In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Nostratic

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews

Linguistics Nostratic
George Starostin
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 September 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 October 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0156


The term Nostratic commonly designates a hypothetical macrofamily, or “superfamily,” consisting of several linguistic families spread across Eurasia, all of which are supposedly descended from a single common ancestor, Proto-Nostratic; according to most proponents of the hypothesis, this proto-language was probably spoken not later than the Early Neolithic period. No consensus exists among the supporters of Nostratic as to its exact extent and limits, but every variant of the hypothesis includes such “core” families as Indo-European, Uralic, and Altaic (the latter being controversial in itself); most versions also add Kartvelian, Dravidian, and Afroasiatic languages (see Taxonomy of Nostratic for details). Advocates of Nostratic usually claim that this macrofamily is established based not on superficial similarities between its daughter branches, but rather on recurrent and even rigorous correspondence patterns, in accordance with the classic comparative-historical method, and they back this claim with large amounts of comparative evidence. Nevertheless, this evidence is also regarded by many specialists as insufficient to satisfy the criteria generally required for demonstrating genetic relationship, and the theory remains highly controversial among mainstream historical linguists, who tend to view it as, at worst, completely invalid or, at best, inconclusive. Nostratic does, however, enjoy a particularly high level of support among Russian historical linguists, two of whom (Vladislav Illich-Svitych and Aharon Dolgopolsky) are usually regarded as the “founding fathers” of the theory. Since the overall number of languages that allegedly belong to the Nostratic macrofamily is very large, this article includes works that deal exclusively with the various aspects of the Nostratic hypothesis itself, which are relatively few in comparison. It should be noted that the majority of these works, until the most recent decades, have been published either in Russian or in German, and many of them are not easily accessible.

General Overviews

Due to the controversial status of the Nostratic hypothesis, no general textbooks are found on the subject, and most of the published overviews are either too brief or too heavily biased toward or against Nostratic (the most important of these are listed in the Criticism and Polemics section. The following short selection of works concentrate on stating the main points of the hypothesis rather than constituting works of original research or engaging in heavy polemics, and they can serve as an initial introduction to the Nostratic problem. Yakubovich 1998 presents a brief, concise overview of the hypothesis; Kaiser and Shevoroshkin 1988 adds specific details of a historical-phonological nature; Manaster Ramer 1993 discusses the hypothesis in its historical context, while Manaster Ramer, et al. 1998 focuses on various problematic issues of Nostratic and suggests ways in which these could be resolved. Additionally, the early history of Nostratic studies is well summarized in Khelimskiy 1986.

  • Kaiser, Mark, and Vitaly Shevoroshkin. 1988. Nostratic. Annual Review of Anthropology 17:309–330.

    DOI: 10.1146/

    Brief overview of the history of Nostratic and of the regular phonetic correspondences between its daughter branches, illustrated by examples from the works of Illich-Svitych and Dolgopolsky. Written from a strongly pro-Nostratic perspective.

  • Khelimskiy, Yevgeniy. 1986. Trudy V. M. Illich-Svitycha i razvitiye nostraticheskikh issledovaniy za rubezhom. In Zarubezhnaya istoriografiya slavyanovedeniya i balkanistiki. Edited by A. S. Myl’nikov, 229–282. Moscow: Nauka.

    A brief sketch of the history of Nostratic studies up to 1986, including an account of its evaluation in the linguistic circles outside of Russia. In Russian.

  • Manaster Ramer, Alexis. 1993. On Illič-Svityč’s Nostratic theory. Studies in Language 17:205–250.

    DOI: 10.1075/sl.17.1.09man

    A somewhat sympathetic, but overall unbiased review article that reviews the foundations of the Nostratic hypothesis and the critical reception of the Nostratic hypothesis in the USSR and in the West; also contains the author’s reflections on possible improvements of both the essence and the “public image” of Nostratic.

  • Manaster Ramer, Alexis, Peter A. Michalove, Karen S. Baertsch, and Karen L. Adams. 1998. Exploring the Nostratic hypothesis. Nostratic: Sifting the evidence. Edited by Joseph C. Salmons and Brian D. Joseph, 61–84. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

    A follow-up to Manaster Ramer 1993, with less focus on the history of Nostratic and more on surveying recent lines of criticism and suggesting constructive ways of resolving problematic issues within Nostratic reconstruction.

  • Yakubovich, Ilya. 1998. The Nostratic linguistic macrofamily.

    Very brief sketch of basic facts about the status and history of the Nostratic hypothesis.

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