Mother Tongues

a journey through language


Learning to Sign

This week in lil ol’ New Zealand, it’s New Zealand Sign Language Week. We’re celebrating ten years of NZSL being an official language of New Zealand (along with Māori and English).

So I set out to learn about NZSL. Exploring this unique window into Kiwi Deaf culture has been eye-opening and a tonne of fun. Here’s a few things I discovered 🙌

A hidden history

New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) has a history of secrecy and stealth – because the people who used it were oppressed.

But let’s start at the beginning: people reckon British Sign Language came to New Zealand sometime during the 1800s. In 1880, a school for the Deaf was set up in Christchurch and it’s probably here that a uniquely Kiwi version of sign language began to develop.

Until 1979, Deaf children were not allowed to sign at school. All instruction was oral, and the Deaf community were told that signing in public wasn’t proper. Children who signed were punished. But still, they signed in secret, keeping NZSL alive.


NZSL is a “ninja” language – it had to be kept secret to stay alive. (You can even be a Sign Ninja today.) Butterflies are recognised as a powerful visual metaphor for Deafness because although they can’t hear, they are independent.

In the 1980s, the sign ban was lifted. But instead of their own sign language, Deaf students were taught to use the artificial Australasian Sign Language, a form of signed English. Many of these signs found their way into the vocab of NZ sign language users.

Around this time, research into New Zealand’s own unique sign language was set in motion. Dictionaries were compiled and research found that the sign language of Kiwis had grammar and vocabulary distinct from English. NZSL finally got the recognition it deserved: it is a legit language in its own right. From here, Deaf culture has flourished in NZ.

In 1993, NZSL was adopted for use in Deaf Education. A comprehensive dictionary was put together in 1998, and in 2006 NZSL became an official language of New Zealand. Today, it’s used by some 20,000 people everyday.

Stories from NZSL

I got in touch with a couple of friends to learn their sign language stories. I was blown away by their responses, which I’ve included below in full so you too can be moved and enlightened! Here’s what Josje and Georgia had to say:

When did you learn NZSL and why?

Josje: I learnt NZSL growing up because my mum is Deaf so it was very apparent in our household. People often ask me, “Oh, when and how did you learn sign language,” and the answer is pretty simple really. I relate it back to how my friends learnt English. They just sort of grew up around it and absorbed it because that was the norm. Its the same with me for NZSL, it was spoken in my household growing up, just like English so I learnt it through my mother and being surrounded by it.

Georgia: I learned NZSL in my first year at Victoria University (second year of Uni). It’s kind of a long story but one of my great friends from high school has a Deaf mum, whenever I would visit I would get such a buzz off learning signs from her, starting small with signs like pizza, party and cool story bro. I never got that buzz from my studies in Otago, so I thought I’ll learn NZSL as part of my studies to keep me interested and motivated. Otago doesn’t teach it so I moved to Wellington, transferring my papers and enrolling in Deaf Studies where I learnt to sign and I’ve never looked back.

What’s the best thing about NZSL and/or the Deaf community?

Josje: The best thing about NZSL is the fact that it is a communication tool. It is a language which connects us. People from different backgrounds, hearing and deaf people can communicate and connect in an amazing way – visually! I love how it is a visual language, a lot based around facial expressions and movement of the body – its beautiful!

Also another really awesome thing about it is that its not a literal translation of English or any language for that matter. NZSL has its OWN grammar and syntax which makes it unique and wholesome.

Georgia: There are so many great things about both, in terms of the language the best thing is how versatile it is to use, in silent situations where you otherwise couldn’t talk, you can subtlety sign and you can have conversations in bars where you otherwise can’t hear a thing except base, you can talk through windows and from far away – I’ve been at a traffic light and had conversations with people from class from across the road which was pretty awesome.

The best thing about the Deaf community is how they encouraged and welcomed me, they are always glad more people are learning NZSL. Now I have Deaf friends who are great people that I would otherwise never know.

Do you have a fave sign?

Josje: Yes my favourite sign is ‘weird’ because the sign itself is weird – its like the sign language version of onomatopoeia

Georgia: My favourite sign is probably ‘weird’ because it is what it says and you can make the greatest facial expression to express weird too.

Weird is signed with your dominant hand with your index, middle and ring finger (W shape) and goes across your chest, bending the fingers as you move across.


Weird in NZSL

Do you think knowing sign language has allowed you to be more creative / think differently / see the world in unique ways?

Josje: Absolutely, I think knowing sign language has definitely opened up creative doors for me. I am much more visual because of it. I have learnt the art of reading peoples expressions and body language and I am able to appreciate the small unique things that make sign language beautiful. It’s hard to explain, I think you have to learn it to understand!

Georgia: Yes, yes and yes! I definitely think differently about many aspects of my life, from small things about how I get people’s attention and the importance of eye contact, and also holistically in how I view the education system and all minorities – everyone just wants to be understood.

Do you have a sign name or do you always spell it out?

Josje: Yes, I have a sign name which my mum gave me. It is sort of tradition that only a deaf person can give you a sign name, and it always reflects a part of your personality, looks and mannerisms.

Georgia: I do have a sign name, it’s ridiculous, it’s the sign for ‘cool’. My friends mum, I call her Mumma Josje, gave it to me when I was in high school – she probably thought I’d never actually be a part of the community but it has stuck.

Sign names are given by Deaf people only and are something that represents you, for me it was because ‘cool’ was the word I used for everything, and I always remembered that, always saying this is cool, that’s cool, you’re cool, cool story bro etc etc.

When I first meet someone I always spell my name and introduce my sign name, often Deaf people ask the story when you meet them too.

What is one thing you wish more people knew about NZSL?

Josje: I wish more people knew that NZSL is an official language of New Zealand along with Māori and English. I wish more people knew that sign language is not a universal language, it is unique to each country just like spoken languages. I wish more people viewed NZSL as something beautiful and connecting, rather than what someone uses because of a ‘disability’. I wish more people knew the basic fundamentals and I hope that more schools introduce NZSL as an elective subject!

Georgia: There’s a few things, I wish they knew it was a 100% visual language, seems obvious but many people still walk in front of the conversation or turn the lights down, but for Deaf people they need the light to talk.

I wish people didn’t expect Deaf people to be able to lip read because its actually one of the hardest things to ever learn and even the best people can only can lip read 80% of what you’re saying if you’re looking directly at them.

Finally, I wish people weren’t intimidated it – so many people have said to me, “A Deaf person came into work and I was just in shock I wish I knew what to say to them.” Just smile and nod and look at them in the eyes when you’re communicating with them, and if you need their attention, get in their view and wave at them. If you don’t know NZSL, Deaf people will visually be able to read your body language so just be bold with your gestures.

Any advice for people wanting to learn NZSL?

Josje: Do some research into classes and courses in your area. There are loads of platforms you can learn from. Online, universities and community colleges offer courses and classes or reach out to the deaf community for private lessons! Ask my mum, she travels the country teaching it! Haha 🙂

Georgia: Do it! Get yourself into a class and go regularly, download the NZSL app and learn a sign a day, and when you’ve been to a few classes, I know it’s intimidating but get emerged in the Deaf community, go to a Deaf club event. Even if you just introduce yourself a few times, they will be welcoming and you’ll learn something more.


It’s loads of fun

NZSL, or any sign language, is in no way “simpler” than a spoken language. Sign languages develop organically with their own vocabulary and grammar that’s every bit as complex and quirky as any spoken tongue. Just like spoken languages, there are also regional dialects of NZSL – slight differences between the North and South Islands.

The only difference is: it’s all visual. And it’s not just hand gestures either – sign languages will use facial expressions and body language/position to communicate too.

For example, in NZSL, when you’re asking a yes or no question, you tilt your body slightly forward, hold the last sign a little longer and raise your eyebrows.

Structure is different in NZSL too – instead of “what is your name?” we would ask “your name what?” And yep, there’s none of those little words like the and is.

NZSL has signs for Māori concepts – but remember there’s no “English” sign language or “Māori” sign language. Sign languages don’t match spoken ones – they’re fully-fledged lingos in their own right, visual structures that emerge from the experience of Deaf people.

I’ve jumped in to try and learn a few signs this week. AND I HAD SO MUCH FUN. Seriously guys, NZSL is wicked. Here’s some resources if you’d like to give NZSL a go:

A handy tip: use the hand you write with (your dominant hand) to do the work!

Here are my attempts (sorry if I haven’t got them right!) (yes they’re mainly of food hehe)

Hello, my name is E-L-L-E-N

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Huge thanks to Josje and Georgia for helping me with this post – you’re awesome 🙂

Josje is an amazing artist – you can check out her work at Ramatree on her website or on Facebook.


Do you know a sign language? Let me know your sign language experience in the comments!



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This is Your Brain on Language

We all know it’s important to exercise regularly for optimal physical health. Similarly, our brains need a good workout to stay in tip-top shape. But forget that Lumosity brain-training crap.

Learning a language is a much more effective way to beef up your brainpower.

Buckle in for a whirlwind overview: This is Your Brain on Language.

Cerebral challenges

First of all, what exactly does your brain get up to when you’re imbibing a new language? It all starts in the ear, which transforms sounds waves into neural impulses. These are basically your brain’s way of encoding information electrically, kinda like an brain-radio.


This info is conveyed to the first pitstop for processing sound: the auditory cortex. This region figures out when and where the sound originated from.

Next up is Wernicke’s area, which turns random sounds into meaningful words and phrases. You understand what is being said, nice work brain.

If you then wanna reply, Broca’s area of your brain starts formulating your response.

Finally, you need to physically move your lips and mouth to make sounds. This is where your motor cortex comes in – it controls voluntary movements. Now we’re talking!

It’s pretty mind-blowing to think that your brain does all this lightning-fast. Thank you, brain.


Your brain does all this SUPER QUICK

So when you’re learning a new language, your brain has to learn how to distinguish which language a sound is coming from, so it can process it correctly. This requires a whole lotta memory. You have to use your declarative memory system – which deals with facts – to remember all those new words and grammar. Then there’s the procedural memory system – your lips and mouth have to remember which shapes to physically make. For tip-of-the-tongue fluency, you’ll have to subconsciously recall all this,  meaning it has to be part of your implicit memory.

Phew! No wonder languages are the ultimate workout. So why go through all this effort? Here’s a few rad results of language learning.

It can make your brain bigger

Yep, learning a language is literally the brain equivalent of bodybuilding.


A 2014 study used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to observe the effects of language learning on the physical structure of the brain. They compared the brain scans of language students before and after three months of intense study. For comparison, they included a control group of medical science students.

Med sci brains remained unchanged, whereas those grappling with a new lingo exhibited growth in specific areas.

Hold up! A bigger brain doesn’t necessarily mean a smarter brain. So you might not be more intelligent.

But you may be healthier, since brain size may indicate brain health. As you age, your brain shrinks, leading to cognitive decline and diseases like dementia. In fact, research has shown that being bilingual delays the onset of dementia and can protect against Alzheimers disease. Maybe bigger is better?

It can also change the structure of your brain

Your brain is plastic. I don’t mean like a barbie doll – this is a good kind of plastic. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to reorganise itself, forming new neural connections.


Here’s an interesting tidbit: if you have grown up bilingual, then both the languages you speak are processed in the same part of the Broca’s area. But if you learn a language later in life, a new region develops in the Broca’s area, separate but close to your mother tongue.

But no matter your age, simply participating in language learning increases the density of your grey matter – the brain-stuff that incorporates everything from muscle control to decision making to sensory perception. Meanwhile, your white matter is strengthened. White matter is the tissue that connects different parts of your brain – kinda like a subway system for navigating the mind.

Essentially, the networks in your brain become more closely integrated. Consequently, you can learn more quickly and efficiently. Hell yeah!

How you learn a language – whether in a traditional classroom or by immersion – can affect how your brain is rewired, too.

You’ll be better at concentrating…

…and other things. A lot of other things. Seriously.

Researchers have found that bilingual people have enhanced attention – they’re better at shutting out irrelevant stuff and focusing on what’s important. What’s more, it doesn’t matter whether you learnt the language in childhood or as an adult, the benefit is the same. Similarly, being bi- or multilingual can make you a better listener.


Being multilingual can help you block out the haters

Learning a language can help you develop qualities that underpin creativity. You’ll also be better at multitasking – perhaps the result of having to seamlessly switch between two or more languages.

You will think more analytically and be more considered in your decision-making, as well as being less susceptible to persuasive language (the sort you might find in political campaigns).

Some people even reckon that different languages change the way you perceive the world.

So what now?

If this is your brain on drugs…

Video via Retropile on Youtube

…then this is your brain on language.


Ostrich egg via Mike Scott on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

It doesn’t matter how old you are or how fluent you become – just try to learn a language and you’ll reap the cognitive benefits. Yeeww!


How has learning a second language affected you? Let me know in the comments!




How many languages can a person learn?

If you’re reading this, you can speak English. Wicked.

Maybe you can speak another language too – perhaps your original mother tongue, or one that you learnt at school. Even better.

Maybe, just maybe, you have mastered a third or even fourth language – if yes, I am in awe of you.

Bu there are some scary-special souls out there whose minds soak up languages like a brain-sponge. They have an insatiable appetite for more, plus, lebih!

If a person can speak six or more languages, we call them a polyglot (meaning “many-tongued”).

If they’ve got 12 or more languages under their linguistic belt, we call them a hyperpolyglot.


A polyglot can speak at least six languages, while a hyperpolyglot can speak at least 12.

This post, we’re gonna meet a few of these mad-awesome mofos, explore the science of polyglotism and answer the question: who is the greatest polyglot of them all?

The polyglot-est of the polyglots

To answer this question, I consulted the trusty Guinness Book of World Records, home of all feats weird and wacky. I typed “language” into the search bar on their website, returning 106 results.

I scrolled through record after record, past the longest alphabet (Khmer/Cambodian) and the loudest click of the tongue, all the way to the end. And there was no record listed for “the most languages known.”

Wat. Why?

Turns out, this whole kerfuffle is pretty controversial.

First we’ve got the problem of what the heck defines a language? That is, what’s the difference between a language and a dialect? Sometimes the distinction between the two can be blurry…

But even more difficult to pin down is what it means to know a language. Obviously, rattling off a few bonjours and je m’appelles doesn’t mean you can really speak French. So at what point do you become fluent?

Perhaps we could get a native speaker to judge how well you can hold a conversation – but this is subjective. Maybe we could define fluency by comparing vocabulary size to native speakers – but it turns out you can converse at a high level of perceived fluency with a much smaller vocab than native speakers.

And what about reading vs. writing vs. speaking? How do we compare someone who can read and write in 20 languages, to someone who can converse simply in 40?

So. The lack of objectivity in defining polyglotism means we can’t really crown the polyglot-est person on the planet. Still, anyone who can speak multiple languages is frickin’ amazing in my book.

Meet the polyglots

Guiseppe Caspar Mezzofanti

This Italian Cardinal was legendary for his language prowess. It’s reported he could speak 39 languages “with rare excellence” but some sources claim he could understand a whopping 72. Either stat is impressive considering he never even left Italy…

Mezzofanti had a super-charged memory when it came to words, but he complemented his natural aptitude with long hours studying. Lesson learnt: you gotta work yo ass off if you wanna become a language expert! Read more.


Mezzofanti is reported to have known Algonquin – a language spoken by First Nations people in Ontario and Quebec. “Kwey” means “hello.” 

Emil Krebs

This German chap was passionate about languages. By the time he left high school, he could speak 12 of them. Throughout his life, he accumulated an astounding total of 65 languages – and he could tell you to “kiss my ass” in 40 of them.

After his death, Krebs’ “elite brain” was preserved and resides to this day at the C. & O. Vogt Institute for Brain Research in Germany. In 2003, neuroscientists examined his brain, and found it was wired very differently to monolingual people. But it’s unclear whether he was born with this set-up, or whether constant language learning changed the neural connections in his brain. Read more.


Emil Krebs could say “kiss my ass” in 40 languages. Go here if you’d like to emulate Mr Krebs.

Alexander Argüelles

During his childhood, Argüelles had an innate interest in language. But apart from high school French, he didn’t explore this interest to any depth. At university, however, the ability to read his favourite German novelists in their native tongue led him down the rabbit-hole of language learning. He spent 16 hours a day filling his brain with words and grammar, and now he can speak around 36 different tongues but has studied many more. Read more.

“I’m increasingly drawn to dead and endangered languages… I do think the loss of so many quirks and colours would leave the world a less intriguing place. It would be like visiting a botanic garden where there was only one type of plant – that thought horrifies me.”

-Alexander Argüelles, linguist

Powell Janulus

This Canadian fellow was in the Guinness Book of World Records in 1985 for “knowing more languages than any other human.” To earn this entry, he passed two-hour long conversational fluency tests with native speakers in 42 different languages. However at his peak, he claims to have known 64 languages. In 2006, Janulus suffered a stroke but has since resumed learning new lingos. Read more.

Dr Carlos do Amaral Freire

This Brazilian boss is considered perhaps the greatest modern linguistic scholar. He systematically studies two new languages every year, and has done so for the past 40 years. Consequently he has mastered 60 of them.

“I became captivated by the fascination of studying and discovering, through languages, so many other worlds, cultures and different ways of thinking.”

-Dr Carlos do Amaral Freire, linguist

Swami Rambhadracharya

Rambhadracharya is the ultimate slashie: a Hindu religious leader, philosopher, poet, educator… as my friend would say, he’s DA MAN. He can speak 22 languages and is considered a scholar in 14 of them. He writes poems and plays in a variety of lingos – but he can’t physically read or write. Rambhadracharya’s been blind since the age of 2 months, so he learns by listening and composes by dictation. Read more.


Rhambhadracharya is an accomplished polyglot (among many other things).

Sir John Bowring

A former Governor of Hong Kong and a political economist, this high-powered Englishman had a penchant for literature and language. It’s reported that he knew 200 (!) languages and could speak 100 of them. Whether these numbers are accurate, it’s difficult to say. But even if they are exaggerated, he clearly had an extraordinary talent and passion for language. Read more.

I’ve just picked a few polyglots so this is by no means an exhaustive list. Check out good ol’ Wikipedia for more multilingual masterminds.

Where da ladies at?

You’ve probably noticed that the above list is a real sausage fest. It’s true: lady lingo-lovers are relatively hard to come by. Others have noted this gender-skewing in the polyglotism world, but they haven’t found a good reason for it yet.

I had a good dig around and unearthed a couple of female polyglots:

Susanna Zaraysky

Zaraysky has studied 11 languages and can speak 8 of them fluently, and she is a great believer in the power of music to teach language. She’s written a few books and travelled the world, plus she’s passionate about inspiring more women to become multilingual. Read more.

Lomb Kató (or the westernised version, Kató Lomb)

Leaving behind her physics/chemistry background, Lomb took up languages and learned at least 16 (and maybe as many as 28). Lomb’s love of languages took her around the world as an interpreter and she also churned out a few books. She was one of the first simultaneous interpreters. Her drive to learn was characterised by unwavering determination and self-motivation. Read more.


Lomb Kató dedicated her life to languages and was one of the first simultaneous interpreters.

Savant or simply obsessive?

So what’s the deal with these tongue-twisting individuals? Are they wired differently from the rest of us?

Some have suggested that hyperpolyglotism is in some way linked to autism and/or savant syndrome.

But others believe that it’s simply a matter of hard work. Anyone can become a polyglot. (But certain personality traits and conducive life circumstances can help.)

And then of course, there’s those who reckon it’s a bit of both.

If there’s one thing you can take from these stories of polyglots, I reckon that it’s never too late to start. Wanna learn a language? Just do it!

Here’s an idea…

Here at Mother Tongues you’ll know we’re particularly interested in endangered languages. So ya know what’d be wicked? If polyglots could dedicate some of their burly brainpower to learning these disappearing tongues. What do you reckon?


Can you speak multiple languages? Let me know which ones in the comments!

PS – after researching this post, I’ve put Babel No More: The Search for the World’s Most Extraordinary Language Learners on my to-read list. Maybe you’d like to as well 🙂


Global WordPress Translation Day is coming up on Sunday April 24th. If you’re a language aficionado who’d like to help translate WordPress, check out this blog post and get on board. Woohoo!



PIE: The Zombie Language

It’s 6,000 years ago and you’re one hot Neolithic mama, gossiping with your bestie about the latest tribal happenings. Perhaps, you’re discussing which Bronze Age sugar daddy has the most cows (highly desirable) or what kind of troublemaking the warrior-class hotties are up to.


PIE babes love boys with cows

But what language are you speaking? ‘Cause it certainly isn’t English.

Yeah, turns out 10,000 BC wasn’t historically accurate. Who woulda thought?

So it’s not English. And it’s not some prehistoric grunt-speech. It turns out you’d be speaking a weird ol’ language called Proto-Indo-European (or PIE, for short). The thing is, this language existed before humans had invented writing. So how the hell do we know about it?

This week, I put on my detective hat to investigate this lingo-enigma.

How do we know about PIE?

Just like plants and animals, languages evolve. They change over time and diversify. Similarly, just as chimpanzees and humans share a common ancestor on the tree of life, modern languages have descended from a common ancestor too. You may be familiar with Latin, the granddaddy of the Romance languages (like French, Spanish and Italian).


A linguistic evolutionary tree. Reused with permission from this Nature Reviews Genetics paper by M. Pagel.

In the 19th century, linguists noticed similarities between Latin, Ancient Greek and Sanskrit. They wondered, “Could a GREAT-granddaddy ancient language have spawned all these?”

The answer was yes, and the great-granddaddy was Proto-Indo-European. But PIE was dead, so linguists had to do a lil Easter-Jesus-style trick.

Here’s how we raise languages from the dead:

First, compare specific words. If words that have similar meanings also have similar sound structure, then it is possible the languages are related. A good starting place for comparison is numbers – I’ve used Spanish, Italian and French for illustrative purposes.


If it means the same, has similar phonetic structure and sounds the same, the languages might be related.

But you also have to look for sounds that correspond in a regular pattern – if you can find lots of these “correspondence sets”, then it’s pretty certain your languages are related.


Correspondence sets: a “k” sound in Spanish and Italian corresponds to a “sh” sound in French in a regular pattern. The correspondence set is k:sh and we write the ancestral sound as *k. (In this case we know the predecessor – the latin “c-” which has a “k” sound.)

Linguists also discovered that sounds evolve in specific ways. By applying these rules in reverse, they can reconstruct ancient languages.

This type of linguistic reconstruction is called the comparative method. Nowadays, computer programs can do most of the fiddly work.

So PIE is a zombie language. Of course, we don’t know for sure that we’ve got it 100% correct – but it’s a pretty good guess.


PIE is a zombie language

It’s PIE time

Most linguists reckon that PIE was spoken around 3,500 BC – that’s roughly one thousand years before the Egyptians starting building pyramids (WOAH). But other hypotheses place the emergence of PIE as far back as 10,000 BC – when woolly mammoths were still kickin’ it.

The most popular theory contends that PIE was the language of people who lived in the Pontic-Caspian Steppe – a region roughly spanning Eastern Europe and Central Asia.


As the Proto-Indo-Europeans migrated, the PIE language spread and diversified into many languages spoken today. Image by Dbachmann (Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikipedia

While PIE is a prehistoric language, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s simpler than modern-day lingos. In fact, PIE was pretty complex: it had tenses and other modifications for verbs and nouns could be modified to indicate number, case and gender. PIE may be a zombie, but it’s an elaborate zombie!

What did PIE sound like?

In 1868, a German linguist by the name of August Schleicher wanted to answer this exact question. So he wrote a little tale about a sheep who meets some disagreeable horses. Here’s a recent version, courtesy of Archaeology magazine:

Sounds pretty trippy, hey.

Here’s the English translation:

The Sheep and the Horses

A sheep that had no wool saw horses, one of them pulling a heavy wagon, one carrying a big load, and one carrying a man quickly. The sheep said to the horses: “My heart pains me, seeing a man driving horses.” The horses said: “Listen, sheep, our hearts pain us when we see this: a man, the master, makes the wool of the sheep into a warm garment for himself. And the sheep has no wool.” Having heard this, the sheep fled into the plain.

Of course we don’t know what written symbols, if any, speakers of PIE used. So linguists use special symbols and combinations of letters to represent different sounds. Here’s the written text that tells you how to pronounce it in PIE:

H2óu̯is h1éḱu̯ōs-kwe

h2áu̯ei̯ h1i̯osméi̯ h2u̯l̥h1náh2 né h1ést, só h1éḱu̯oms derḱt. só gwr̥hxúm u̯óǵhom u̯eǵhed; só méǵh2m̥ bhórom; só dhǵhémonm̥ h2ṓḱu bhered. h2óu̯is h1ékwoi̯bhi̯os u̯eu̯ked: “dhǵhémonm̥ spéḱi̯oh2 h1éḱu̯oms-kwe h2áǵeti, ḱḗr moi̯ aghnutor”. h1éḱu̯ōs tu u̯eu̯kond: “ḱludhí, h2ou̯ei̯! tód spéḱi̯omes, n̥sméi̯ aghnutór ḱḗr: dhǵhémō, pótis, sē h2áu̯i̯es h2u̯l̥h1náh2 gwhérmom u̯éstrom u̯ept, h2áu̯ibhi̯os tu h2u̯l̥h1náh2 né h1esti. tód ḱeḱluu̯ṓs h2óu̯is h2aǵróm bhuged.

Pretty unintelligible, unless you have a background in linguistics. This particular recital isn’t fixed either – it may change over time as linguists and archaeologists discover more about PIE speakers.

Can I learn PIE?

If the above recording hasn’t put you off this tricky language, then you can definitely give learning it a go. The video below can teach you how to say another fable in PIE – but be warned, some of the sounds required are very difficult for English-speakers to enunciate properly.

Video via Xidnaf on Youtube

I reckon I have an okay knack for languages, so I decided to give it a shot. Here’s my attempt:

Wow, PIE is frickin’ hard.

If you’d like a more rigorous PIE learning experience, check out Dnghu, a non-profit organisation dedicated to resurrecting the Indo-European language. These enthusiasts even want to teach Indo-European as a second language for all European citizens, and have the EU adopt it as an official language.

Good luck with that, Dnghu – I think you’re gonna need it.