Anyone who has studied foreign languages and russian to english knows that there may be striking similarities between them. For example, Spanish and Italian are very similar to each other on paper, and if you know one of them, you will intuitively grasp the meaning of a sentence written in the second. There is nothing surprising in the fact that links can be found between the languages of two countries that have close geographical position to each other.
But did you know that Spanish and Italian are also related to some of the languages spoken in India?
Oddly enough, this is so. Despite the fact that we are used to thinking of European culture as having absolutely nothing to do with Indian culture, in fact there is a close connection between them.
Sanskrit, the language spoken in ancient India, belongs to the Indo-European language family. As its name suggests, it includes Sanskrit and its derived languages, along with most languages in Europe, Southwest and Central Asia. In total, the Indo-European language family includes approximately three billion people speaking several hundred different languages. Each of these languages descended from a common, long-extinct ancestor called the Proto-Indo-European language.
How can you prove that such a diverse group of languages and cultures have common roots? The first written evidence of this dates back to 1585, when the Italian Filippo Sassetti sent a letter to his homeland, in which he pointed out some similarities between Sanskrit and Italian.
The first public scholarly statement about the common source of European languages and Sanskrit came in 1796 in Sir William Jones’s address to the people of Asia:
Sanskrit, however ancient it may be, has an amazing structure: it is more perfect than Greek, richer than Latin, and more sophisticated and refined than either of these two languages, and yet it bears a strong resemblance to them as in the formation of verbs, and in grammatical forms, which cannot be a simple accident; and this similarity is really so strong that no philologist could study all three languages without attributing their origin to one common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, 2000
Over time, linguists have discovered many words with common roots in various Indo-European languages. For example, numbers are similar in most Indo-European languages:
English language: one, two, three (one, two, three).
Latin: unus, duo, tres.
Hindi: ek, do, tin.
Do you see the similarities?
Words related to the concept of “family” are also similar in most Indo-European languages. For example:
English: father, mother, sister, brother (father, mother, sister, brother).
French: père, mère, sœur, frère.
Sanskrit: pitar, matar, svasar, bhratar.
While it is impossible to establish with certainty what the Proto-Indo-European language sounded like, scholars have been able to compile part of the vocabulary of a long-dead language.
How is this possible if people who spoke this language have not been on earth for thousands of years? Linguists have reconstructed many words of the Proto-Indo-European language by studying the similarities between the same words in different languages. In the example above, the root Indo-European words are: pater, mater, swesor, and bhrater.
Even more striking is the fact that language learning can be closely associated with archaeological and cultural evidence, which gives us an amazing amount of information about Indo-European people.
For example, we know that people who spoke the Proto-Indo-European language lived during the Bronze Age, before the Iron Age, since there is a common Indo-European word for bronze, but not for iron.
While reconstructing the language, scholars also learned that Indo-Europeans bred domestic animals such as cows and horses and lived in a patriarchal society. No one knows for sure which country they lived in, but it is obvious that it was rather cold and snowing there, since there are common roots of the words for “snow” in all Indo-European languages.
Isn’t it interesting what the language can tell us about the culture of the people?