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A proto-language in the tree model of historical linguistics is the common ancestor of the languages that form a language family. Occasionally, the German term Ursprache (from Ur- "primordial" and Sprache "language") is used instead.

Often the proto-language is not known directly. In such cases, it may be reconstructed by comparing different members of the language family through the comparative method. The level of completeness of the reconstruction achieved varies, depending on how complete the evidence is from the descendant languages and on the quality of the effort of the linguists working on it. Some of the many unattested proto-languages for which reconstructions have been devised are Proto-Indo-European, Proto-Uralic, and Proto-Dravidian.

In other cases, the proto-language is attested in surviving texts. For example, Latin is the proto-language of the Romance language family, which includes such modern languages as French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian and Spanish. Likewise, Proto-Norse, the ancestor of the modern Scandinavian languages, is attested, albeit in fragmentary form, in ancient runic inscriptions. Although there are no very early Indo-Aryan inscriptions, the Indo-Aryan languages of modern India all go back to Vedic Sanskrit (or dialects very closely related to it), which has been preserved in texts accurately handed down by parallel oral and written traditions for many centuries.

The first person to offer systematic reconstructions of an unattested proto-language was August Schleicher; he did so for Proto-Indo-European in 1861.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Proto-language" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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