A language family is a set of languages that descended from one single ancestral language and are therefore genealogically related. The ancestral language is often referred to as the proto-language of that family. Within a family, languages can be arranged into branches and groups. These divisions are usually based on shared innovations: grammatical characteristics found in some related languages but not found in their common ancestor. Using the metaphor of a biological family tree, languages in a language family are sometimes called sister languages and daughter languages, dependent on their level of relatedness. This entry examines the linguistic diversity, and it addresses such questions as to why numbers of language families and languages spoken across the world can only be given as estimates. The ...

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