North-West Indo-European

From Old European

A common North-West Indo-European (NWIE) group is being increasingly accepted in the literature[Oettinger 1997][Oettinger 2003][Adrados 1998][Mallory and Adams 2007][Mallory 2013][Beekes 2011]. Genetic research indicates that there was an Indo-European-speaking community in close contact in the East Bell Beaker group, evolved from western Yamna migrants ca. 2500 BC.

This group expanded successfully in a short period into wide territories of western, northern, and eastern Europe, territories whose languages later evolved into Celtic, Italic, and Germanic, and probably Balto-Slavic (or its substrate language, ‘Temematic’), thus allowing for certain innovations to spread between these languages[Harrison and Heyd 2007][Mallory 2013][Quiles 2017].

The Bell Beaker territory is to some extent coincident with the one identified of Old European hydronymy[Krahe 1964][Krahe 1949][Nicolaisen 1957], a quasi-uniform name-giving system for water courses that shows Indo-European water-words and suffixes following rules of Late Proto-Indo-European word formation[Adrados 1998].

Fragmentary languages probably belonging to this group are Lusitanian (sometimes linked with Celtic) and Venetic (sometimes linked with Italic). Dubious is the nature of proposed substrate languages, like Belgian, Sorothaptic, Pre-Celtic Irish, or Pictish. Probably unrelated, from a Palaeo-Balkan group, are Messapian and Illyrian.

yamna-bell-beaker.jpg Yamna - East Bell Beaker migration 3000-2300 BC. Most likely homeland of the North-West Indo-European proto-language. Adapted from Heyd[Harrison and Heyd 2007]

Proto-Romance reconstruction, albeit quite similar to Latin[Hall 1983], is obviously an artifice, not equal to Old Latin, since the development of Romance languages happened in the wide territories where Vulgar Latin was spoken in Antiquity. Romance languages were influenced by local, regional, inter-regional, or international contacts, so that they cannot be traced back to a single ancestral language without help from historical records and internal reconstruction. However, given the close community where the original North-West Indo-European homeland must have formed (most likely in the Upper Danube, between modern Southern Germany and Budapest), we can assume that most reconstructed changes for North-West Indo-European happened during a period of a close western Yamna–Classical Bell Beaker community, before its sudden European expansion.


Abbreviations of Proto-Indo-European language stages and dialects, with names used in this work and reference to older works, including approximate date guesstimates.

The reconstruction of North-West Indo-European (like the reconstruction of Late Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Indo-Hititte) should therefore not be considered a mere theoretical exercise, but a pragmatic approach to the phonetic reconstruction of a real language, spoken by a close community of people that lived during the mid-3rd millennium in a relatively small region of central Europe. During and after their expansion, close ties were kept between vast regions of the Bell Beaker culture – in contrast to the relationship with neighbouring cultures, like the Corded Ware culture – which further supports its close ethnolinguistic identification.


Stages of Proto-Indo-European evolution. IU: Indo-Uralic; PU: Proto-Uralic; PAn: Pre-Anatolian; PToch: Pre-Tocharian; Fin-Ugr: Finno-Ugric. The period between Balkan IE and Proto-Greek could be divided in two periods: an older one, called Proto-Greek (close to the time when NWIE was spoken), probably including Macedonian, and spoken somewhere in the Balkans; and a more recent one, called Mello-Greek, coinciding with the classically reconstructed Proto-Greek, already spoken in the Greek peninsula[West 2007]. Similarly, the period between Northern Indo-European and North-West Indo-European could be divided, after the split of Pre-Tocharian, into a North-West Indo-European proper, during the expansion of Yamna to the west, and an Old European period, coinciding with the formation and expansion of the East Bell Beaker group.


There is an ever-growing ground for the support of an intermediate European branch between Late Proto-Indo-European and European proto-languages.

Genetic studies are showing that the concept of Indo-European migrations is real, and it has also shown that closely related communities expanded over huge areas where ancient European languages were later attested. This gives strong support to an actual ancestral language spoken by a community of people – in contrast with the ‘constellation analogy’ of Clackson[2007] –, and that these reconstructed branches evolved within small territories – unlike Latin in the Roman Empire. Both facts point strongly to the possibility of reconstructing a real, uniform language, unifying previous concepts such as the North-West Indo-European group, the Italo-Celto-Germanic community, Italo-Celtic, the fragmentary languages classified as of “Pre-Celtic” nature, or the language behind Old European hydronymy.

Immobility and conservatism have unexpectedly seized the field[Adrados 2007]: from the nineties we have seen a decline in the theory which proposes at least two strata of Indo-European (with the archaism of Hittite barely mentioned), with the most commonly used manuals barely presenting the effects of gradual dialectalisation – and this only related to Hittite phonetics.

The field keeps moving forward in the study of individual languages, but the general theory is paralysed, so that in fact dialectal studies are actually based on false theoretical assumptions.


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