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Introduction to Comparative Indo-European Linguistics

Build your knowledge of Indo-European languages, how they changed through time, and how to reconstruct ancient languages.

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Delve into ​​the prehistory and ancient languages of Europe and Asia

Every language belongs to a language family; a group of languages that are genetically related to each other. Indo-European is the name of the language family to which English belongs, along with many sub-families such as Germanic languages and Romance languages.

On this eight-week course from Leiden University, you’ll explore Indo-European languages, the ancient languages at the top of the family tree, and the linguistic tools needed to study them.

Discover the linguistic origins and distinctions of Indo-European languages

The Indo-European language family is now known to consist of thirteen major branches and a number of now extinct languages of which only fragments have been preserved that may once have formed branches of their own.

You’ll delve into the structure and origins of these branches. Not only will you learn about the oldest languages belonging to the Indo-European language family, but you’ll also learn about linguistic reconstruction, how you can tell whether two languages are related to each other and how language changes.

Explore each branch of the Indo-European language tree, from Greek and Iranian to Balto-Slavic

This course will guide you through the different groups of Indo-European languages. You’ll look at some of the oldest texts from these languages, including Ancient Greek and Sanskrit, and learn about the importance of oral traditions in the history of these texts.

Develop the skills to reconstruct Proto-Indo-European

As you progress through each of the branches of the language tree, you’ll begin to piece together the Proto-Indo-European language bit by bit by comparing and contrasting each different language in the tree.

Syllabus

  • Week 1

    The Indo-European language family

    • An introduction

      Get to know the teaching team and Leiden University.

    • The Indo-European language family

      What is the Indo-European language family and when was it discovered?

    • Quiz

      -

    • The Indo-Europeans

      Why are the Indo-Europeans important? Who were they and where did they live?

  • Week 2

    Language change

    • Basic linguistic concepts

      In this block, we will briefly introduce you to some basic linguistic concepts that are important for this MOOC. If you're already familiar with them, feel free to just mark them done!

    • Genetically related languages

      We will explore how we know that languages are related to each other.

  • Week 3

    Greek and Sanskrit

    • This week

      This week we will be dealing with Greek, Indic and Sanskrit.

    • Greek

      In this activity we will be exploring Greek.

    • Indic

      In this part of the course, you will learn about Sanskrit.

  • Week 4

    Iranian and Armenian

    • This week

      We look at the learning goals for this week.

    • Iranian

      We will explore the Iranian branch of Indo-European.

    • Armenian

      In this last part of this week's lesson, you will learn about Armenian.

  • Week 5

    Balto-Slavic and Italic

    • This week

      We will look at this weeks learning goals.

    • Balto-Slavic

      We will explore the Baltic and Slavic languages and learn how to reconstruct some of the consonants of Proto-Indo-European.

    • Italic

      You will learn about another branch of Indo-European: Italic.

  • Week 6

    Celtic and Germanic

    • This week

      We will look at this weeks learning goals.

    • Celtic

      We will explore the Celtic branch of Indo-European and you will learn about labiovelar consonants.

    • Germanic

      This section is about the Germanic languages and the consonant changes that make Germanic unique within the Indo-European language family.

  • Week 7

    Anatolian and Tocharian

    • This week

      We will discuss the learning goals for this week.

    • Anatolian

      This part of the course is about the Anatolian languages and about the important role they play in the reconstruction of Proto-Indo-European.

    • Tocharian

      This section is about the Tocharian languages and the structure of the Indo-European language family.

    • Other Indo-European languages

      Here we discuss the last two branches of Indo-European: Phrygian and Albanian.

  • Week 8

    Indo-European culture and society

    • This week

      We will look at this weeks learning goals.

    • Who were the Indo-Europeans?

      What do we know about the people who spoke Proto-Indo-European?

    • Dichtersprache and Indo-European religion

      This section is about the reconstruction of Proto-Indo-European hymns and religion.

    • Conclusion

      You have finished the course. We offer you some materials and suggestions for further study.

When would you like to start?

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Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Understand the Indo European languages family tree
  • Apply this knowledge on reading inscriptions
  • Understand the systemic changes that allow us to reconstruct a prehistoric language
  • Understand the interplay between linguistics, archaeology and genetics
  • Discuss the recent developments in this research field

Who is the course for?

This course is designed for anyone with an interest in prehistoric and ancient Europe and Asia, as well as anyone looking to learn about comparative linguistics.

Who will you learn with?

Tijmen Pronk is a lecturer at Leiden University in The Netherlands, where he teaches courses about Indo-European Comparative Linguistics.

Who developed the course?

Leiden University

Leiden University is one of Europe’s foremost research universities. This prominent position gives our graduates a leading edge and prepares them for careers both within and outside of academia.

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