Ripples of the Written Word

July 13, 2016
Hansub Kim Noth Hollywood High School 11th Grade

Hansub Kim
Noth Hollywood High School 11th Grade

Mehter, mater, matar, mathir, mayr, moter, macar, mother. The resounding similarities are uncanny. In fact, no one would have believed that the origins of these near identical homo- logs stretched thousands of miles over several continents until very recent times.

In the 1780s, a particular text was kindling excitement in circles of linguists – a then unas- suming development that would completely change the concept of language as a whole. William Jones’ Third Anniversary Discourse to the Asiatic Society identified startling similari- ties between Greco-Roman language groups and Sanskrit language groups, which were spo- ken in vastly different areas of the world that had sparse cultural connection. Jones’ striking discovery raised questions about seemingly unrelated languages, offering the possibility that the diaspora of modern languages could be traced back to a single ancestor. Despite great differences in pho- nology and syntax, a tenth of the world’ s languages are descended from a common ancestor called Proto Indo-European, or PIE. Lin- guists propose that PIE had been spoken as a single language prior to 4000 BC in the Pontiac-Caspian steppe of Eastern Europe. As PIE developed through early civiliza- tions, it grew both phonetically and syntactically. PIE split up into multi- ple dialects which branched off into different areas of Asia and Europe with the dispersion of different civi- lizations. Linguists and historians postulate that the language, whose original location is un- certain, branched off into Anatolia, or present- day Turkey, in the 7th millennium BC, into the Balkans and parts of India in 5000 BC, or into Armenia in 4000 BC.

The spoken word of PIE points to the fact that it was indeed a conglomeration of almost all Indo European languages. PIE lacked vow- els, and had many“uvular” characters that were pronounced at the back of the mouth, such as retroflex consonants, part of the mod- ern Indian language and the languages of ancient Turkey. Tenses in PIE point to Proto- Germanic languages, which would develop into Dutch, German, English, and Frisian. Prefixes, suffixes, and general morphology indicates that many roots were derived from Greek, Latin, and Vedic, the predecessor of Sanskrit. Although a truly antiquated language, PIE is not close to the first human language or the ancestor of the former; rather, it is an image of the earliest hypothesis humans can reconstruct from modern language. All in all, it is refresh- ing to note that everyday phrases used now may ripple ahead several millennia and become remnants indicative of change and develop- ment.

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