Language family  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

A language family is a group of languages related by descent from a common ancestor, called the proto-language of that family. The term comes from the Tree model of language origination in historical linguistics, which makes use of a metaphor comparing languages to people in a biological family tree or in a subsequent modification to species in a phylogenetic tree of evolutionary taxonomy. All the apparently biological terms are used only in the metaphoric sense. No real biology is included in any way in the metaphor.

As of early 2009, SIL Ethnologue catalogued 6,909 living human languages. A "living language" is simply one that is in wide use as a primary form of communication by a specific group of living people. The exact number of known living languages will vary from 5,000 to 10,000, depending generally on the precision of one's definition of "language", and in particular on how one classifies dialects. There are also many dead and extinct languages.

Membership of languages in the same language family is established by comparative linguistics. Daughter languages are said to have a genetic or genealogical relationship; the former term is more current in modern times, but the latter is equally as traditional. The evidence of linguistic relationship is observable shared characteristics that are not attributed to borrowing. Genealogically related languages present shared retentions, that is, features of the proto-language (or reflexes of such features) that cannot be explained by chance or borrowing (convergence). Membership in a branch or group within a language family is established by shared innovations; that is, common features of those languages that are not attested in the common ancestor of the entire family. For example, what makes Germanic languages "Germanic" is that they share vocabulary and grammatical features that are not believed to have been present in Proto-Indo-European. These features are believed to be innovations that took place in Proto-Germanic, a descendant of Proto-Indo-European that was the source of all Germanic languages.

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

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