How did our linguistic ancestors talk? Listen in

Did the lost common language Proto-Indo-European sound like this? Listen to a linguist's reconstructed fables about sheep, horses, and a king.

Tower of Babel
Tower of Babble: "The Confusion of Tongues," by Gustave Dore, reflects a top-down management approach. Wikimedia

The Book of Genesis describes how humanity once spoke a single language. We didn't need Google Translate, interpreters, or subtitles.

We all clicked together so awesomely that it was just natural for us to want to build a skyscraper that would reach heaven. It sounded great, especially the penthouse, but God didn't like that and split our language into incomprehensible gibberish, according to the Bible.

So much for Babel. But the ancestors of more than 2 billion people alive today are believed to have spoken a common tongue, and a linguist has recorded what it might have sounded like.

Andrew Byrd of the University of Kentucky recorded short stories in Proto-Indo-European (PIE), a reconstructed tongue that may have been spoken by some of our forebears up to about 4,000 years ago.

Recently highlighted in the journal Archaeology, Byrd's recordings provide an insight into what the lost tongue may have sounded like.

They remind me of my college days studying Old English, with its many "w" and "h" sounds, as well as the bizarre modern script for writing PIE.

PIE seems to have given birth to nearly every language spoken from Europe through India, from English and Russian to Hindi and Urdu (Finnish and Hungarian, among others, came from elsewhere). PIE reconstructions such as "*meH2tér-" and "*swésor" are recognizable as "mother" and "sister."

A tale dubbed "The Sheep and the Horses" was published by German linguist August Schleicher in 1868 to hear an approximation of PIE. This is how it reads in English:

A sheep that had no wool saw horses, one of them pulling a heavy wagon, one carrying a big load, and one carrying a man quickly. The sheep said to the horses: "My heart pains me, seeing a man driving horses." The horses said: "Listen, sheep, our hearts pain us when we see this: a man, the master, makes the wool of the sheep into a warm garment for himself. And the sheep has no wool." Having heard this, the sheep fled into the plain.

And here's Byrd reading it in PIE, based on more recent work by linguist H. Craig Melchert:

Another story is entitled "The King and the God," and was created in the 1990s with inspiration drawn from the Rigveda, an ancient Sanskrit text.

Once there was a king. He was childless. The king wanted a son. He asked his priest: "May a son be born to me!" The priest said to the king: "Pray to the god Werunos." The king approached the god Werunos to pray now to the god. "Hear me, father Werunos!" The god Werunos came down from heaven. "What do you want?" "I want a son." "Let this be so," said the bright god Werunos. The king's lady bore a son.

What do you think? Do any sounds seem familiar to you? Or is it all just babble?

(Via Huffington Post)

 

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