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28 October 2013
Linguist reconstructs sounds of prehistoric language

What did our ancestors sound like in the 50th century BCE? In a recent on-line article for Archaeology Magazine, University of Kentucky linguistics lecturer Dr Andrew M Byrd can be heard reading two fables constructed in the language known as Proto-Indo-European.
     PIE is the prehistoric ancestor of hundreds of languages, including Old English, Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, Farsi, and Armenian. 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 certain archaeologists and the majority of linguists like Byrd, 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 invented the wheel.
     The primary focus of Byrd's work is to understand how this language would have sounded when it was spoken millennia ago. Byrd says this all begins by looking at similarities in other languages.
     Employing a technique called the 'Comparative Method', Byrd starts by gathering words from related languages and finding the common threads among them. By examining trends in each language, one can tell which parts of the word have changed over time, and get an idea of what PIE might have sounded like.
     Byrd next plans to author a book addressing the entire Indo-European phonology.

Edited from University of Kentucky, PhysOrg (24 October 2013)

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