Episode 8: Indo-European Grammar (Where have all the inflexions gone?)

The grammar of the original Indo-European language is compared to Modern English. We explore the word endings called ‘inflexions’ which were a prominent feature of the original Indo-European language.

24 thoughts on “Episode 8: Indo-European Grammar (Where have all the inflexions gone?)

  1. I am fascinated by this podcast.
    I understand how the nouns of this language was reconstructed, but I was wondering how was the grammar rebuild? How did we figure out the 8 cases of the noun?

    • I am not a professional linguist or philologer, but my understanding is that it was essentially the same process by which much of the Indo-European vocabulary was reconstructed. Most Indo-European languages still use inflectional endings, but they vary from one language to the next. So linguists did a comparative analysis and focused on the earliest attested Indo-European languages to look at the endings used in those earlier attested languages. From there, they were able to reconstructed the various endings.

  2. Hello!
    I discovered this podcast only yesterday and already reached this point of your very addictive narration. As a German, who is very interested in languages in general and particularly in the origin of languages, I really appreciate the way you tell all these fascinating details. When I started learning English as a child, I was surprised about the similarities, especially when it comes to dialects or older forms of German and English. Modern English “two” doesn’t sound like modern German “zwei”, but on telephone, we also say “zwo”, to make a difference to “drei” (= 3). Then I had some Swedish-lessons and many moments of enlightenment. (2= två, like a mixture of G and E) There are “false friends” like Gift (G) and gift (E) meaning present and poison, Never confuse those two! But what does it reveal about Sweden, where “gift” means married? I can’t wait to listen to all of the following episodes! And: Sorry to those guys, who try to study german grammar. Keep on trying…. 😉

      • Kevin,

        I am asking so many people know to listen to this. I am so excited to be learning this, I have a French friend who would love this,. Although his English is very good, do you think this may be translated to French?

        I am telling everyone on twitter to listen!

        Kmowledge makes me so happy. Thank you. This is obviously a work of love!

        • Thanks! I’m glad you’re enjoying the podcast. If someone wants to translate this into French, they have my permission and encouragement to do so. Unfortunately, my French is very poor, so I won’t be providing a translation any time soon. 😉

  3. Like Vroni, I just found this podcast and listened this far in a day. Of course I’m interested! You give many fine examples. And, your version of American English has differences from mine that make the point of language variation.

  4. About the Mark Twain quote “The Germans have [a] way of cutting up their verbs. They take part of a verb and put it down here … and they take the other part of it and put it away over yonder … and between … they just shovel in German.”

    I believe this is not a reference to inflection but to the separable verb. English has phrasal verbs that are analogous. “Check in”, “check up”, and “check out” all have quite different meanings. Mark Twain is referring to the fact that the verb parts can be separated, much as English does in “I checked it out already”, rather than “I checkouted it already”.

    Francophone computer programmers I work with with use French conjugation on this borrowed English word in the context of checking a file into a repository. “Je l’ai checkiné” (I it have checkined”).

  5. For more understanding of the reasons for English conjugations of “to be”, it is useful to look at the conjugations of verbs translated “to be” in the Romance languages. In Spanish, there is estar and ser: estar has regular conjugation, while ser is the most irregular Spanish verb I know of. My Spanish teacher had some theories (besides ease of speaking, which is the reason behind most of the irregularities in Spanish spelling) relating to the shades of meaning of “to be”.

  6. The earlier comment about the Mark Twain quote is correct; the quote is all about what are called separable verbs, not inflexion at all.

    Another minor glitch: the French for “of the” (masc. sing.) is “du”, not “de le”.

  7. Really appreciate this discussion. I took Turkish, which has all kinds of inflections, and the professor, while great, did not discuss this in any way that made sense to me. You made it make sense immediately.

  8. Only eight episodes in and you’ve cleared up questions I’ve wondered about for years. Nicely done.

    I think you understated the complexity of the PIE declensions. You said that, because PIE has eight cases, there are eight forms for any noun.

    In fact, aren’t there closer to 24? Eight singular, eight dual, eight plural? In Latin, each case has a singular and a plural form. Likewise in Greek, plus a dual for some cases. I’ve got to believe PIE had unique forms for all eight cases in singular, dual, and plural.

  9. Hello Kevin,

    Great podcast; I discovered a week ago.

    Question – Do the Dative and the Locative have the same pronunciation in your final discussion about equine?



  10. I’ve never really listened to podcasts, I generally can’t focus too long on auditory input, but I’m finding this endlessly fascinating.

    Bit of an amateur etymologist, myself, I love trying to figure out word definitions based on likely origins, and relationships between words. I’m afraid your podcast will make me even more insufferable. 😉

    Definitely could’ve used this episode when I was taking Latin…

    • “Inflexive” is an acceptable term to describe words characterized by variation, or change in form, to mark case, tense, etc., though you are quite right that “inflected” is more commonly used.

  11. Forgive me if you address this in a future episode but what about other nouns that change when used from single to plural? You mention house and houses. What about goose and geese, and other such changes?

    Really loving this podcast. I took some linguistic anthropology courses in college way back when, and this is rekindling my interest in it all over again.

    • Hi Jeanie. I discussed the vowel changes in those other plural forms in ‘Episode 34: Sounds Like Old English.’ Check out that episode for more details.

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