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The Horse The Wheel and Language

How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World


David W. Anthony

Copyright 2007 Princeton University Press


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Roughly half the world’s population speaks languages derived from a shared linguistic source known as Proto-Indo-European. But who were the early speakers of this ancient mother tongue, and how did they manage to spread it around the globe? Until now their identity has remained a tantalizing mystery to linguists, archaeologists, and even Nazis seeking the roots of the Aryan race. The Horse, the Wheel, and Language lifts the veil that has long shrouded these original Indo-European speakers, and reveals how their domestication of horses and use of the wheel spread language and transformed civilization.

Linking prehistoric archaeological remains with the development of language, David Anthony identifies the prehistoric peoples of central Eurasia’s steppe grasslands as the original speakers of Proto-Indo-European, and shows how their innovative use of the ox wagon, horseback riding and the warrior’s chariot turned the Eurasian steppes into a thriving transcontinental corridor of communication, commerce, and cultural exchange. He explains how they spread their traditions and gave rise to important advances in copper mining, warfare, and patron-client political institutions, thereby ushering in an era of vibrant social change. Anthony also describes his fascinating discovery of how the wear from bits on ancient horse teeth reveals the origins of horseback riding.

The Horse, the Wheel, and Language solves a puzzle that has vexed scholars for two centuries—the source of the Indo-European languages and English—and recovers a magnificent and influential civilization from the past.





A Short Quote From the Book

...Many other language families have become extinct as Indo-European languages spread. It is possible that the resultant loss of linguistic diversity has narrowed and channeled habits of perception in the modern world. For example, all Indo-European languages force the speaker to pay attention to tense and number when talking about an action: You must specify whether the action is past, present or future; and you must specify whether the actor is singular or plural. It is impossible to use an Indo-European verb without deciding on those categories. Consequently speakers of Indo-European languages habitually frame all events in terms of when they occurred and whether they involved multiple actors. Many other language families do not require the speaker to address these categories when speaking of an action, so tense and number can remain unspecified.

On the other hand, other language families require that other aspects of reality be constantly used and recognized. For example, when describing an event or condition in Hopi you must use grammatical markers that specify whether you witnessed the event yourself, heard about it from someone else, or consider it to be an unchanging truth. Hopi speakers are forced by Hopi grammar to habitually frame all descriptions of reality in terms of the source and reliability of their information.…p.19


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