Monday, September 1, 2014

Several of the factors that define a culture as Indo-European and how those defining factors are useful in understanding that culture

               When we speak of Indo-Europeans much of what we know is based on logical assumptions that scholars have derived primarily from linguistic studies and from similarities within the cultures of those we consider to be examples of Indo-European cultures.

                When looking at languages and linguistics to define a culture as Indo-European, we look for words that have similar etymologies or cognates. In what is termed “daughter languages” they may seem different on the surface but when examined more closely they are fundamentally related. One of the primary examples Mark Damen from Utah State University uses is the term “three”. In his example he says:

"Threes," again, demonstrate the point well. Besides Latin (tres), Greek (treis) and Sanskrit (trayas), there are Spanish (tres), Danish, Italian and Swedish (tre), French (trois), German (drei), Dutch (drie), Russian (tri), English (three) and several other permutations all based on Indo-European *trejes. That these words are cognate is self-evident, especially when they're compared to "three" in non-Indo-European languages, such as Turkish (uc), Hebrew (shelosh), Malay (tiga) and Chinese (san).” (Damen, 2013)

He goes on further to talk about how the works for mother and father show a similar root. Damen also talks about how, through the use of Grimm’s Law, we can see that even though many of the words appear to be different on the surface that through the evolution of consonant shifting, fundamentally they are the same. Through research and study Jacob Grimm found “a pattern in the evolution of Common Germanic as it was developing out of Proto-Indo-European…” (Damen, 2013) Damen goes on to state that “even if a Germanic word and one from a different branch of Indo-European didn't look alike on the surface, in many cases they could be shown to be cognate with each other if one assumed that certain consonants had followed a predictable course of change.” (Damen, 2013) The example that Damen gives refers back to the word we have today for “father”:

“English contains many derivatives from Latin and Greek, we find within our own language words which do not look much alike but have similar meanings and are, in fact, cognate. For instance, the Indo-European root *pater which gives us words like paternal and paternity changed into father in English because the inherited p became f and t became th.” (Damen, 2013)

                Much like Dumezil’s theory of tripartition, Damen talks about how Indo-European cultures seemed to have an affinity for divisions of three. The example Damen gives is one that seems to come directly from Dumezil’s theory of the societies being divided into three basic classes. There were the priests/teachers, the warriors/rulers, and the supporting populous which consisted of farmers, artisans, traders, etc. This social division can be clearly seen in ancient Norse, Celtic, and Vedic cultures. He goes on to give examples of how the fundamental foundation of the cosmos or worlds was divided as well: “…three fundamental elements constituted their universe: sky, sea, and earth.” This can be seen in many of the mythologies within the IE sphere. Take for instance how the worlds were divided within Hellenic culture and ruled by a corresponding god: the sky ruled by Zeus, the Sea ruled by Poseidon, and the earth or underworld ruled by Hades. In Norse mythology you can see the triptych in the creation myth of Midgard:

From Ymir’s flesh the earth was shaped and from his blood the sea,... from his skull the sky...” However there is an interesting fact about the placement of Midgard within Norse mythology that could be most interesting. Encyclopedia Britannica states that Midgard lays between “... Miflheim on the north, the land of ice, and Muspelheim to the south, the region of fire.” (Mortensen, 1913)

There are also references within Celtic mythology. A very specific examples comes when King Conchobar swears by the powers of land, sea, and sky in the Táin Bó Cuailnge:

“(I swear by) the sea before them, the sky above them, the earth beneath them that I shall restore every cow to its byre and every woman and every boy to their own homes after victory in battle.” (Taris, 2010)


Works Cited

Damen, M. (2013, December 2). Section 7 The Indo-Europeans and Historical Linguistics. Retrieved 6 27, 2014, from Utah State University:
Mortensen, K. (1913). A Handbook of Norse Mythology. Neeland Media LLC.
Taris. (2010, 6 30). Sources of the Three Realms. Retrieved 7 1, 2014, from Tarisi Organization:

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