Saturday, March 01, 2008


At the NYTBR, Christine Keneally on David Anthony's magical-sounding new book The Horse, the Wheel and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World:
The impact of horses on the reach of language is particularly important to Anthony, and he conveys his excitement at working out whether ancient horses wore bits (and were therefore ridden by Proto-Indo-Europeans) by comparing their teeth to those of modern domesticated and wild horses. He muses on the “deep-rooted, intransigent traditions of opposition” that existed along the Ural River frontier, slowing the spread of herding and the cultural innovations that went with it. He also cites remarkable genetic analyses suggesting that although all the domesticated horses in the world may have come from many different wild mothers, they might all share a single father.

Anthony also describes a world in which spoken poetry was the only medium, one that helped spread Proto-Indo-European through what he calls “elite recruitment.” It wasn’t enough for the newcomers to assume a dominant position: in order for their language to be picked up, they also had to offer the local population attractive opportunities to participate in their language culture — a process that continues today, incidentally, with the spread of English as a prestige language.

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