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Comparative Linguistics

3. Genetic Relationship and How to Spot it

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About this Lecture


In the last module, we noticed that similarities between languages can result not only from a genetic relationship, but also from particular historical circumstances (e.g. the massive injection of Old French into the English language at the time of the Norman Conquest). In this module, we show how we can differentiate between languages whose similarity is based only on historical accident, and those where there is a genuine genetic relationship between the two.


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 - Genetic Relationship and How to Spot it [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Horrocks, G. "Comparative Linguistics – Genetic Relationship and How to Spot it." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Aug 2018,