UK linguist reconstructs sounds of prehistoric language

Oct 24, 2013

What did our ancestors sound like in the 50th century B.C.? University of Kentucky linguistics lecturer Andrew M. Byrd examines ancient Indo-European languages (such as Latin, Greek, Sanskrit and Old English) and the language from which they derive, Proto-Indo-European, or PIE. 

PIE is the prehistoric ancestor of hundreds of languages, including English, Spanish, Greek, Farsi, Armenian, and more. The language is typically thought to have been in use around 7,000 years ago, though some suspect it was spoken at an even earlier time. 

According to some archaeologists and the majority of linguists like Byrd, the people who spoke PIE were located just to the north of the Black Sea and were likely the first to tame horses, and perhaps even to invent the wheel. 

The primary focus of Byrd's work is to understand what this language would have sounded when it was spoken millennia ago. Byrd says this all begins by looking at similarities in other languages.

"We start by gathering words, such as 'king,' from languages that we think are related and then find the common threads among them," he said. "When you bring these words together, you'll see that all of the words meaning 'king' or 'ruler' begin with something like an 'r' followed by a long vowel. Through examining trends in each , you can tell which parts of the word have changed over time, and working backward from that ... you can peer into the past and get an idea of what PIE might have sounded like."

Byrd's work was recently featured on the website of Archaeology Magazine, published by the Archaeological Institute of America. The online piece includes recordings of Byrd reading two fables constructed in PIE. 

Since the recordings were published online, Byrd has been featured in several major news outlets, including the BBC, The Huffington Post, io9.com, Le Figaro, USA Today and Smithsonian magazine.

A full Q&A with Byrd is available at www.as.uky.edu/fables-reconstruction-andrew-byrd , including links to the recordings of Byrd reading fables in PIE.

Explore further: Linguist study finds core group of words has survived for 15,000 years

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Diversity is good for your English

Oct 21, 2013

New research from experts at The University of Manchester has revealed that as the country's linguistic diversity increases, speakers of other languages are also becoming more proficient in English.

Indo-European languages originate in Anatolia

Aug 28, 2012

(Phys.org)—The Indo-European languages belong to one of the widest spread language families of the world. For the last two millenia, many of these languages have been written, and their history is relatively ...

Recommended for you

Poll: Big Bang a big question for most Americans

4 hours ago

Few Americans question that smoking causes cancer. But they have more skepticism than confidence in global warming, the age of the Earth and evolution and have the most trouble believing a Big Bang created the universe 13.8 ...

Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

Apr 18, 2014

Almost seven years have passed since Ontario's street-racing legislation hit the books and, according to one Western researcher, it has succeeded in putting the brakes on the number of convictions and, more importantly, injuries ...

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

Apr 17, 2014

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

Apr 17, 2014

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Creative activities outside work can improve job performance

Apr 16, 2014

Employees who pursue creative activities outside of work may find that these activities boost their performance on the job, according to a new study by San Francisco State University organizational psychologist Kevin Eschleman ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Birger
not rated yet Oct 24, 2013
Not necessarily north of the Black Sea. Indo-European languages have been successful because their core region partly overlapped the core region of emerging agriculture, for instance in Asia Minor and the north-west & north-east parts of the "fertile crescent", allowing them to expand west and east. Secondary migrations would have occurred on many occasions, and if indo-europeans lived in the regions where horses were domesticated this wold have boosted secondary migrations of indo-europeans -this time further north, in the steppe belt.
Since agriculture would need to be "re-invented" in regions with different climate the advance of agriculture would occationally slow down, allowing cultural concepts and language to travel between extant hunter-gatherers and farmers. No simple model will suffice for language transfer.

More news stories

Poll: Big Bang a big question for most Americans

Few Americans question that smoking causes cancer. But they have more skepticism than confidence in global warming, the age of the Earth and evolution and have the most trouble believing a Big Bang created the universe 13.8 ...

Atom probe assisted dating of oldest piece of earth

(Phys.org) —It's a scientific axiom: big claims require extra-solid evidence. So there were skeptics in 2001 when University of Wisconsin-Madison geoscience professor John Valley dated an ancient crystal ...