Listen to what the ‘mother’ of Indo-European languages sounded like 6,000 years ago

listen-6000-year-proto-indo-european-language_1Indo-European expansion 4000–1000 BC, according to the Kurgan hypothesis. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Proto-Indo-European (PIE) language is the hypothetical reconstruction of the modern ancestor of Indo-European languages, thus possibly pertaining to the root of around 445 spoken languages including Spanish, English, Hindi and Russian. However given the lack of any written record of this ‘mother’ language, PIE has been reconstructed by using methods of historical linguistics. Now since we brought up history, while there is no general consensus, PIE was possibly spoken by a group of ancient people residing in the Pontic–Caspian steppe area, north of Black Sea. But again (possibly) due to series of historical episodes (like migrations), many of the speakers became isolated from each other, thus causing divergence in the languages they spoke. The hypothetical date of this divergence pertains to around 3500 BC.

Interestingly enough, while no direct evidence of the PIE exists, historians and experts are sure of some of the vocabulary that was in usage at least 6,000 years ago. As online editor of Archaeology Magazine Eric A. Powell, explained back in 2013 –

By the 19th century, linguists knew that all modern Indo-European languages descended from a single tongue. Called Proto-Indo-European, or PIE, it was spoken by a people who lived from roughly 4500 to 2500 B.C., and left no written texts. The question became, what did PIE sound 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. 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. As linguists have continued to discover more about PIE (and archaeologists have learned more about the Bronze Age cultures that would have spoken it), this sonic experiment continues and the fable is periodically updated to reflect the most current understanding of how this extinct language would have sounded when it was spoken some 6,000 years ago. Since there is considerable disagreement among scholars about PIE, no single version can be considered definitive.

To that end, University of Kentucky linguist Andrew Byrd had recited his version of the Schleicher’s Fable by using the ‘precise’ pronunciation derived from the latest studies and insights into the PIE (including the analysis linguist H. Craig Melchert) –

The English translation of this story (The Sheep and the Horses) reads like this –

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 in case you are interested in the PIE pronunciation of the short tale originally framed by August Schleicher, you can take a gander at the passage (in English transliteration) –

Avis akvāsas ka

Avis, jasmin varnā na ā ast, dadarka akvams, tam, vāgham garum vaghantam, tam, bhāram magham, tam, manum āku bharantam. Avis akvabhjams ā vavakat: kard aghnutai mai vidanti manum akvams agantam. Akvāsas ā vavakant: krudhi avai, kard aghnutai vividvant-svas: manus patis varnām avisāms karnauti svabhjam gharmam vastram avibhjams ka varnā na asti. Tat kukruvants avis agram ā bhugat.

Byrd has also recited the recreation of yet another short tale known as The King and God in the following sound clip –

The English translation of The King and the God

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.

And here is the short story rendered in reconstructed Proto-Indo-European:

H3rḗḱs dei̯u̯ós-kwe [King and God]

H3rḗḱs h1est; só n̥putlós. H3rḗḱs súhxnum u̯l̥nh1to. Tósi̯o ǵʰéu̯torm̥ prēḱst: “Súhxnus moi̯ ǵn̥h1i̯etōd!” Ǵʰéu̯tōr tom h3rḗǵm̥ u̯eu̯ked: “h1i̯áǵesu̯o dei̯u̯óm U̯érunom”. Úpo h3rḗḱs dei̯u̯óm U̯érunom sesole nú dei̯u̯óm h1i̯aǵeto. “ḱludʰí moi, pter U̯erune!” Dei̯u̯ós U̯érunos diu̯és km̥tá gʷah2t. “Kʷíd u̯ēlh1si?” “Súhxnum u̯ēlh1mi.” “Tód h1estu”, u̯éu̯ked leu̯kós dei̯u̯ós U̯érunos. Nu h3réḱs pótnih2 súhxnum ǵeǵonh1e.

Source: Archaeology Magazine

5 Comments on "Listen to what the ‘mother’ of Indo-European languages sounded like 6,000 years ago"

  1. I can see some Latin derived stuff just from the linguistical stuff I know.
    In the first example, “vidanti” similar to “vida” in Spanish – coming from vita in Latin – sounds familiar and from comparing the PIE to the English counterpart, I can see it was translating “heart” which isn’t too far off from the meaning in Latin and Spanish, “vita” means life (also that’s why we have the word vital in English, meaning necessary to live).

    In the second example, “Deious” sounds similar to “Dei” and “Deus” in Latin, and from comparing the PIE to the English counterpart, I can see it was translating “God” which is the meaning in Latin and English. (Also that’s why we have the word Deity in English, meaning God, aswell). So I find that cool that the meaning of “Deious” in PIE and Deity in English hasn’t in changed over 6,000 years! (and also the “vita” one) Well, that is if this is an accurate reconstruction!

  2. Martynas Jocas | April 6, 2017 at 11:40 am |

    Pronunciation of the recording is a little bit off. Because some words are same as Lithuanian, So even though it sounds exotic and nice I don’t think it is correct.

  3. MidwestNorsk | April 6, 2017 at 10:57 am |


  4. Wonderful! Thank you for all your hard work. How in the world did you figure this out?

  5. WOW! That was utterly fascinating. Thank god there are people researching these matters and sharing them with people like me. THANK YOU.

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