Beware: I am about to tell you about a paper I’m working on that is due tomorrow in my Language and Culture class. I think it’s interesting, but you might not. You’ve been warned.
Basically it is about using historical linguistics to find out information about prehistoric people. If we compare a lot of related languages (like Latin, Sanskrit, Russian, etc.), we can reconstruct a proto-language (like Proto-Indo-European, which I will refer to as PIE, since pie is so delicious). Then we can use the words from the proto-language to find things out about the prehistoric people who spoke it. It’s like CSI! Here are some of the things we can learn:
  • Original location – Nobody knows exactly where the Indo-Europeans lived, but since there is a long list of words like snow, mountains, oak, beech, bear, wolf, bee, etc., we can narrow it down to only places where all of these things exist. The current guess is somewhere between central Europe and the steppes of southern Russia.
  • Culture – Using the same strategy, we know that speakers of PIE were no longer nomadic and had some agricultural knowledge. They had domesticated dogs but not cats. They had a patriarchal society and recognized the existence of a soul, believed in gods, and had developed certain ethical ideas. Also they had figured out how to make an intoxicating beverage out of honey.
  • Movements – We can tell which way a people group migrated, but that’s not interesting.
Obviously this is all a lot of educated guesses, and it’s impossible for us to know anything for absolutely positively certain. But STILL, I think it is pretty neat that we can get all of that information from a prehistoric language that had long disappeared by the time people started writing history down.
If you’re mildly interested, here’s a family tree for the descendants of the PIE family.
In other news: I found out at 10:15 Monday night that I had a 10-page paper due at 10 that very night. How alarming! It’s under control now, no need to worry, but I was panicking.
Another thing: The title of this post is hilarious! Bonus points if you leave a comment discussing why it is hilarious.

A favorite delicacy of the speakers of Proto-Indo-European. As a speaker of a descendant language, I am proud to carry on this tradition.

Advertisements