Linguistic Anthropology

One of the most fascinating things I find about etymology is the way that words in the Indo-European languages can tell us information about the kind of religion, culture and civilisation that the Proto-Indo-European people had in the Bronze Age of about 4000 BC… 6000 years ago!!!…

Linguists to ascertain whether a certain group of bronze-age people were sea faring, or were farmers, or were livestock herders. If words have cognates in all of the IE languages, then it is likely that the early Indo-Europeans knew about that particular concept. (On the other hand, if words were invented, or borrowed from neighbouring linguistic groups, that concept is likely to have been discovered/invented at a later date). From the linguistic evidence, we can make a series of 6 suppositions about these people…


1. Society . The Indo-Europeans were a semi-nomadic, patrilineal society of the Bronze Age. The people were organized in settlements (*weiks; English wick “village”). Each *weiks probably had its own king (*rek’s)… Skanskrit. “Raj”, Latin “regere” (to rule),”rex “, rectus (right, correct) Gaelic “righ”, Gaul. –rix (in personal names, e.g. Vircingetorix), German “Reich” (kingdom / empire), Old English “rice” (kingdom), “riht” (correct / right).


2. Identity . The native name with which these people referred to themselves may have been *aryo , meaning “noble people”.

Sanskrit-speaking invaders of India called themselves the “Aryas” meaning “belonging to the hospitable“. Old Persian “Ariya-“ Iranian “eran” and Avestan “airyan-” all meant “noble, honorable, respectable”. The modern name for Persia “Iran” is also from this root.

The word “Aryan” has been tainted and distorted somewhat by Nazi ideology; because of the misunderstanding that “race” corresponded to language. This for the Nazis it came to mean a “member of a Caucasian Gentile race of Nordic type“. This distorted meaning caused linguists to replace it with the term “Indo-European”.


3. Religion . A third assumption is that they worshiped a God named *Dei-wo- Pater (Sky Father)

The principle deities for the early Indo-Europeans were the *deiw-os which meant “daylight”, “sky”, “deity”, “sun-god”, “sky-god”, “thunder-god”.

For the Greeks, this became “dios” which was paletised to “Zeus” to become the name of the chief deity also called “Zeus pater“, “the father of the daylight”.

The Latinate people also had this deity, which they called a “deus” and after having borrowed from the developed mythology of the Greeks, they began to call their chief deity “diu-pater” meaning “god-father” or “god the father“. This evolved in various dialects of Latin to “Jupiter” and “Iupeter“. From Latin “deus”, French developed the word “dieu” meaning “god”.

Also from this word, developed the Latin word for “day”, “dies” from which we derive the word “diary” in English, and the Greek word “daimon” from which English derives the word “demon”.

In Italian, the god “Jupiter” is now called “Giove“, and Jehovah is called “Geova” modelled after the English pronunciation. This often leads to much confusion and consternation if a foreign JW who is learning Italian, has a slip of the tongue and starts referring to “il dio vero, Giove” (the true God, Jupiter) instead of “il dio vero Geova” (the true God, Jehovah).

Closer to home, the Anglo-Saxon name for the god of the sky (later the god of war and thunder) was “Tiwes” also derived from this same PIE root *deiw-os. We therefore have “Tues-day“, the day of the sky-god Tiwes. (Strangely it could also mean “the day of the day” as *deiw-os could have meant “day” as well as “sun-god).

Also from this same word we have Lithuanian “dievas“, “a god”, Latvian “dievs“, “a god”; and Russian “divny“, now meaning “wonderful” (but originally meaning “godly”).

An even more interesting journey of this word is its journey to Sanskrit (the precursor to modern Indian languages). The speakers of Sanskrit had a plethora of Gods named “devah“, and their principal deity was called “Dyauspita” meaning “heavenly father” (See how similar it is to Latin “Diu-pater“, “Dius-pater“, “Jupiter”).

And to top it off with the icing on the cake, in vulgar Latin, “divus” meant “divine one”. The feminine form “diva” was passed onto Italian and came to mean “goddess”, or “fine lady”. This was then passed onto English where it came to its present meaning of “a distinguished female singer“.

Horse and cow

4. Domesticated / non-domesticated animals . A fourth supposition is that they probably were the first bronze-age people to domesticate the horse. They bred cattle and relied heavily on animal husbandry. They lived in a region inhabited also by wolves.

The wolf or *wlup-os (or *wluk-os) inhabited their habitat…

k-variety : Sanskrit “vrkas”, Greek “lykos”, Albanian “ulk”, Russian “volcica”, Lithuanian “vilkas”…

p-variety : Latin “lupus”, French “loup”, German “ Wolf ” Old English “wuluf” / “wulf”… (remeber the “p” to “f” thing?… “pater” to “father“… “pod” to “foot“… “wul-p” to “wul-f“)

From the PIE root *ekw-os (horse) comes Latin “equus”, Sanskrit “asvah”, Greek “hippos”, and Old Irish “ech”. Old English cognate “eoh” was replaced by the Proto-Germanic *khursa– meaning, “to run” (course). This became Old English “hursa”, then “horsa” and modern “horse”…

The original IE word *ekwos was also replaced in most of the other IE languages (Vulgar Latin “caballus” Welsh “ceffyl”, French “cheval”, German “Pferd” Slovak “kona”). I’ll have to do some more research as to what those
replacements mean on a historico-linguistic level.

Cattle or *gwo-us were the most important animals to them, and the number of cows a man owned would be the measure of his wealth. The word “cow” in Old English was “cu“, in German it is “Kuh“… in Sanskrit it was “gaus” , and originally, in PIE, it is theorised to be *gwous. (Sheep and goats were also kept, presumably by the less wealthy.)

What is more striking is that likely candidates for cognates have been found in many other non-PIE languages, notably Sumerian ” gu ” and Chinese ” ngu ” or ” ngo “. Perhaps it was an onomatopoeic word imitative of the sound that the animal makes… “moo”.. “ngu”… ???


5. Climate. They lived in a snowy climate, and they were familiar with large lakes, but not with oceans.

Indo-European *sniegwh-/*snoigwho produced Old English “snaw“, Old High German “sneo”, Old Frisian “sne” Middle Dutch “snee”, Modern Dutch “sneeuw”, German “Schnee”.

Also, Greek “nipha”, L. nix (genetive case “nivis”), French “neige”, Old Irish “snechta”, Welsh “nyf”, Lithuanian “sniegas” Russian “snieg’” and Slovak ”sneh”.

Many cognates of PIE *lak, meaning “lake” exist in IE languages, Irish “loch”, French “lac”, Greek “lakkos”, and Latin “lacus”… but have no common word for “ocean”.


6. Technology. A last assumption, is that they invented the wheel during the Bronze age (just before the time when the first split in the Indo-European languages occurred).

I’ve always found it absolutely fascinating and amazing how you can see the resemplace of the PIE word *kwe-kwlo spoken 5500 years ago, to the Greek “ky-klo” / “cyclo” and to the Old English “hweo-gol” / “hweol” and eventually modern “wheel“.

To think that bronze age humans invented this strange object, this… “wheel“, and the word that they invented for it, “kwe-kwe which just probably simply meant, literally “spin-spin“, is still used by Western civilisation, 5500 years later in a variety of ways. This is the joy of historico-linguistics that really fires your imagination.

From all this linguistic information, linguists and historians were able to construct a hypothesis of what the society, identity, religion, climate, and technology of the Indo-European people were like. (In addition, to know that these people lived at or even before the time when Adam and Eve are said to be created in Genesis... and waaaay before Great Flood, and the supposed confusion of languages at Babel).

Their ancient society really comes to life in your mind, just by looking at a few common words… How amazing is that?!?!

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