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6,000-year-old language reconstructed

Posted on Saturday, 28 September, 2013 | Comment icon 48 comments

What did the ancient European language sound like ? Image Credit: CC BY-SA 2.5 Jeffrey Pfau
Linguists have pieced together what an ancient language may have sounded like 6,000 years ago.
Modern Indo-European languages are thought to have all descended from a single common language known as Proto-Indo-European (PIE) which was spoken between 4,500 to 2,500 B.C. and of which there are no written texts.

In 1868, German linguist August Schleicher created the first version of a fable known as "The Sheep and the Horses" ( or Schleicherís Fable ) by reconstructing the vocabulary of the ancient language.

Over the years advances in our understanding of this language have provided multiple revisions and re-recordings. The latest version, recited by University of Kentucky linguist Andrew Byrd, can be heard below.

While not a perfect representation of the Proto-Indo-European language, the recording does provide a tantalizing glimpse back in time at how the spoken word might have sounded.

As research continues and as the reconstructions become more and more accurate it is hoped that we will eventually end up with a recitation that would be indistinguishable from the actual speech of those that lived in Europe several thousand years ago.

Source: | Comments (48)

Tags: Language

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #39 Posted by Frank Merton on 30 September, 2013, 1:09
The thing about English is, first, that the coming of the Norsemen with their slightly different suffixes than the Germanic suffixes Anglo-Saxon then had led to a generalized stripping of English of most of its cases and declensions and so on. (In order to communicate the root words were basically the same so they started talking in just the roots, and using prepositions and word order instead of suffixes.) Then in the Middle Ages came the "Great Vowel Change" (for unknown reasons) where English went astray in its vowel pronunciation from the other languages of continental Europe. ... [More]
Comment icon #40 Posted by Frank Merton on 30 September, 2013, 1:14
The Great Vowel Change leads to some of the most persistent errors Vietnamese learning to speak English tend to make. Vietnamese uses an alphabet taken from French in the late nineteenth century, so its pronunciation rules are largely those of the French. In particular, along with all West European languages except English, the letter "i" is pronounced as English "ee" ("feet"), so you get "fit" pronounced "feet," and so on (much as in a Mexican or Italian accent where the same thing happens. This is fairly harmless and native English speaker... [More]
Comment icon #41 Posted by Ad hoc on 30 September, 2013, 1:49
heh, I remember having a really hard-nosed English teacher that gave us Chaucer to study, and insisted on reading out the passages in the correct accent and then asking us to analyse it. Sounded like another language, until you actually read the words. Seems Chaucer was near the beginning of the great vowel shift.
Comment icon #42 Posted by freetoroam on 30 September, 2013, 17:46
I do not think it is make-believe, I do not think they have the accents right. Take on here for instance, I type (the best I can) in a language all understand, but accents can change the sounds of that language quite dramatically, so unless the researches took their findings from writings without taking in account the regional accent, I can not see how it could sound the way they have made it on the tape.
Comment icon #43 Posted by kmt_sesh on 2 October, 2013, 2:42
In that respect I apologize because I misread your intent. I think we were both touching on the same idea but were looking at it differently. The only cautionary note I would make is that we cannot know how widely PIE was spoken before it branched out, or if there was regional variation (i.e., dialects). And in this light I have to agree with you. You're right. There's no way, I believe, to know the actual sounds of PIE because it is too far in the past. We can only propose theoretical models based on studies of modern to ancient Indo-European languages and how words and sounds mig... [More]
Comment icon #44 Posted by jaylemurph on 2 October, 2013, 6:00
I'd go so far as to say I'm reasonably well-versed in linguistics, and by and large I agree with hammerclaw. The extant data is so slight and the interpretations of it so open to criticism(s), that in specific regard to what the language actually sounded like, that anything claiming to be genuinely PIE is highly questionable. --Jaylemurph
Comment icon #45 Posted by Frank Merton on 2 October, 2013, 6:12
Such reconstruction has been going on for a century, and has had remarkable successes, of which you seem unaware. It may seem a remarkable claim, but if you know something about the ways languages evolve, it is possible with enough successor languages at hand, to do a pretty good job reconstructing the original. Pronunciation is a more difficult thing, but not impossible either.
Comment icon #46 Posted by jaylemurph on 3 October, 2013, 5:32
I'm perfectly well aware of it, actually. And well aware of the specifics of Historical and Comparative Linguistics, and of the historical reconstruction model generally used. And this model, in point of fact, has been used in excess of more than a single century. However, in my experience, linguists will quickly tell you of the paucity of evidence -- there is no single attestation of a pututative PIE language, so there is no definitive proof for such, and more than one legitimate interpretation of reconstructed data, since the first records we have are already at several removes from ... [More]
Comment icon #47 Posted by Frank Merton on 3 October, 2013, 5:52
You seem determined to downplay the achievement. I don't see your reasoning and it seems discordant with the reality of what has been determined.
Comment icon #48 Posted by jaylemurph on 4 October, 2013, 1:37
Then these people have been particularly adept at convincing you there is an acheivement to downplay. --Jaylemurph

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