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This is my first question here, and though my native language derives from Latin, I, unlucky, didn't get a change to study much Latin at school. Two questions that have often crossed my mind are:

  1. Is Latin more sophisticated than its predecessor, Proto-Indo-European?
  2. Were all its inflections, conjugations, etc, already present in PIE, or did they develop later?
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    Latin is really less inflectionally complex than Proto-Indo-European, not more; it has fewer noun cases, a much simpler verbal system, and probably a lot less freedom in word derivation. PIE didn't have as many declension and conjugation classes (which are pretty trivial in Latin anyway), but that's just because the suffixes and stem-final sounds that mixed in with the endings to create them in Latin were still transparent at the time.
    – Cairnarvon
    Feb 27 at 15:36
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    It seems to me there are two good questions here but the combination is making it seem muddled: (1) How do inflections and other 'sophisticated' properties arise in a language when precursors didn't have them? (2) How did Latin emerge from its precursor languages?
    – dbmag9
    Feb 27 at 16:39
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    Honestly, I thought, despite the mistaken premise, it was fine as it was. This is clearer, though, if it asks what the op really wanted to ask. I would vote leaving it as it is now.
    – cmw
    Feb 28 at 15:37
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    PIE was inflectionally more complex than Latin (as various reconstructions used to explain different inflectional systems in the various IE daughter languages and families attest). But where did the inflections come from originally? One theory (I think) is that PIE evolved from an earlier, isolating language in which function words eventually became dependent on the context in which they were used, and slowly fused with nearby words to become affixes rather than standalone words.
    – chepner
    Feb 28 at 16:13
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    (The overall theory, one that is nearly untestable due to the lack of attested protolanguages, is that languages drift back and forth, with inflections disappearing and being replaced with function words and complex grammar, and then back as the function words are reassimilated into inflections. Maybe linguists in 20,000 years or so can confirm or refute this theory of language evolution :) )
    – chepner
    Feb 28 at 16:17

1 Answer 1

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Well, the simple answer is that its predecessors weren't "more basic". Latin has actually lost several noun cases and regularized its verbs significantly from the way Proto-Indo-European worked.

In general, though, naturally-evolved languages are never more "basic" or "sophisticated" than others. It's somewhat of an axiom in linguistics that all languages are equivalent in their expressiveness, and while there's been a lot of debate over what exactly that means, recent work with information theory supports the idea that all languages convey the same amount of information over time. More information here (disclaimer: I wrote this article); the short version is, while English might convey more information per syllable than Japanese, it can't convey as many syllables per second, because losing one of those information-dense syllables to background noise would be much more of a problem. Classical Latin, in particular, appears to convey about as much information per syllable as English does.

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    I believe I remember you mentioning this paper in a different answer - thanks for sharing. Fascinating read!
    – Adam
    Feb 27 at 18:33
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    Yes, "more efficient" language is inevitably less error-correcting, so more fragile, especially on noisy channels. "Information theory" is a good way to view some of this. :) Feb 27 at 21:43
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    @paulgarrett, On this already Horace said: brevis esse laboro, obscurus fio (I try to be brief, but end up being obscure).
    – d_e
    Feb 27 at 22:59
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    All mature languages may be equally expressive, but developing languages such as pidgins aren't.
    – Mark
    Feb 28 at 4:06
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    @Draconis to that last parenthetical, it'd be interesting to compare the bit rate of Esperanto speech from the earliest recordings we have to modern Nth-generation native speakers (and to see if 1st generation native speakers are different from 2nd or 3rd, and how they all compare to modern non-native fluent Esperantists)
    – Tristan
    Feb 28 at 9:30

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