Animal’s Daily Linguistics News

I found this interesting.  There’s a word used in the English language and in many other Indo-European languages that has not changed in definition for eight thousand years, and it gives some interesting insights as to the origins of all Indo-European languages and the people that speak them.  That word?  Lox.  Excerpt:

The word lox was one of the clues that eventually led linguists to discover who the Proto-Indo-Europeans were, and where they lived. The fact that those distantly related Indo-European languages had almost the same pronunciation of a single word meant that the word—and the concept behind it—had most likely existed in the Proto-Indo-European language. “If they had a word for it, they must have lived in a place where there was salmon,” explains Guy. “Salmon is a fish that lives in the ocean, reproduces in fresh water and swims up to rivers to lay eggs and mate. There are only a few places on the planet where that happens.”

In reconstructed Indo-European, there were words for bear, honey, oak tree, and snow, and, which is also important, no words for palm tree, elephant, lion, or zebra. Based on evidence like that, linguists reconstructed what their homeland was. The only possible geographic location turned out to be in a narrow band between Eastern Europe and the Black Sea where animals, trees, and insects matched the ancient Indo-European words.

In the 1950s, archaeological discoveries backed up this theory with remnants of an ancient culture that existed in that region from 6,000 to 8,000 years ago. Those people used to build kurgans, burial mountains, that archaeologists excavated to study cultural remains. In that process, scholars not only learned more about the Proto-Indo-Europeans but also why they were able to migrate across Europe and Asia.

Image from article.

In turned out that, in the past, the grassy plains of steppe that run from Western China to the Black Sea had large herds of wild horses. Early humans hunted them for food, but the Proto-Indo-Europeans were probably the first people who domesticated the ancestors of modern-day domestic horses. That brought them an enormous advantage, allowing them to move a lot faster than any other human group. Then, they adopted—or, less likely, invented—wheeled vehicles and attached these to horses. “That’s probably the moment when they suddenly managed to expand into the Middle East, into India, and across Europe,” says Guy. “Within the next thousands of years, they expanded like no other human group that we know about in history. Because [now] they had mobility, which nobody else had.”

It’s fun stuff.  There is still so much to learn about these Neolithic times, when a big part of what became modern human society developed.  Institutions like the nuclear family, the first villages, the first agriculture, all arose in the Neolithic, and these Proto-Indo-European people – probably not particularly connected to any one ethnic groups existing today, but rather connected linguistically – played a significant role in all that.

Incidentally, there are folks out there attempting to analyze and reconstruct that root language, Proto-Indo-European.  See an example here.  Cool stuff.