. Nevertheless, z. B. Merritt Ruhlen and other researchers attempted to discover global word equations or etymologies, i.e. words that are used in many language families around the world in a similar sound form and with a related meaning. However, the “global etymologies” offered so far hardly stand up to serious scrutiny.

    See also


    • Joseph H. Greenberg : Genetic Linguistics. Essays on Theory and Method. Oxford University Press, Oxford et al. 2005, ISBN 0-19-925772-8 .
    • Sydney M. Lamb, E. Douglas Mitchell (Eds.): Sprung from Some Common Source. Investigations into the Prehistory of Languages. Stanford University Press, Stanford CA 1991, ISBN 0-8047-1897-0 .
    • Merritt Ruhlen : On the Origin of Languages. Studies in Linguistic Taxonomy. Stanford University Press, Stanford CA 1994, ISBN 0-8047-2321-4 (Popular version: The Origin of Language. Tracing the Evolution of the Mother Tongue. John Wiley, New York NY et al. 1994, ISBN 0-471-58426-6 ) .
    • Merrit Ruhlen: A Guide to the World's Languages. Volume 1: Classification. With a Postscript on Recent Developments. 1st paperback edition. Arnold, London 1991, ISBN 0-340-56186-6 .
    • Vitaly Shevoroshkin (Ed.): Reconstructing Languages ​​and Cultures. Abstracts and Materials from the First International Interdisciplinary Symposium on Language and Prehistory (= Bochum Publications in Evolutionary Cultural Semiotics. 20). Brockmeyer, Bochum 1989, ISBN 3-88339-708-3 .

    Literature on the individual macro families can be found in the respective articles.


    Web links

    Individual evidence

    1. Marcus Kracht: Languages ​​of the World. Bielefeld University, lecture from the winter semester 2009/10, January 27, 2011
    2. Manfred Krifka: Dimensions of grammatical variation: An introduction to the language typology. Word order universals. Humboldt University Berlin