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The LRC strives to provide a wide array of free resources related to the study of language and culture for use by readers of all backgrounds. The following guide provides some hints at how one might wish to navigate these resources, depending on interest and time.

  • Just Browsing
    • Where does that word come from?
    • Who spoke that language, and where?
  • In-Depth Study
    • Trace a word’s history through the entire language family
    • Start learning a language
    • Read original texts
    • Read books on the historical study of languages

Just Browsing

Perhaps you have limited time or you just have a small question that’s been lingering at the back of your mind. You might try browsing our site along the following lines.

Where does that word come from?

Perhaps you’re curious as to the origin of a particular word. If you know the language the word is from (which could simply be English), then try this page. The page lists the languages of the Indo-European family, grouped according to subfamilies, such as Germanic, Slavic, Celtic, etc. Follow these steps:

  • Scroll down until you find the language that interests you.
  • If its name is highlighted, click on the link.
    • For example you might be searching for a word in English.
  • Scroll down to the Reflex Index (a table of words and their origins) and start typing the word of interest in the table’s Search box.
  • If your word appears in the left-hand column, then you can use the Lexicon to find its etymological origin and a list of related words by clicking on the corresponding link in the right-hand column.
    • You might try clicking on the etymological source of evening, which will lead you here.

You can use the Indo-European Lexicon (IELEX) in this way to find how words in, say, English are related to words in other Indo-European languages.

Who spoke that language, and where?

You may have recently come across a comment that mentioned an ancient language you didn’t even know existed. You might wonder:

  • What is that language?
  • Who spoke it?
  • Where did its speakers live?

The LRC provides the Early Indo-European OnLine (EIEOL) collection of lesson series for users to learn about the oldest (and even some of the younger) members of the Indo-European language family.

For each language, the lesson series begins with a general introduction that provides a broad overview of the language, its speakers, its surviving documents, and its importance for the history of languages and cultures. From the EIEOL Main Page, a click on the link to any language series in the left-hand column will take you to the series introduction for that language.

For example you might not have known that Gothic, in addition to being a popular architectural, literary, and musical style, was also the language of a Germanic tribe which split during subsequent migrations into the famous Visigoths and Ostrogoths. The Gothic Online Series Introduction provides background on the history and importance of this language and its speakers.

In-Depth Study

If you have a little more time, you might wish to pursue a more in-depth investigation into the relatedness of words or the intricacies of an ancient language. In this case one of the following suggestions on how to find information among the LRC’s online resources may suit your purposes.

Trace a word’s history through the entire language family

The Indo-European Lexicon (IELEX) provides a robust resource for tracing the relatedness of words across the Indo-European family of languages.

You might wish, for example, to find out what Indo-European words are related to the English word earth. Is it related to any words in other Germanic languages? In Slavic languages? To embark on such an investigation, you might follow the steps below.

  • Since earth is an English word, start by going to the IELEX’s Language Index and scroll down to where it lists English (under Modern).
  • Click on the link, which will take you to the English Reflex Index.
  • In the table’s Search bar, type the word earth.
  • In the row corresponding to earth click the link in the Etyma column to the etymological root er-.
  • This will take you directly to the English reflexes of the etymological root er-. But if you scroll up and down the page, you will see other words derived from that same etymological source that have left records in other Indo-European languages.
  • Search for the languages that interest you.

For example, the page for the etymological root er- lists a number of words from Germanic languages, such as Erde in German and jǫrð in Old Norse. These words are both etymologically related to English earth. But the page lists no Slavic languages, suggesting that currently no words in well-studied Slavic languages like Russian, Czech, Bulgarian, and others, have been clearly linked to the same etymological origin as English earth.

But that quick investigation might spark other ideas:

perhaps other English words that have a meaning similar to earth could have etymological cousins in Slavic languages.

The IELEX in fact allows you to search etymologies based on groups of related meanings. Try the following procedure:

  • Navigate to the IELEX’s Semantic Index by clicking on the link in the left-hand navigation bar.
  • Since we are looking for words with meanings similar to earth, we might try clicking on the category Physical World. This takes us to a page with groups of meanings related to the physical world and environment.
  • We may click on the more specific meaning Earth, Land.
  • The resulting page lists four etymological roots, the first of which is er- from before. We know from above that that has no daughter terms in the Slavic languages. So we might click on another, such as g̑hðem-. This takes us to that root’s listing in the Master Index.
  • Click on the link labeled IE in the row corresponding to g̑hðem-. This takes you to the page corresponding to that etymological root.
  • On the g̑hðem- page scroll down to the section labeled Slavic.

There you will see that Old Church Slavonic (the oldest documented Slavic language) contains a word zemlja meaning ‘earth’ that derives from this root. So does the related word zemlya in modern Russian. If we then scroll back up to English, we see that the modern words bridegroom and human both have the same root g̑hðem- as their etymological origin: that is, although we found that English earth does not appear to be related clearly to any documented Slavic words, we found that some Slavic words meaning ‘earth’ are related to other English words.

Start learning a language

You may have an interest in a well-known ancient language, like Latin, Greek, or Sanskrit. You may have curiosity about what it would take to learn a more esoteric ancient language, like Classical Armenian, Hittite, or Tocharian. The LRC has created a collection of resources with just this idea in mind: Early Indo-European OnLine (EIEOL).

The EIEOL collection comprises lesson series on a number of ancient Indo-European languages. The collection includes at least one language, and sometimes more, from each major subfamily of the Indo-European languages: e.g. from the Germanic, Slavic, Indic, Iranian, Celtic, and other branches of the family tree. Each lesson in each series has three basic parts:

  • an introduction, giving some background on the history of the language and its speakers;
  • a glossed text comprising an excerpt from an original ancient text, with all words translated and explained grammatically; and
  • a grammar explanation, providing an introduction to the structures of the language.

These lesson series are meant for anyone, from language novice to linguistic researcher. They are intended as self-study materials where you can immerse yourself in an original text. But they come with detailed support both for understanding on a range of levels – from the basic gist down to the function of specific words – and for building up an understanding of the language that can be used to approach other texts. To get started, try the following procedure:

  • Read a lesson start to finish, clicking on words in the ancient text that you don’t understand.
  • After you have read the grammar explanation at the end, go back and read the glossed text again. Focus on understanding in context the grammar elements you have learned.
  • Move on to the next lesson and repeat the procedure.
  • Periodically review earlier lessons: you will understand more of the previous texts with the knowledge you gain in subsequent lessons.

Click on this link to get started. On the left you will find a list of language lesson series. Click on one of those languages to start learning.

Read original texts

Perhaps you already know an ancient language. Then you might want to peruse more reading material in the language of your choice. The Early Indo-European Texts resource provides a collection of texts in a wide range of early Indo-European languages. Many of these texts have been gathered from our EIEOL, so you might be interested in seeing the text in the context of a lesson series that analyzes each text word by word.

But several of our ancient texts do not appear in their entirety in the EIEOL collection. Foremost among these is the Metrically Restored Rig Veda. This comprises the complete text of the Rig Veda, the oldest extant text from the Indic religious tradition. The LRC’s edition provides the text restored to what linguists believe to be its original form at the time of composition, likely over 3,000 years ago.

Read books on the historical study of languages

You might have an interest in finding out how linguists study the evolution and relatedness of languages. This is a vast and fascinating topic, know as historical linguistics. The LRC’s Online Books project has created web-formatted versions of several seminal books in the field.

For those just beginning their study, A Reader in Nineteenth Century Historical Indo-European Linguistics is a great resource to start with. Whether your interests lie in the Indo-European languages themselves, or languages in other families around the world, the fact is that the discipline started with the study of Indo-European languages and so many of the theoretical constructs and practical techniques of investigation were first devised in that context. That is in fact the major reason why the LRC has focused so far on Indo-European in the EIEOL collection. The Reader collects numerous excerpts from seminal works in the history and development of the discipline of historical linguistics.

Armed with a basic understanding of the ideas behind the historical study of languages, Directions for Historical Linguistics: a symposium provides a collection of ground-breaking lectures that expand on issues facing historical linguistics in the latter half of the 20th century, many with far-reaching implications for current research in the field. In fact this work’s central importance led to its reissue in 2017.

The remaining books generally treat more specific details of the historical reconstruction of languages, and provide a solid foundation for more advanced study.