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The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World (Oxford Linguistics) Paperback – 9 Nov 2006
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All chapters are well written and indeed the pleasingly readable style of the whole book must be applauded. (Linguist List)
About the Author
J. P. Mallory is Professor of Prehistoric Archaeology at the Queen's University of Belfast. He holds a PhD in Indo-European Studies (1975) from the University of California. His books include In Search of the Indo-Europeans (1989) and, with Victor Mair, The Tarim Mummies: The Mystery of the First Westerners in Ancient China (2000). He is currently the editor of the Journal of Indo-European Studies and was elected to the Royal Irish Academy in 1996. D. Q. Adams is Professor of English at the University of Idaho. He holds a PhD in Linguistics (1972) from the University of Chicago (1972). His published work includes An Introduction to Tocharian Historical Morphology (1988), A Dictionary of Tocharian B (1999), and numerous articles on Indo-European and especially Tocharian topics. J. P. Mallory and D. Q. Adams are the co-editors of the Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture (1997).
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Aimed primarily at the academic reader, there is also plenty of material that the casual linguist will find fascinating here too, and the style is accessible to all, although some knowledge of linguistics would help in the introductory chapters. All in all, a thoroughly recommended book.
The first book (pages 1-119) I would have found helpful to have read a few decades ago as it does provide a useful overview. However, I found it far too speedy - more like a car rally stage than a safari trip which allows amateurs to savour countryside, flora and fauna. After completing the whole book I went back and re-read 2 chapters which did contain explanations of some technical terms (e.g. heteroclitic) but I had not absorbed them on first reading. Appendix I gives a list of regular sound changes in known languages which allow reconstruction of PIE words.
The second book (pp 120-463) mostly consists of chapters listing reconstructed PIE words, which resemble a telephone directory or a cenotaph memorialising the names of those who died in war. Each chapter is based on a theme (e.g. flora) and sub-divided into sub-themes (e.g. trees). Each sub-theme consists of a table of reconstructed PIE words and a text listing most of these and the attested forms which have led to the reconstruction. There is usually a brief coda specifying what these words allow us to conclude about PIE life. This is really a reference manual or compendium and not suitable for reading through - I did skip a few lists. The only exceptions are the chapter on mythology (oddly separate from the chapter on religious terms) and the chapter on homeland theories. The discussion of numerals is unusual in exploring etymological hypotheses, which presumably reflects academic activity.
It is not clear how PIE words are separated, for example *prhaeh1 and *prhaei are listed as separate words but have the same meaning (in front of) and are obviously very similar. Although all the reconstructed words are denoted by *, in the text it rarely mentions that these are hypothesised reconstructions based on known words, and the text generally refers to the reconstructions as if they are undoubted facts which have generated the derived known words (the opposite direction of travel to the reality of reconstruction). The hypotheses are based on occurrence in 12 IE language families (Anatolian, Indic, Iranian, Albanian, Greek, Armenian, Baltic, Slavic, Germanic, Italic, Celtic and Tocharian): but only 1% of reconstructed PIE words have exemplars in all 12 language groups. The text lists examples from different language groups but in a list this does not convey much: I consider a table including language groups (rather than lists in the text) would make it easier at a glance to see how widely evidenced PIE words are (if this level of detail is necessary). The exemplars used vary in terms of parts of speech and of meaning (e.g. words meaning pain, mourn, and cargo are all used to support a PIE verb meaning break; words meaning wheelspoke, art, ornament, and scheduled time are used to support a PIE verb meaning prepare). Words which appear related e.g. Latin deus and Greek theos are said to be evidence for 2 different PIE words without explanation. There is no mention of verbal aspect which is very important in Slavic verbs and present in other IE languages e.g. English and Spanish. There is no discussion of how very basic PIE words drop out of usage (other than the atypical instance of the word for god), for example Italic languages have lost PIE-based words for son and daughter, and Spanish has lost PIE-based words for brother and sister. Conjugations and declensions are written as single words. Although this is the convention in post-PIE literate languages, we do not know if PIE speakers would have thought in this way or in terms of a separate stem and post-position. The emphatic forms of the first person singular and plural pronouns certainly resemble the relevant verb 'endings' in the present indicative active. Although the work is predominantly about organising words by meaning, the authors state (without evidence) that grammar is more reliable than semantics. However, the plural in s is common to some Italic and Germanic languages but not consistent within each family, and the present tense verb endings in Finnish (a non IE language) are quite similar to many IE languages, which suggests this 'rule' is not very reliable.
I found the use of technical terms and symbols confusing and I would have appreciated a glossary for each at the start (there is a glossary of abbreviations). I do not understand why there is a superscript w in kw and gw. The intended sounds of c, k and q are not explained or differentiated. The International Phonetic Alphabet is used erratically (again a glossary would help). The system used for transliterating Russian is not specified and is not a good representation of how the words sound.
Some of the information is repeated either between the books (e.g. pronouns) or within the second book (e.g. religious terms). The derivation of the English word paradise is detailed at least 3 times.
I do not know if the decision to combine 2 such disparate books in one volume was theirs or the editors, but I consider it a grave mistake. The title is actively misleading as the majority of the book is not an introduction but a reference compendium and there is very little about the PIE world (as opposed to the language). The authors are clearly very learned. There are several (no doubt well-deserved) put-downs of academic theories which outstrip the evidence. However, I rather got the impression that the authors did not enjoy writing this diptych. There was no sense of wonder about seeking to know a language and its speakers who are long dead, and no sense of joy in the detective skills which allow at least some plausible reconstructions to be made from known languages separated by up to 3000 years and 4000 miles.
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