Monday, 27 August 2007

Baltic Base

More ramblings on linguistics. I've become fascinated by the idea of proto-Indo-European, the tongue of a group of people who lived many thousands of years ago in Anatolia, India or the Ukraine (depending on who you read) and who eventually spread all across Europe and South Asia to make their language the ancestor to all the Indo-European ones we know today - Sanksrit, English, French, Latvian, Hindi, Sinhalese, Farsi, Albanian, Armenian, and all the rest.

What's most interesting is that linguists believe they can reconstruct this language through the techniques of comparative and Diachronic linguistics. By comparing words in various Indo-European languages and measuring how those words have changed through history, they can approximate what those words sounded like in proto-Indo-European. Examples include ekwos, horse; wodr, water; kwon, dog. The numerals 1-10 are thought to have been hoi-no, dwo, tri, k'etwor, penk'e, sweks, septm, okto, hinewn, and dekmt.

Surprisingly, the languages which are reckoned to be closest in character to proto-Indo-European today are Lithuanian and Latvian. That close pair, together with the now extinct Old Prussian, are extremely conservative languages - that is, they change little over time. It is thought that these modern day Balts are descendants of a group of people who left the Ukraine thousands of years ago and made their way to the Baltic Sea; they spoke a 'daughter language' of proto-Indo-European that has changed little since, diversifying slightly into the modern dialects we call Lithuanian and Latvian.

This makes me want to learn Lithuanian or Latvian. I've sometimes toyed with the idea of learning Gaelic, my ancestral language, but now I think hey, why stop there? Why not just go closer to the source? First I have to find a textbook on Lithuanian or Latvian and then I can get started...the question is: which should it be?

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