You Probably Have a Distant Ancestor Who Spoke This Language

Hear that? That’s the sound of Proto-Indo-European, courtesy of Archaeology Magazine.

The prehistoric language is believed to have been used on Eurasia many moons ago, and to have spawned a whole bunch of other languages including English. It is estimated to be almost 6,000 years old (with a pretty hefty give-or-take), and there’s no written record of it.

That means that no: There’s no way of knowing if this is exactly what those pesky Eurasians sounded like. But researchers have spent quite a bit of time trying to get a sense for Proto-Indo-European by tracing back through the hundreds of languages that are thought to be its descendants, and have been doing so since the 1800s.

The voice in the recording belongs to University of Kentucky linguist Andrew Byrd. He’s reciting “The Sheep and the Horses,” a fable created by researchers to test out the language. Read along in English:

A sheep that had no wool saw horses, one of them pulling a heavy wagon, one carrying a big load, and one carrying a man quickly. The sheep said to the horses: “My heart pains me, seeing a man driving horses.” The horses said: “Listen, sheep, our hearts pain us when we see this: a man, the master, makes the wool of the sheep into a warm garment for himself. And the sheep has no wool.” Having heard this, the sheep fled into the plain.

“Listen, sheep!” Oh, those horses.

Archaeology Magazine: Telling Tales in Indo-Proto-European

photo credit: Josef Grunig, Creative Commons/flickr