Alwin Kloekhorst

Splitting the Mother Tongue: The Position of Anatolian in the Dispersal of the Indo-European Language Family

(2015-2020, VIDI-project, funded by NWO)

Indo-European is the largest language family on earth, having as its members modern languages like English, Dutch, French and Russian, but also ancient ones like Greek, Latin and Sanskrit. All these languages ultimately descend from a single mother tongue called Proto-Indo-European. However, it remains unclear how Proto-Indo-European first split up into its daughter branches. The discussion revolves around the question of where in the family the Anatolian branch must be located. Currently, there are three opinions on this issue:

(1) Anatolian is just one of the daughters of Proto-Indo-European.
(2) Anatolian is the daughter that split off first.
(3) Anatolian is in fact a sister of Proto-Indo-European.

Of these three, especially the last possibility is very exciting: it implies that both Proto-Indo-European and Anatolian descend from an even earlier mother language, which has been tentatively called “Proto-Indo-Hittite”.

This project aims at definitively solving the debate on how the Proto-Indo-European mother tongue split up. The position of the Anatolian branch in the Indo-European family will be determined by using the cladistic method. A detailed comparison of the linguistic features of Anatolian with those of the other Indo-European branches, and a focus on where Anatolian deviates from the rest, will allow us to establish which of the three scenarios presented above is the correct one. An innovative aspect of the project is that, for the first time, the cladistic method will be applied to the linguistic evidence not only from Hittite, the best-known Anatolian language, but also from the other, ‘minor’ Anatolian languages.

If scenario 3 proves to be correct, the project will provide a specification of the linguistic characteristics of the newly discovered “Proto-Indo-Hittite” mother language. Such a dis¬covery would be of tremendous importance, adding hundreds, possibly even thousands of years to the prehistories of all Indo-European languages, including English and Dutch.