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Listen to a 6000-year-old language … on Soundcloud



Daniel Esparza - published on 09/04/17

The “mother” of all Indo-European languages has been reconstructed and recorded, thanks to historical linguistics.

We cannot know for certain what the language known as Proto-Indo-European sounded like. In fact, we don’t even have any written registers of it, so we can only rely on hypothetical reconstruction of what is considered to be the “mother” of around 445 different languages spoken around the world (yes, including English).

Such hypothetical reconstruction is possible thanks to historical linguistics and, even though there is not general consensus regarding where was Proto-Indo-European first spoken, the most widely accepted theory points at certain communities residing around the Pontic-Caspian steppes, who then migrated, either to the East or the West. The isolation of some groups from the others led then to the development of different languages, around the year 3500 BC.

The question is, what did that language sound like?

Realm of History explains how the German linguist August Schleicher created a fable using reconstructed Proto-Indo-European vocabulary, in order to hear some approximation of it. He named his fable “The Sheep and the Horses,” but nowadays it’s known as “Schleicher’s Fable.” It tells the story of a shorn sheep who encounters a group of horses. As time goes by and research deepens, linguists have continued to discover more about this ancient language, so Schleicher’s fable is constantly updated, including the most current discoveries or hypotheses about how this 6,000-year-old language would have sounded.

You can now listen to University of Kentucky linguist Andrew Byrd’s own recitation of Schleicher’s Fable, in which he uses the latest studies and insights into the Proto-Indo-European language, in the Soundcloud file below.

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