Discovery of the Week: Proto-Indo-European

What do Danish, Sanskrit, Russian, Greek, English and Latin all have in common?

Well, aside from being languages.

Apparently they are all (primarily) descended from a common language known as Proto-Indo-European, which was spoken up to about 3500 BC, after which all of these languages began to split off from each other and diverge. Nowadays, most of these languages are mutually incomprehensible, but by comparing different languages scholars have managed to make some guesses about the vocabulary and grammar used by Proto-Indo-European speakers.

Of course, no one really knows where Proto-Indo-European was spoken, or who by, but the most common hypothesis is that it was spoken (NOT written down) in the Pontic-Caspian steppe in Eastern Europe by the Kurgan culture.

Pontic-Caspian steppe
Pontic-Caspian steppe


So, next time you want to swear in the language of someone’s ancestors:

  • ers (arse)
  • dher (shit)
  • ghendh (boil, abscess)
  • kakka (to poop)
  • dhreibh (to thrust)

(They’ve worked out lots of other words too, but this way if you ever travel back in time you can insult people before they kill you. Which is probably the best you can hope for 5,500 years ago.)


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