Throughout Andrew Byrd’s successful career in academia, he has pushed to understand ancient languages to a depth no one has before. His goal was to understand how languages spoken thousands of years ago actually sounded.
That scholarly obsession has led Byrd, an assistant professor of linguistics at the University of Kentucky, to places and experiences he never imagined. He just completed creating ancient languages for National Geographic Channel’s new series “Origins: The Journey of Humankind.”
The global notoriety began in 2013 when Byrd’s work caught the attention of the Archaeological Institute of America’s Archaeology magazine. The magazine published an online piece that included recordings of Byrd reading two fables he had constructed in the prehistoric language known as Proto-Indo-European (PIE). It wasn’t long before he was featured in several major news outlets, including the BBC, The Huffington Post, io9.com, Le Figaro, USA Today, Smithsonian magazine and more. To listen to Byrd explain and speak PIE, visit www.as.uky.edu/fables-reconstruction-andrew-byrd.
Byrd had always been enthralled by PIE, the language spoken before any of the Indo-European languages, such as Latin, Greek, Sanskrit and Old English and the prehistoric ancestor of hundreds of languages spoken today, including English, Spanish, Greek, Farsi, Armenian and more.
Linguists were familiar with PIE, but Byrd was one of the few determined to figure out how it might have sounded to the human ear.
To reconstruct the 7,000-year-old PIE, he first collected Indo-European translations of the same word. For example, he gathered the word “king” from those I-E languages and then looked for the common threads. He began noticing similarities to all the words meaning “king” or “ruler.”
“When you bring these words together, you’ll see that all of the words meaning king or ruler begin with something like an ‘r’ sound followed by a long vowel. Through examining trends in each language, you can tell which parts of the word have changed over time, and working backward from that you can peer into the past and get an idea of what PIE might have sounded like.”
Visit www.as.uky.edu/fables-reconstruction-andrew-byrd to learn how Byrd constructed PIE. The site includes a BBC interview and recordings of the two fables Byrd re-created, www.as.uky.edu/sites/default/files/PIE%20-%20King%20and%20God.mp3 and www.as.uky.edu/sites/default/files/PIE%20-%20Sheep%20and%20Horses.mp3.
Not only has this fascination led to an illustrious career in academia, the commercial world has found an expert that can fulfill its creative fantasies in a realistic way.