An Auditory Reconstruction of the 6,000 Year Old Proto-Indo-European Language


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Have you ever wondered what language sounded like in the past?

In the mid-19th century, actually 1868, German linguist,  August Schleicher, published his Compendium of the Comparative Grammar of the Indo-European Languages. Schleicher attempted to reconstruct the Proto-Indo-European language, or PIE, in the form of a fable, an auditory experiment, called “The Sheep and the Horses,” or simply Schleicher’s Fable.

PIE is a suspected language thought to have originated somewhere in Eastern Europe, due the observation that Sanskrit and ancient European languages like Greek and Latin. It was spoken by a people who lived from roughly 4500 to 2500 B.C., and left no written texts.

Since there is considerable disagreement among scholars about PIE, no single version can be considered definitive. In the 1990s, historical linguists created another short parable in reconstructed PIE. It is loosely based on a passage from the Rigveda, an ancient collection of Sanskrit hymns, in which a king beseeches the god Varuna to grant him a son. This refinement is based on work by UCLA professor H. Craig Melchert and read by linguist Andrew Byrd, who recites the story called “The King and the God,” below, using pronunciation informed by the latest insights into reconstructed PIE.