In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Indo-European Linguistics

  • Introduction
  • Linguistic Theory and Method
  • Handbooks of Greek Linguistics
  • Handbooks of Latin Linguistics
  • Historical Grammars of Greek and Latin
  • Greek and Latin Etymological Dictionaries
  • Greek and Latin Etymologies
  • Historical Phonology of Greek and Latin
  • Historical Morphology of Greek and Latin
  • Greek and Latin Syntax
  • Greek Dialectology
  • Latin Dialectology and the Italic Languages
  • Linguistics and Philology

Classics Indo-European Linguistics
Jay Fisher
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 May 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 May 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0093


Linguistics is the study of grammar, a subject matter that is traditionally divided into five areas: phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, and semantics. Phonetics is the study of phones, the total amount of sounds that may be uttered by all human beings, and phonology is the study of phonemes, sounds that are distinctive and systematically contrasted with other phonemes in a given language. Morphology is the study of the formation of words from smaller units of meaning, called morphemes, while syntax studies the formation of phrases and sentences. Semantics seeks to find underlying patterns of meaning among the various words, or lexemes, of a given language. Because all five aspects of grammar interface with one another, it is very difficult to attribute a linguistic phenomenon to a single category. Anyone who has studied the grammar of Greek or Latin, for example, will already be aware that morphological phenomena, such as case endings, and syntax are not easily disentangled. Although I have chosen to list more books than articles as an economic way of exposing the beginner to as much of the bibliography as possible, the majority of work in linguistics is to be found in articles in journals and collections of essays. I have cited translations of a number of works for the convenience of the Anglophone beginner, but this practice should not deceive the novice into believing that it is possible to conduct serious research in linguistics without at least a reading knowledge of French and German.

Linguistic Theory and Method

The study of grammar is further complicated by the orientation of the linguist, who may approach a given language from a single point in time (synchronic) or historical (diachronic) perspective. Within the discipline of classics, linguistic studies traditionally have been diachronic and thus concerned with the historical development of Greek and Latin, but linguistics as a discipline has gradually become dominated by synchronic approaches. Some studies concentrate on the deep underlying structures of language and the transformation of these “deep structures” into well-formed sentences, or “surface structures,” within the mind of a single speaker, while others emphasize the role of context in shaping linguistic behavior. Individual speakers are also members of larger linguistic groups, such as speakers of a particular dialect, as students of ancient Greek are well aware. Sometimes dialect may be a conscious choice, as in the use of a form of the Doric dialect in Attic tragic choruses, but a speaker of the Arcadian dialect is not likely to be making a conscious choice but rather applying, more or less unconsciously, phonological and syntactic rules that are different from the phonological and syntactic rules in the Aeolic dialect. Katz 2007 is a good entrance point for the willing but uninitiated classicist into the mysteries of linguistics. Because Indo-European linguistics is largely concerned with the phonology and morphology of Proto-Indo-European (PIE) and the daughter languages, the beginner may be better served by an introduction to phonology, such as Carr 1999, and morphology, such as Aronoff and Fudeman 2005 rather than a general textbook of linguistics. A dictionary of linguistics, such as Matthews 2007, is also useful for the unfamiliar terminology often encountered in linguistic studies.

  • Aronoff, Mark, and Kristen Fudeman. 2005. What is morphology? Oxford and Malden, MA: Blackwell.

    An introduction to the basics of morphological theory, an especially important aspect of grammar for inflected languages such as Greek and Latin.

  • Carr, Philip. 1999. English phonetics and phonology. Oxford and Malden, MA: Blackwell.

    A concise introduction to the general principles of phonology and its relationship to phonetics and the particular application of these principles in the English language.

  • Katz, Joshua. 2007. What linguists are good for. Classical World 100:99–112.

    DOI: 10.1353/clw.2007.0009

    An examination of common misconceptions about linguistics in the classics, especially historical linguistics, with a number of practical illustrations of the discipline’s usefulness to classicists.

  • Matthews, P. H. 2007. The concise Oxford dictionary of linguistics. 2d ed. New York and Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Because there is some inconsistency of terminology even within the discipline of linguistics—not to mention the serious discrepancies between grammatical terminology in the teaching of Greek and Latin and modern linguistic studies—a dictionary of terms is a desideratum.

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