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Comparative Linguistics

4. Comparative Reconstruction

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About this Lecture


In the previous two modules, we have been concerned with the relatedness of two or more languages, asking the question: How can we be sure that languages we think are genetically related are in fact genetically related? In this module, we turn to a second, further question: ‘Can we go beyond the knowledge that 2-3 languages are genetically related and actually reconstruct certain aspects of the ancestor language?’


In this course, Professor Geoff Horrocks (University of Cambridge) provides an introduction to Comparative Linguistics, the study of how languages are related, and how and why languages can change over time. This course makes use of Greek, Latin and Sanskrit for its demonstrations, though absolutely no knowledge is required of any of these languages.

As we move through the course, we introduce the Indo-European language, the notional ancestor language for almost every language in Europe, before thinking about how we can tell the difference between languages that are superficially similar (e.g. Modern English and French) and those that are genetically related.

In the final part of the course, we explore some of the methods that philologists use to test for genetic relatedness, and how knowledge of how languages change can be used to reverse engineer what an original Indo-European language may have looked like.


Geoff Horrocks is Professor of Comparative Philology and a Fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge. He is the author of the seminal work Greek: A History of the Language and its Speakers. He is particularly interested in theories of language structure and language change in their application to the Greek language in all its varieties from the earliest attestations in the second millennium BC to the present day. He also has a secondary interest in the development of Latin, both in its Italian context and in its relationships with other languages as it spread within the Roman empire, including contact with Greek

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Horrocks, G. (2018, August 15). Comparative Linguistics - Comparative Reconstruction [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Horrocks, G. "Comparative Linguistics – Comparative Reconstruction." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Aug 2018,