Indo-European Studies 1.1

Here is my first draft essay for the IE Studies 1 for the IP.  Have a read and let me know what you think!  Note: minimum word length is 300.  This essay clocks in at 450.


Describe several of the factors that define a culture as Indo-European and how those defining factors are useful in understanding that culture

Indo-European is a term used in linguistics to denote a family of languages encompassing most of the languages of Europe as well as the areas of Iran and India (Young).  It is believed that these languages all evolved from a single root language called Proto-Indo-European, the hypothetical speakers of which probably lived somewhere in the vicinity of neolithic Anatolia, the exact location and time being issues of much research and debate.

Since the term Indo-European specifically denotes a language, it is somewhat misleading to refer to the existence of an “Indo-European culture”.  A rather more accurate term would be “the culture of a racial group who speak an Indo-European language”, and as such the sole defining factor for such a group’s inclusion would by necessity be the language that they speak.

Of course, the notion that the races of so many modern peoples might have a common ancestry in the steppes of Asia Minor has proven irresistible to the imagination of many a scholar of the humanities.  A sizable amount of research has been devoted to attempts to discover similarities amongst the Indo-European speaking races, particularly in fields such as mythology, religion, law, art, and philosophy.  However, all such attempts to divine factors of similarity rely upon systems of comparative analysis which require leaps of various distances of faith for their conclusions.  Diffusion and evolution of beliefs is unceasing, and not even the most deepest held of traditions are immune from change.  For instance, one might assume that the funereal customs of a particular people would be very conservative indeed.  However, while Puhvel tells us that the Proto-Indo-Europeans buried their dead (36) there is evidence to suggest that later Indo-European speaking peoples practiced cremation as early as 2000 BCE (Hays).  If a belief system as fundamental as eschatology is subject to change over time, it seems unlikely that any other factor other than language can definitively be called a defining factor.

We have, then, finally one further question to explore; to what extent can the fact that a particular peoples speak an Indo-European language help us to understand their culture?  Historical linguistics has provided some insights into what the culture of the Proto-Indo-Europeans might have been like through cognate comparison.  For instance, Mallory tells us that fire (122-125) and horses (154) would have been particularly important to them. Unfortunately, using such lexical insights regarding the Proto-Indo-Europeans to extrapolate conclusions about the cultures of their descendents is a lost cause due to the previously mentioned issues of diffusion and evolution of beliefs and traditions.  However, when seeking to understand rather than to define, cultural comparative analysis methods can be employed with the help of historical linguistics to yield some measure of understanding.

2 thoughts on “Indo-European Studies 1.1

  1. Nice job!

    Personally I would like to see a little more development of that last sentence. How could those methods be used to help understand a culture? Is the shared Indo-European heritage at all important to the individual cultures? Why?

    But then, I don’t know what the other requirements are and it’s possible that’s actually beyond the scope of this question. I don’t really know if those things are necessary for this.

    I like that you favored honesty and pointing out the flaws of the emphasis on Indo-European culture as if that is a clear and unified idea. That’s been a problem for me in trying to fit my hearth cultures to the ADF model, and while I do think it’s possible to make it work, it won’t work as well without acknowledging the difficulties and imperfections. If we’re looking for a perfect match and expecting it to all just come together magically instead of creating something that works, we might be unsatisfied and fail to get the most out of our religious practice in the meantime.

    • Thanks Sanil! The frustrating part of these aspects is that they have to be so superficial in order to fit into the expected word count. I believe that ADF will accept essays up to 300% of the minimum but I have been trying to keep them within 150% which means not elaborating very much on points which could bear a lot of elaboration.

      And yes, while I think that there are good, practical reasons for ADF to limit its focus to IE societies, I also believe that there are many issues with the approach which seem to get glossed over. I don’t expect that my particular opinions will matter much but at the same time I wouldn’t be intellectually honest if I just went with the flow.

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