Listen to spoken Proto-Indo-European!

The  theory that the languages and cultures of Europe, Persia and India shared, to use a term borrowed from evolutionnary biology, a common ancestor dates back to 1786, when Sir William Jones first expounded it in The Sanscrit Language. In this book, Jones developped his observations that Sanskrit bore similarities with Greek and Latin, and in turn suggested that the Germanic and Celtic languages could also well be related to those three. A century later, Indo-European scholarship had advanced to the point that a German linguist, August Schleicher, could synthetize the knowledge developped over the preceding hundred years by composing a short story, The Sheep and the Horses, in this ancestral language which would become know as Proto-Indo-European. You can listen to this tale, as well as a second one, The King and the God, written in the 1990’s and based on a Hindu tale, by clicking here.

It is generally admitted that the language wa spoken between ca. 4500 to ca. 2500 B.C. before splitting off into different branches following the migrations of this people into Europe, the Iranian plateau and the Indian subcontinent (interestingly, the first Greek-speaking populations appear in Greece ca. 2200 B.C.). As in the case of Ancient Greek, we can argue how close this reconstructed pronunciation is from the way Proto-Indo-European was actually spoken (and we can even debate how accurate this reconstruction is in the first place). Yet it remains a remarkable achievement. Those who know Greek and Latin will catch the grammatical and linguistic similarities. Here are a few:

  • The Sheep and the Horse:

-akvasas: cf. equus

-ka: cf. Lat. –que, Gr. te


  • The King and the God:

-H3rḗḱs: cf. Lat. rex, Sanskrit raj

-Súhxnus, súhxnum (son):  respectively nom. and acc. case, similar to endings of the 1st declension in both Greek and Latin

-ǵn̥h (be born): root gn-, akin to Greek gignomai for instance

-Dei̯u̯ós, dei̯u̯óm (god, cf. Lat. deus): nom. and acc.

-leu̯kós (bright): cf Gr. leukos

-Finally, the short sentences of the dialogue at the end will ring oddly familiar to the ear trained in Latin and Greek if you read them aloud: “Kʷíd u̯ēlh1si?” “Súhxnum u̯ēlh1mi.” “Tód h1estu” and the concluding sentence “súhxnum ǵeǵonh1e.”