Teeter's law

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Teeter's law is a wry observation about the biases of historical linguists, explaining how different investigators can arrive at radically divergent conceptions of the proto-language of a family:[1][2]

The language of the family you know best always turns out to be the most archaic.

Although the law is named after the Americanist linguist Karl Teeter, it apparently does not appear in any of Teeter's works.[3] It is customarily quoted from a 1976 review by the Indo-European linguist Calvert Watkins of Paul Friedrich's Proto-Indo-European syntax: the order of meaningful elements.[3] Watkins argued that Friedrich, after criticizing other scholars for overemphasizing particular branches of the family, had based his reconstruction of Proto-Indo-European syntax entirely on Homeric Greek.[1]


  1. ^ a b Watkins 1976, p. 310.
  2. ^ Lightfoot 1979, p. 156.
  3. ^ a b Hock 2007, p. 275.

Works cited

  • Hock, Hans Henrich (2007), "Privileged Languages and Others in the History of Historical-Comparative Linguistics", in Kibbee, Douglas A. (ed.), History of Linguistics 2005: Selected Papers from the Tenth International Conference on the History of the Language Sciences, John Benjamins, pp. 274–287, ISBN 978-90-272-4603-5.
  • Lightfoot, David W. (1979), Principles of Diachronic Syntax, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-29350-1.
  • Watkins, Calvert (1976), "Towards Proto-Indo-European syntax: problems and pseudo-problems", in Steever, Sanford B.; Walker, Carol A.; Mufwene, Salikoko S. (eds.), Papers from the Parasession on Diachronic Syntax, Chicago: Chicago Linguistic Society, pp. 305–326.