The term “proto” comes from the Greek word “πρῶτος” (prōtos), meaning “first” or “foremost.” Here’s a detailed chronological breakdown:

1. Proto-Indo-European (PIE)

The PIE root “per-” or “pro-” means “forward” or “before.”

2. Ancient Greek

From the PIE root, the Ancient Greek word “πρῶτος” (prōtos) developed, meaning “first” or “foremost.”

3. Latin

The Greek “πρῶτος” (prōtos) was adopted into Latin as “proto-,” retaining the meaning of “first” or “primary.” It became a common prefix in Latin to denote something that is original or primary in a sequence or hierarchy.

4. Middle English (c. 11th to 15th century CE)

The Latin prefix “proto-” was adopted into Middle English, used in scientific and scholarly contexts to denote something that is the first or earliest of its kind.

5. Modern English (from 15th century CE to present)

The term “proto-” evolved into its current form and pronunciation, used as a prefix in English to denote the earliest form or first version of something, such as “prototype,” “protozoa,” or “proto-Indo-European.”

The prefix “proto-” is widely used in various fields, including linguistics, biology, and engineering, to indicate something that is the original, primary, or earliest form in a series or development.