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All languages change over time. If two groups of people who speak the same language have diminished contact with each other, their language will ultimately diverge in slightly different directions. Over time they may develop into two completely separate languages. Nevertheless they will share similarities and can be demonstrably related to each other.

Linguists have organised the world's languages into a number of families. English and German are Germanic languages, while Spanish, French, and Italian are Romance languages.

Thus, thousands of years ago, the ancestors of the English and the German were living together and speaking the same language, which we call Proto-Germanic. Proto-Germanic was not a written language, so we don't have any direct evidence for it, but the many similarities among the modern and historical Germanic languages make us quite certain that such a language existed. Likewise the ancestors of the Spanish, French, and Italians spoke Proto-Romance, which fortunately is a written language, namely Latin.

Furthermore, subtler similarities indicate that families such as Germanic and Romance are themselves related. Presumably the ancestors of Proto-Germanic speakers and Proto-Romance speakers were once one group, who spoke a language ancestral those two proto-languages. We call this mother language Proto-Indo- European. All the languages descended from the descendents of Proto-Indo-European can be thought of as belonging to the Indo-European superfamily. Around the world linguists have grouped languages into families and superfamilies based on their similarities. Some linguists have further tried to posit genetic relationships between superfamilies, but most of these theories have not gained widespread acceptance.

Conversely linguists have found some languages that just don't seem to fit into any family, as if they are unrelated to any other known language. These nonconformists are called 'language isolates'. A few well-known examples are Ainu, Basque, and Zuni.

Click on a family or superfamily name to see all the currently listed daughter languages.