October 1, 2013 1:20 pm
Languages are constantly evolving, spawning offshoots and mashups and cross-pollinating each other. The great-great-great-great-great ancestor of modern English, says Maggie Koerth-Baker at BoingBoing, is an ancient language known as Proto Indo-European, so called because it’s thought to also be the precursor to many Indian, Asian and European languages.
The language, says the University of Texas at San Antonio, “was never written down and is now extinct,” but by looking for commonalities between a range of diverse languages researchers are trying to piece Proto Indo-European, or PIE, back together—including what it may have sounded like.
“In 1868, German linguist August Schleicher used reconstructed Proto-Indo-European vocabulary to create a fable in order to hear some approximation of PIE,” says Archaeology. “Called “The Sheep and the Horses,” and also known today as Schleicher’s Fable, the short parable tells the story of a shorn sheep who encounters a group of unpleasant horses.”
Archaeology has a recording of Andrew Byrd, a linguist at the University of Kentucky, telling a version of Schleicher’s Fable in Proto Indo-European.
Here’s another example, this time a story of a king who desperately wants a son.
The reading is likely not exact—pronunciations and accents change with time. But it’s interesting to think that thousands of years ago, someone may have been telling a story just like these. You’ll want to check Archaeology magazine for the translated versions of the stories.
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