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The Prehistoric Mother Tongue (minicast)
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San Diego, California
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Many of the world’s languages apparently derived from a prehistoric common ancestor known as Indo-European. But since no one ever wrote down a word of it, how do we know what it was like?

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For more information:


Indo-European Language and Culture: An Introduction (2e) by Benjamin W. Fortson
American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots by Calvert Watkins
Historical Linguistics by R.L. Trask

Language Log posts in the order they should be read:
The Linguistic Diversity of Aboriginal Europe

Horse and wheel in the early history of Indo-European

More on IE wheels and horses

Inheritance versus lexical borrowing: a case with decisive sound-change evidence

The linguistic history of horses, gods, and wheeled vehicles

Some Wanderwörter in Indo-European languages

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Grant, you said that you would post some links for further study. How do I find them?

San Diego, California
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Right you are. I’ve edited the original post to include them. Thanks!

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Several employers of mine have asked all employees to fill out a skills inventory of some sort. Almost all include language ability in some form, and provide a pick list of languages. I have no clue where these pick lists come from, but they are very odd. Some include (not that I am looking at my current employer’s list, or anything like that — oh, no!): Aramaic, Latin, Indo-European, BOTH Mandarin AND Cantonese ALONG WITH Chinese, Filipino AND Tagalog, Kiswahili AND Swahili, Gaelic, Slavic. And there are countless omissions: Czech, but no Slovak.

I confess that when I see a generic language family, or an ancient language, or multiple terms for the same language that I have studied, I have at times signed up for all of them! Honestly, is anyone going to ask me to take a phone call in Latin? Or to translate a press release into Slavic?

Still, now I will think twice about signing up as a fluent Indo-European speaker.

Ron Draney
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I managed to get a waiver on my college’s foreign-language requirement by showing them a transcript with two years of Fortran.

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