Sunday, March 16, 2008

Proto Indo-European origins: a new book

I have just ordered this, a must-read for me. I'm no linguist, as my attempts in writing Irish on this blog witness. Yet, thanks to an adolescent exposure to Tolkien and a grad school reading in "The Road to Middle Earth" of T.A. Shippey's explanation of his predecessor (once early on at Leeds) in his exploration of "asterisk reality" and its basis in the *PIE etymological suppositions that lexicographers love in charting backwards the words we use today, I have harbored a lingering, if distantly understood, fascination for Proto Indo-European. Coincidentally, in talking after my stint as a guest speaker on book reviewing (thanks to my Amazon experience) to the Publisher's Association of Los Angeles last month-- during the eclipse that made the moon a glowing ashen ember-- to a woman (she never introduced herself by name) whose husband's getting a Ph.D. in Celtic & Indo-European Studies at my alma mater UCLA, I learned that she and he collaborated on a fantasy novel (under a joint pseudonym to protect his budding scholarly reputation) drawing on his academic knowledge of asterisk reality and PIE to construct their own mythical world.

When I studied for my own Ph.D. there, a few minutes walking distance from where I gave my talk, I had met a few Indo-European doctoral students in the cross-fertilization that brought a few folklorists and linguists into the seminars I took on Old and Middle English language and literature. These students appeared fearsomely more learned than we English Lit types. One student told me that the IE field never had recovered (at least twenty years ago at the time of my conversation) from Aryan taints, and that few people were encouraged to pursue their advanced work in this controversial area. I figured such came to UCLA because of Marija Gimbutas, and once I glimpsed this elderly matriarch. She propounded the argument feminists and New Age pagans loved, the Magna Mater/ Great Goddess theory. One afternoon, I caught a blur of her working in her chilly, metal-bookcased, flourescent office beyond a nondescript open door, deep in the recesses of subterranean Haines Hall.

That building's where I taught my very first meeting of my very first course, in English Comp, fall '84. If I had no need for a steady job (look where I wound up with a doctorate in English, let alone a more arcane field!), and if I had more of a perhaps mathematical bent that allowed me to control my acquisition of language more systematically, or perhaps Germanically, then I might have wandered into this region. Instead, as Spike Milligan boasted: "I'm Irish. We think sideways."

I had told that wife of such a UCLA IE wanderer-- presumably more Teutonically disciplined-- that eclipsed evening, of a work newly published. I hazily tried to remember it. I knew it had "horse" or "wheel" or "chariot" in the title, or combinations thereof. Princeton had issued it last year. I went back and located it, so if she ever stumbles on my blog, here 'tis, via Christine Kenneally's "Giddyup" from NY Times Book Review, March 2, 2008. I will, of course, post my layman's review in time on the blog and on Amazon responding to David W. Anthony's "The Horse, the Wheel, and Language." See, I got two out of three titular nouns.

That chariot logically follows, for this cause-and-effect relationship drives Anthony's argument that from the Pontic region near Ukraine, Indo-Europeans spread their domesticated technology and the elite linguistic status. We reconstruct fragments thousands of years later, no matter our own ethnicity, that attest to this legacy in what I compose and you read at this moment. We echo PIE. We faintly repeat its paeans to their male sky-god, their mounted warriors, and their whirling axles.

Image from the review in NYTBR, Frans Lanting (Corbis) Viz.: Ian McCulloch: "bring on the dancing horses." Cf. Siouxsie: "They turn in-- to swimming-- horses."

See my earlier blog entry on medievalist Scott Kleinman's "Mern Þonke" musings about Asterisk Reality. Asterisk Reality

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