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Wiktionary:Reconstructed terms

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Reconstructed terms are words, roots, and phrases which are not directly attested in their respective languages, but have been reconstructed by linguists through etymological evidence. They are conventionally denoted with an asterisk (*) at the start of the word, such as in the reconstructed root *bʰer-.

Occurrence and basisEdit

Reconstructed forms can potentially occur in any language, but they are primarily found in ancient or extinct languages which later languages or dialects are derived from. Most reconstructions are based on comparative linguistics, a field that analyzes regular and systematic patterns of changes (such as phonetic alterations) in languages to compare words and grammatical systems in distinct but related languages.

For example, the Spanish word diente, Italian word dente, French word dent, and Portuguese word dente all mean "tooth" in their respective languages, and, being Romance languages, are all ultimately derived from Latin, where the word for tooth is dens (genitive dentis). Based on the similarities between the Romance language derivatives and on similar changes in other words, it is possible to reconstruct the Vulgar Latin word *dente (derived from the accusative case dentem, when final /m/ was eroded in Latin) as the intermediary step between Latin and its Spanish, Italian, French, and Portuguese derivatives. Thus, reconstructed forms like *dente are key to both understanding the ultimate etymology of countless words in all languages, and to determining the form and pronunciation of words that are not attested in any surviving writings (often either because the respective language had no alphabet, as is the case with Proto-Germanic, or because the language was used in common speech rather than writing, as is the case with Vulgar Latin). [1]

The most ancient reconstructions go further still; based on systematic and consistent similarities between dozens of different languages and language groups, it is possible to reconstruct words from languages that had no written language at all ("reconstructed languages"), such as Proto-Germanic, Proto-Indo-European, and Proto-Semitic. Like "intermediary" reconstructions, reconstructed words in these languages are based on comparing words in numerous distantly-related languages. For example, by comparing such forms as English seven, Lithuanian septyni, Hittite šipta-, Latin septem, Oscan seften, Old Prussian septīnjai, Sanskrit सप्त ("sapta"), Tocharian A ṣpät, Gothic 𐍃𐌹𐌱𐌿𐌽 ("sibun"), and dozens of others, all of which mean "seven" in their respective languages, linguists have reconstructed the Proto-Indo-European numeral *septḿ̥ with reasonable certainty, despite the lack of written records at the time when this word would have been spoken, around 4000–3000 BC.

Dictionaries that make thorough use of reconstructed forms include The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, which has especially detailed etymological information on Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Semitic reconstructed roots that have English-language derivatives.

References and verifiabilityEdit

Because of their very nature, reconstructed forms are not directly attested in any written work, but are the result of etymological analysis and research into later, attested words. However, though the field of reconstructed linguistics is the home of many controversies and disagreements, there are nonetheless a large number of reconstructed words and sound changes which have achieved broad consensus among expert linguists, and also a number which there is strong evidence and support for the existence of, but the exact details of which are disputed.

Because of this characteristic ambiguity of reconstructed words, reconstructions on Wiktionary should ideally cite linguistic sources that show how they can be derived. Alternatively, they can refer to sources which provide the reconstruction as-is. This is less helpful if information about the derivation of the reconstruction is not also provided, however, because the credibility of a reconstruction is not in its sourcing, but in its historical-linguistic merit. Hence, it is more useful to the reader if the reconstruction can be corroborated with established and sourced sound laws, than if the reader is simply directed to a source which gives no such explanation.

Reconstructions that are in doubt can be submitted to the Etymology Scriptorium for broader review. By making thorough and uncompromising use of references for all pages dealing with reconstructions, and by excluding (or temporarily moving to the Talk page) any disputed information for which no source has yet been found, it is possible for Wiktionary to keep its standards for reconstructed terms just as high as they are for attested ones, if not even higher.

Note that in cases where different reliable references disagree over certain details in a reconstruction, both references should usually be provided, even if only to note in some cases, for the sake of avoiding ambiguity, that a certain older form is now considered defunct. Pages should generally be named after whichever form has the broadest support among contemporary experts in the field, without Wiktionary weighing in on which form is more or less accurate; variants and disputed forms can then be addressed in great detail within the text of the pages themselves.

Entries for termsEdit

All reconstructed terms with entries go in the Wiktionary Reconstruction: namespace, such as in the page Reconstruction:Proto-Indo-European/ḱwṓ for *ḱwon- (lemmatized to nominative singular). They do not meet the criteria for inclusion in the main namespace. Redirects from the main namespace to these entries are not permitted. (Redirects between the Reconstruction entries are permitted.) Note that "root" or "noun" etc. is not part of the page name.

The template {{reconstructed}} should be used in these entries.

The layout of the entries generally conforms to WT:ELE, although some compromises may be made for the sake of usability.

References from EtymologiesEdit

When linking to reconstructed terms, you must prefix the term with *. The links to the Reconstruction: namespace are then automatically generated.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Fortson, Benjamin W. (2004). Indo-European Language and Culture: An Introduction. Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 1405103167.