Proto-Greek language

Proto-Greek language

The Proto-Greek language is the assumed last common ancestor of all known varieties of Greek, including Mycenaean, the classical Greek dialects (Attic-Ionic, Aeolic, Doric and Northwest Greek), and ultimately Koine, Byzantine and modern Greek. Most scholars would include the fragmentary ancient Macedonian language, either as descended from an earlier "Proto-Hellenic" language, or by definition including it among the descendants of Proto-Greek as a "Hellenic" language and/or a Greek dialect. []

Proto-Greek would have been spoken in the late 3rd millennium BC, most probably in the Balkans. The unity of Proto-Greek would have ended as Hellenic migrants, speaking the predecessor of the Mycenaean language, entered the Greek peninsula either around the 21st century BC, or in the 17th century BC at the latest. They were separated from the Dorian Greeks, who entered the peninsula roughly one millennium later (see Dorian invasion, Greek Dark Ages), speaking a dialect that had in some respects remained more archaic.

The evolution of Proto-Greek should be considered with the background of an early Palaeo-Balkan sprachbund that makes it difficult to delineate exact boundaries between individual languages. The characteristically Greek representation of word-initial laryngeals by prothetic vowels is shared by the Armenian language, which also shares other phonological and morphological peculiarities of Greek. The close relatedness of Armenian and Greek sheds light on the paraphyletic nature of the Centum-Satem isogloss.

Close similarities between Ancient Greek and Vedic Sanskrit suggest that both Proto-Greek and Proto-Indo-Iranian were still quite similar to either late Proto-Indo-European, which would place the latter somewhere in the late 4th millennium BC, or a post-PIE Graeco-Aryan proto-language. Graeco-Aryan has little support among linguists, since both geographical and temporal distribution of Greek and Indo-Iranian fit well with the Kurgan hypothesis of Proto-Indo-European.


Greek is a Centum language, which would place a possible Graeco-Aryan protolanguage before Satemization, making it identical to late PIE. Proto-Greek does appear to have been affected by the general trend of palatalization characteristic of the Satem group, evidenced for example by the (post-Mycenaean) change of labiovelars into dentals before "e" (e.g. "kwe" > "te" "and"), but the Satemizing influence appears to have reached Greek only after it had lost the palatovelars (i.e. after it had already become a Centum language).

The primary sound changes separating Proto-Greek from the Proto-Indo-European language included:
*Aspiration of /s/ -> /h/ intervocalically
*De-voicing of voiced aspirates.
*Dissimilation of aspirates (Grassmann's law), possibly post-Mycenaean.
*word-initial "y-" (not "Hy-") is strengthened to "dy-" (later ζ-)

The loss of prevocalic "*s" was not completed entirely, famously evidenced by "sus" "sow", "dasus" "dense"; "sun" "with" is another example, contaminated with PIE "*kom" (Latin "cum", Proto-Greek "*kon") to Homeric / Old Attic "ksun".

Sound changes between Proto-Greek and Mycenaean include:
*Loss of final stop consonants; final /m/ -> /n/.
*Syllabic /m/ and /n/ -> /am/, /an/ before resonants; otherwise /a/.
*Vocalization of laryngeals between vowels and initially before consonants to /e/, /a/, /o/ from h₁, h₂, h₃ respectively.
*The sequence CRHC (C = consonant, R = resonant, H = laryngeal) becomes CRēC, CRāC, CRōC from H = h₁, h₂, h₃ respectively.
*The sequence CRHV (C = consonant, R = resonant, H = laryngeal, V = vowel) becomes CaRV.
*loss of "s" in consonant clusters, with supplementary lengthening of the preceding vowel: "esmi" -> "ēmi"
*creation of secondary "s" from clusters, "ntia" -> "nsa". Assibilation "ti" -> "si" only in southern dialects.

These sound changes are already complete in Mycenaean.For changes affecting most or all later dialects see Ancient Greek.



The PIE dative, instrumental and locative cases are syncretized into a single dative case. Some desinences are innovated (dative plural "-si" from locative plural -"su").

Nominative plural "-oi", "-ai" replaces late PIE "-ōs", "-ās".

The superlative on "-tatos" becomes productive.

The peculiar oblique stem "gunaik-" "women", attested from the Thebes tablets is probably Proto-Greek; it appears, at least as "gunai-" also in Armenian.


The pronouns "houtos", "ekeinos" and "autos" are created. Use of "ho, hā, ton" as articles is post-Mycenaean.


An isogloss between Greek and the closely related Phrygian is the absence of "r"-endings in the Middle Voice in Greek, apparently already lost in Proto-Greek.

Proto-Greek inherited the augment, a prefix "é-" to verbal forms expressing past tense. This feature it shares only with Indo-Iranian and Phrygian (and to some extent, Armenian), lending some support to an "Graeco-Aryan" or "Inner PIE" proto-dialect. However, the augment down to the time of Homer remained optional, and was probably little more than a free sentence particle meaning "previously" in the proto-language, that may easily have been lost by most other branches.

The first person middle verbal desinences "-mai", "-mān" replace "-ai", "-a". The third singular "pherei" is an innovation by analogy, replacing the expected Doric "*phereti", Ionic "*pheresi" (from PIE *PIE|"bhéreti").

The future tense is created, including a future passive, as well as an aorist passive.

The suffix "-ka-" is attached to some perfects and aorists.

Infinitives in "-ehen", "-enai" and "-men" are created.


*"one": nominative *"hens", genitive *"hemos"; feminine *"mhiā" (> Myc. "e-me" /"hemei"/(dative); Att./Ion. Polytonic|εἷς (ἑνός), μία, "heis" ("henos"), "mia").

*"two": *"duwō" (> Myc. "du-wo" /"duwō"/; Hom. Polytonic|δύω, "dyō"; Att.-Ion. Polytonic|δύο, "dyo")

*"three": nominative *"trees", accusative "trins" (> Myc. "ti-ri" /"trins"/; Att./Ion. Polytonic|τρεῖς, "treis"; Lesb. Polytonic|τρής, trēs; Cret. Polytonic|τρέες, "trees")

*"four": nominative *"kwetwores", genitive *"kweturōn" (> Myc. "qe-to-ro-we" /"kwetrōwes"/ "four-eared"; Att. Polytonic|τέτταρες, "tettares"; Ion. Polytonic|τέσσερες, "tesseres"; Boeot. Polytonic|πέτταρες, "pettares"; Thess. Polytonic|πίτταρες, "pittares"; Lesb. Polytonic|πίσυρες, "pisyres"; Dor. Polytonic|τέτορες, "tetores")

*"five": *"penkwe" (> Att.-Ion. Polytonic|πέντε, "pente"; Lesb., Thess. Polytonic|πέμπε, "pempe")

Example text

Eduard Schwyzer in his "Griechische Grammatik" (1939, I.74-75) has translated famous lines of Classical Greek into Proto-Greek. His reconstruction was ignorant of Mycenaean and assumes Proto-Greek loss of labiovelars and syllabic resonants, among other things. Thus, Schwyzer's reconstruction corresponds to an archaic but post-Mycenaean dialect rather than actual Proto-Greek.

Notes: The reconstruction assumes that the old combinations of sonorants + "s" in either sequence (PIE|*ns, *ms, *rs, *ls, *u̯s, *i̯s, *sn, *sm, PIE| *sr, *sl, *su̯, *si̯ ) were pronounced as unvoiced sonorants (IPA| [n̥, m̥, r̥, l̥, ʍ, ç] ) before they were simplified as short voiced sonorants with compensatory lengthening Polytonic|ν, μ, ρ, λ, (ϝ), (ι) in most dialects or as long voiced sonorants Polytonic|νν, μμ, ρρ, λλ, υ(ϝ), ι in Aeolic. It is also assumed that the PIE syllabic nasals (PIE|*n̥, *m̥) was pronounced as nasal IPA| [ã] , before it split into Polytonic|α in most dialects and Polytonic|ο as a variant in some dialects (Mycenaean, Arcadian, Aeolic).

ee also

*Ancient Macedonian language
*Paleo-Balkan languages
*Pre-Greek substrate
*Proto-Indo-European language
*Kafkania pebble

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Proto-Germanic language — Proto Germanic Spoken in Northern Europe Extinct evolved into Proto Norse, Gothic, Frankish and Ingvaeonic by the 4th century Language family Indo European …   Wikipedia

  • Proto-Romanian language — Proto Romanian (also known as Common Romanian , româna comună or Ancient Romanian , străromâna) is a Romance language evolved from Vulgar Latin and considered to have been spoken by the ancestors of today s Romanians and related Balkan Latin… …   Wikipedia

  • Proto-Pontic language — Proto Pontic is the postulated proto language for a Pontic language family or macrofamily. Each of these terms may refer to a number of different linguistic entities.Northwest CaucasianIn its narrowest sense, Pontic is a synonym for the well… …   Wikipedia

  • Proto-Armenian language — The earliest testimony of the Armenian language dates to the 5th century AD (the Bible translation of Mesrob Mashtots). The earlier history of the language is unclear and the subject of much speculation.It is clear that Armenian is an Indo… …   Wikipedia

  • Proto-World language — The term Proto World language refers to the hypothetical, most recent common ancestor of all the world s languages ndash; an ancient proto language from which are derived all modern languages, all language families, and all dead languages known… …   Wikipedia

  • Proto-Slavic language — Proto Slavic is the proto language from which Slavic languages later emerged. It was spoken before the seventh century. As with all other proto languages, no attested writings have been found; the language has been reconstructed by applying the… …   Wikipedia

  • Greek language — Greek Ελληνικά Ellīniká Pronunciation [eliniˈka] Spoken in Greece, Cyprus …   Wikipedia

  • Greek language — Indo European language spoken mostly in Greece. Its history can be divided into four phases: Ancient Greek, Koine, Byzantine Greek, and Modern Greek. Ancient Greek is subdivided into Mycenaean Greek (14th–13th centuries BC) and Archaic and… …   Universalium

  • Proto-Greek — noun The earliest form of the Greek language, the common ancestor of the Greek dialects, including Mycenean and the classical Greek dialects, spoken by the ancestors of the Greeks even before they settled in Greece around 2000 BC. Syn:… …   Wiktionary

  • Proto-Indo-European language — PIE redirects here. For other uses, see PIE (disambiguation). Indo European topics Indo European languages (list) Albanian · Armenian · Baltic Celtic · Germanic · Greek Indo Ira …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.