Indo-European Language and Culture: An Introduction (Blackwell Textbooks in Linguistics)

Author: Benjamin W. Fortson IV

Publisher: Blackwell Publishing Limited

Date of Publication: November 10th 2004

ISBN: 1405103167

Series: Blackwell Textbooks in Linguistics


Synopsis: Indo-European Language and Culture: An Introduction provides a comprehensive overview of comparative Indo-European linguistics and the branches of the Indo-European language family, covering both linguistic and cultural material.

·       Fills a long-present gap in the literature of Indo-European studies.

·       Designed for use in courses, with exercises and suggestions for further reading included in each chapter.

·       Discusses linguistic and cultural developments for each branch of the Indo-European language family.

·       Provides an overview of Proto-Indo-European culture, society, and language.

Review: Just to put it out there this is a textbook, but it was written with the idea that it would be easy enough for a layperson to also pick it up and read it and in that it most definitely reaches its goal. However, I am getting ahead of myself.

CHAPTERS 1-2: Give an overview of the Comparative Method in linguistics and all the different issues that researchers come across. They also present the reconstructed culture of the Proto-Indo-European.

Chapter one contains a step by step walk through (in a simple form) of how linguistic reconstructions are done and some of the most important definitions of words that most other books use as if you already know them, but you really don’t not entirely. He goes through the theory of it step by step and gives examples at every step to reinforce the theory. In chapter one the author also told us about how the Indo-European branch of the language was discovered and developed. In his conclusion of this chapter the author speaks of the limits of and on the knowledge we have of PIE, and the goals of the Indo-European linguistics, which have nothing to do with reconstruction though that is a part of it. The discussions in the further reading section of the chapter is just as interesting as the chapter itself. I think I had so many aha moments in this chapter that it is not even funny. Often times I’d think I understood something from other books only to read his explanations and examples and think…uh now THAT makes more sense or oops I understood that wrong before.

On to chapter two now. Now this chapter is a treasure trove for anyone trying to get a well rounded education on the Indo-European culture, mythology and religion in bite size form. You get the really important parts of the culture, some of the important deities, some of the rituals performed, and of course about myths.

If you only read these two chapters you will have gotten your money’s worth back; but of course there is still more chapters to be read.

CHAPTERS 3-8: These chapters provide a complete introduction to reconstructed Proto-Indo-European, which in turn becomes a background to the following chapters as well as a basic grammar reference

Chapter three is all about Indo-European phonology. It was not an easy chapter to read, there was a lot of concepts to take in so it must be read slowly and with lots of attention. It is a very technical chapter but one worth reading if you are interested in where one of the Indo-European daughter languages (in my case Celtic) came from and how it got to where it is now. This chapter is setting the stage for the sounds of Indo-European which will help with whatever daughter language you happen to be studying or even if you are interested in the Indo-European language itself.

Morphology is the subject of chapter four and the author gives a good introduction to it. There are a lot of terms in there to learn and I was surprised as I was doing the exercises at the end of the chapter that I actually for the most part knew what I was doing (I say for the most part because where some of these exercises had their answers in the chapter others didn’t and while *I* think that they are correct they might not be lol)

Chapters five to eight were all about the PIE parts of speech and syntax. Reading through these chapters filled in a lot of blanks in my mind while at the same time creating others that in all actuality will need deeper studies to fill…if I was studying linguistics lol. These chapters though, were enough to give me a good basis to start learning about the daughter languages.

These five chapters were a delight to read and the information in them was very helpful. They aren’t for the people who only want to learn about the Indo-Europeans without getting into the language or the daughter languages.

CHAPTERS 9-20: Each chapter treats a particular language of the family. The chapters go from oldest attested language to the most recent plus a chapter on the fragmentaryily attested languages of uncertain filiation.  

The chapters from nine to twenty were just amazing (can you tell I’m gushing?). Not only did they talk about the structure of the various IE daughter languages but they also gave you a little bit of history on how the material that was studied was found, a bit of history on the places where these languages were and in some cases even literature that is associated with these languages. My favorite chapter was the one on the Celtic languages (of course!) but there were some bits in the Italic section on the Celto-Italic connection which I’d heard about and read about in another book but wasn’t too sure about. Apparently it as a theory championed by the author of the book I’d read but hadn’t gained any traction because of some issues. I also loved the chapter on the languages that we only have fragmented evidence of. The glossary and bibliography at the end of the book are the best I’ve seen.

All in all, this is a great book to have as a reference. Even if you don’t want all the linguistic parts you can pick and choose the language you are interested in and read about that plus the first two chapters on PIE. Or you could read the whole book from cover to cover. Either way you come away with good information on PIE, on IE languages, and on the modern languages we have today. Keep in mind that this is a college textbook as I have already mentioned. It is not a dry read but it can get technical. The good news is the author treats you as a beginner and explains these technicalities.



5 thoughts on “Indo-European Language and Culture: An Introduction (Blackwell Textbooks in Linguistics)

  1. simian says:

    I always read your reviews, but none have made me want to go buy the book as much as this one (although others have)!

    • celticscholar says:

      Thanks just keep in mind that this is a text book and what excites me doesn’t necessarily have to do it for you lol.

  2. simian says:

    Don’t forget that I am a student, so a text book does not scare me away. In fact, I probably read more text books (and enjoy them) than anything else. I also read the reviews on Amazon and Barnes & Noble when I was pricing the book, that only furthered my interest and desire to obtain it.

    Thanks again for your review!

  3. John C Hobbs says:

    The discussions in the further reading section of the chapter is just as interesting as the chapter itself.
    but of course there is still more chapters to be read.
    there was a lot of concepts to take in so it must be read slowly and with lots of attention.

    Edit! Your bad grammar and “gushy” style undermine your authority as a reviewer. Generally interesting though.

    • celticscholar says:

      I’m not a professional reviewer, I do this for my own fun. If others read it and decide to read the book then great. Thanks for the tips though, as for the grammar, I’ll try my best. The “gushy” style though is something that I can’t help, I guess I’m a “gushy” person when I like a book.

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