Proto-Indo-European in Prometheus?

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Reader K.D., who earlier alerted us to a case of hieroglyphic prescriptivism, has sent in this fascinating note:

In the recent Ridley Scott Alien-prequel Prometheus Proto-Indo-European plays a small but significant role.  I won't go into too much detail in case you don't want it spoiled for you, but in an early scene one character is learning the language via a high-tech language tape, and recites part of Schleicher's fable.  Much later, in a pivotal scene, the same character speaks a language which is not named, and for which no translation is given; I'm fairly certain based on the earlier set-up and the actor's intonation and accent in the two scenes that it is intended to be PIE.

As you've documented on Language Log, a lot of recent movies and TV series have made use of linguists to create various exotic languages for fantasy and historical settings, and Marc Okrand created a PIE based language for Atlantis: The Lost Empire in 2001, but the cast list of Prometheus doesn't list any linguistic consultant as far as I can see.  There's a lot of speculation online about what the character said (eg., but I haven't seen any discussion as yet of the fact that it's probably PIE, or much conversation about language generally in Prometheus, despite the fact that it plays a fairly crucial role in the story.  I've attached a small mp3 file of the sound clip; here is my attempt at transliteration, although I'm sure you can improve on it:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

/tax manamai kɛna murtuste:da puifa hɒniʔtam sas tatir kre:da/

There is some on-line discussion of this here and here, but K.D. seems to have gotten at least as far as anyone else. Perhaps one of our PIE-fluent readers can give us an inter-linear translation, or further information about what language it actually is (or isn't)?

Update — As supplied by aquavit in the comments, here is the recitation of Schleicher's Fable:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Update #2 — Somone linked to this post on the 4chan tv board, and someone else commented:

The comments on that page have to be the most hardcore nerdiest comments I have ever read in the history of my life.

Brofist to those guys. I wish I was in on their club.


  1. chris y said,

    June 8, 2012 @ 8:06 am

    Read the title and thought, "I know Aeschylus is a bit archaic sometimes, but hey, come on…"

  2. Bob Violence said,

    June 8, 2012 @ 9:06 am

    This article implies that it's a modified pseudo-Sanskrit:

    Hemphill and Bartlett worked closely with Ridley Scott to deliver a “gritty track with highly styled acoustic environments” in this sci-fi horror film. Bartlett recorded Sanskrit syllables that were modified and used with controls, buttons, and background sounds to provide ancient language audio motifs.

  3. bulbul said,

    June 8, 2012 @ 9:17 am

    My best guess for the last two is "your.SG heart". 'kreda' is more or less a slam dunk (cf. Lat. 'cor, cordis'), 'tatir' is a bit more difficult. It could be the 2sg possessive pronoun derived by means of (some form of) the -tero- suffix, except IIRC 2sg is not attested with -tero-, only 2pl is.
    Also, 'manamai' looks like a verb, first person singular middle voice, but what root…

  4. GeorgeW said,

    June 8, 2012 @ 9:20 am

    Using Watkins' "The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots" I started with two of what could be root morphemes (tax & sas) and struck out on both.

  5. NW said,

    June 8, 2012 @ 9:24 am

    I once tried to translate some dialogue for an amateur film-maker friend of mine into PIE, and the amount of simplifying you have to do for people who are not going to want to know about voiced aspirates and laryngeals (any laryngeals) and pitch accents and syllabic resonants, means it all comes out quite unrecognizable. [kreda] for example, looks like 'heart', as bulbul says, with a syllabic resonant eked out to be pronounceable.

  6. bulbul said,

    June 8, 2012 @ 9:27 am

    I figure 'tax' and 'sas' for conjunctions, particles or prepositions (assuming SAE syntax for what apparently is a sentence). Those parts of speech are still pretty much a big guess in PIE.
    BTW, are we sure the first one really is 'tax' and not just 'ax'? In the latter case, it could be a form of the 1SG pronoun…

  7. GeorgeW said,

    June 8, 2012 @ 9:34 am

    @Bulbul: "In the latter case, it could be a form of the 1SG pronoun…"

    Watkins gives /eg/ as the nominative form of the 1SG pronoun.

  8. Nelson said,

    June 8, 2012 @ 9:44 am

    Definitely not PIE (or at least, PIE of the sort anyone has reconstructed since August Schleicher's time), if that's what they were trying for. A clear phonological tell comes in the word K.D. transcribed as [puifa], where there's definitely a labial fricative of some sort (I hear it as [v]). Neither **f nor **v are reconstructed for PIE (either underlyingly or as surface sounds). I wouldn't waste any time trying to transcribe an intended PIE phrase from this.

    The phonology is certainly a better fit with Sanskrit than PIE, though a couple of words still don't seem right. For instance, I hear K.D.'s 'kɛna' as [kyɛnu], and 'puifa' as [khɔɪva], but these are maybe the sorts of things that could be attributed to mispronunciation by an actor. The first could conceivably be kēna* 'by/through what?', although the sentence as a whole doesn't sound like a question; the second could just about be a garbling of some form of pūrva- 'former, ancient'. I can't hear everything clearly, and haven't really tried to transcribe it as if it were Sanskrit, but I doubt there's a real grammatical sentence in there. But the pseudo-Sanskrit explanation seems plausible to me.

    *(The long marks are usually omitted in transcription, but e is always long in Sanskrit, which is why [ɛ] is a bothersome sound to hear.)

  9. bulbul said,

    June 8, 2012 @ 9:46 am

    Re Bob's link: this really doesn't sound that Sanskrit to me. But on the other hand, there's the noun 'manas' = 'mind, understanding, perception'… < PIE. *menos < *men = "think". Someone could have taken 'manas' and turned it into a verb meaning "I think". Or is it μαίνομαι = "to rage"?

    *eǵ-óh2 / *eǵh2-hóm or something like that. The 'ax' form could have undergone a sound change similar to the Germanic shift and High German shift (cf. German 'ich') :)

  10. Nelson said,

    June 8, 2012 @ 10:00 am

    Unless the [v] I'm hearing is supposed to be for *bh?

  11. NW said,

    June 8, 2012 @ 10:01 am

    [x] and [f] could be an actor's reading of /gh/ and /bh/. To me they don't rule out someone's attempt to create simplified PIE.

  12. mattitiahu said,

    June 8, 2012 @ 10:19 am

    This does look like Schleicher's Fable-esque pseudo-Sanskrit, to be sure.

    kɛna looks a lot like the instrumental relative/interrogative केन
    sas could be in a co-ordinated clause with that सः

    You tend to get these sorts of preposed relative clauses in Sanskrit, Hittite, Oscan, etc., so the part there could be something 'by what X blah blah blah, that [is/does whatever Y]'

    tax is hard to place, could be some sort of particle, or a pronoun, but manamai I presume could be parsed something like √man 'think, suppose' + thematic a + 1sg. mediopassive *-mai. Although that's not how the stem formation would be in Sanskrit, strictly-speaking, but with Schleicherian pseudo-Sanskrit pseudo-PIE, I imagine one might get away with it.

    Thus by all that, I would 110% speculatively translate the phrase as: 'That, I suppose, by which [stuff] earlier [does whatever], that [does whatever else]'

  13. marie-lucie said,

    June 8, 2012 @ 10:33 am

    In my experience, English speakers unfamiliar with aspirates tend to either ignore the h (as in Buddha [buda]), or to treat it as beginning a different syllable, as in Abha [ab-ha] not [a-bha]. The medial consonant in puifa does sound like a voiceless fricative.

  14. Antariksh Bothale said,

    June 8, 2012 @ 11:07 am

    To my native Hindi ears (more or less native Sanskrit ears, for the purpose of this discussion), the t of [tax] sounds more like t̪ (dental stop; I think it's not being rendered properly).

    [puifa] sounds more like [phuiva] and sounds pretty non-Sanskrit, because Sanskrit lacks all but 4 fricatives (s ʂ ɕ h). All in all, this didn't sound like Sanskrit at all.

  15. Bob Violence said,

    June 8, 2012 @ 11:40 am

    …but there would be a [v] if the actor were simply reading a Romanized Sanskrit text with no effort at an authentic pronunciation. That said, I don't know if [phuiva] makes any more sense if you imagine it as [phuiʋa].

  16. Nelson said,

    June 8, 2012 @ 12:03 pm

    Antariksh Bothale, while no one knows for sure how it was pronounced in (say) Vedic times, the Sanskrit sound transcribed 'v' is conventionally pronounced [v], both in Indian and Western tradition. The diphthong-ish vowel does sound pretty un-Sanskrit like, but I do think that could be explained as a garbling of pūrva-.

    mattitiahu, that's a valiant effort to make sense out of the phrase! I kind of wonder who would write something like that though – what sort of background would someone have that would lead them to write Schleicherian Sanskrit for a major film? I admit that it does sound like we're hearing something like *manamai, but maybe we just have garbled Sanskrit. I'm not sure about the medial syllable, but perhaps the [ai] is simply an anglophone actor misreading '-mi' with an English 'long i'?

  17. bulbul said,

    June 8, 2012 @ 12:19 pm

    m-l et al.
    unless I'm very mistaken, this is Michael Fassbender speaking, who is a native speaker of German. Whether that has any influence on his reading some gibberish on a screenplay page, that's another story…

  18. GeorgeW said,

    June 8, 2012 @ 12:25 pm

    Is there anything (without some hint) that would suggest PIE or Sanskrit?

  19. Nelson said,

    June 8, 2012 @ 12:43 pm

    Btw, would it be possible to add a tag '(Proto-)Indo-European', or at least 'Historical/Comparative Linguistics'? IE topics do come up from time to time, but don't otherwise seem to have a natural category home and so can be a bit hard to track down later.

  20. GeorgeW said,

    June 8, 2012 @ 1:48 pm

    I would guess that some features could put this in the IE family – polysyllabic, codas, consonant clusters. Assuming the speaker's native language is English, the sound segments might not be a good indication of language.

  21. Patrick said,

    June 8, 2012 @ 2:49 pm

    A completely unscientific first impression on hearing this: The pronunciation sounds rather Finnish to me. I'm not really familiar with Finnish (my first language is Swiss German), but I have seen several (subtitled) films with Finnish soundtrack, and apart from the very first word "tax", this reminds me a lot of the sound of Finnish as I remember it from the movies.

  22. Rubrick said,

    June 8, 2012 @ 5:41 pm

    Let it never be said that Language Log readers spend all their time on matters of consequence.

  23. Victor Mair said,

    June 8, 2012 @ 5:48 pm

    From J. P. Mallory:

    I've wanted to see the film and now you have given me academic justification to go. I would always beware of identifying movie languages. Hartmut Scharfe at UCLA – Professor of Indic, was hired to do both the Klingon and Vulcan dialog in the 1st Star Trek film. They wanted the Klingons to speak Sanskrit, having no idea how UN-warlike Sanksrit sounds so Scharfe translated it into Sanskrit and then added a velar to the end of every word so that it would sound much rougher. As for the Vulcan – they had already filmed the scenes in English so they had to do a voice over and Scharfe simply shifted the articulation within the same classes so the lip movements would still sync, e..g, Victor > Figder.

  24. Keith Gaughan said,

    June 8, 2012 @ 6:35 pm

    @bulbul: His father is German, and his was born in Germany, but he was raised almost since birth in Ireland, Kerry specifically. He can speak German fluently, but English is his first language, and he'd be at the very least familiar with Irish. That's worth keeping in mind.

  25. KD said,

    June 8, 2012 @ 7:40 pm

    It's possible from the context that the character is saying "we came, just like you asked", since that is what he is asked to translate, but his motivations are somewhat mysterious in the film, so he may be saying something completely different.

  26. Lazar said,

    June 8, 2012 @ 7:44 pm

    @Victor Mair: If I remember correctly, though, the Vulcan dialog spoken by Nimoy and Kirstie Alley in the second movie was just reversed English. Klingon is certainly the best-developed Trek language as the result of Marc Okrand's admirable work, but I've always been intrigued by the untapped possibilities presented by the Vulcan-Romulan split – the latter, presumably, maintaining conservative linguistic and cultural forms in the few millennia following the Vulcan embrace of Surakian logic.

  27. KD said,

    June 8, 2012 @ 8:53 pm

    From the IMDB trivia page:

    Ridley Scott approached SOAS, University of London, in 2011 to find experts who could help create a new language for the film. Anil Biltoo from SOAS' Language Centre worked to create the language, as well as the alien script, which can be seen throughout. Anil Biltoo can be seen briefly in a scene with Michael Fassbender. Other SOAS staff members appear briefly and are credited, including Wambui Kunya, Sonam Dugdak, Shin Okajima, Kay Rienjang, Zed Sevcikova and Reynir Eggertsson. (

  28. Bob Violence said,

    June 8, 2012 @ 9:37 pm

    If I remember correctly, though, the Vulcan dialog spoken by Nimoy and Kirstie Alley in the second movie was just reversed English.

    The Vulcan dialogue in STII is was a constructed language and not just distorted English, though it was nowhere near as robust as Klingon would become. Okrand was a bit limited in that the scenes had already been filmed in English, so he had to match the existing lip movements. He also made some effort to stay consistent with the Vulcan words James Doohan had created for the first movie. For the third movie, the actors actually spoke the Vulcan dialogue live. Okrand discusses his work on the franchise here.

  29. Nathan said,

    June 9, 2012 @ 12:01 am

    So if it is pseudo Sanskrit, does anyone notice retroflexion?

  30. Anil said,

    June 9, 2012 @ 4:34 am

    Dear fellow linguists, I congratulate you on the many comments made connecting the language of the 'Engineers' with PIE and/or pseudo-Sanskrit. Some of the guesswork is absolutely spot on – and this is very gratifying to read. I'm sure that Fox would have no issue with the dialogues being presented publicly, now that the film has been released, so I'm looking forward to being able to continue this discussion further. Best wishes,
    Anil K Biltoo (SOAS, London).

  31. What does David say in that mysterious language near the end of “Prometheus”? | pagelady said,

    June 9, 2012 @ 12:29 pm

    […] very interesting linguistic discussion on Language Log. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  32. vadim said,

    June 10, 2012 @ 12:47 pm

    Great, Anil!

    So then, can you print out for us two things:

    1) the sentence that David was studying near the movie's beginning
    (and is it part of Schleicher's fable?) it does appear in Latin letters onscreen
    ever so briefly.

    2) the sentence David speaks to the engineer
    (and, if you want to, what it means)

    A real bonus would be to see some samples of the script. It obviously looks
    cuneiform but is it an alphabet (a la Ugaritic) or syllabary (a la various Mesopotamian). Hard to believe it would be pictographic..since that wouldn't
    promote a high level of space-faring technology.

    You can be our own contemporary Oannes (emissary of Ea..aka the engineers).

  33. Prometheus | ancientworldtour said,

    June 10, 2012 @ 2:48 pm

    […] saw the new Ridley Scott movie, Prometheus, this weekend. Over at Language Log there is an ongoing discussion in an attempt to translate a sentence spoken in the movie, which is […]

  34. Jerome Chiu said,

    June 11, 2012 @ 12:50 am

    The syntax looks more Vedic than Classical Sanskrit (and knowing next to nothing about PIE, I really can't judge).

  35. Getting Some Clarity on Prometheus | this cage is worms said,

    June 11, 2012 @ 7:38 am

    […] 5. What did David say to the Engineer after the Engineer woke from stasis? Unless the director or the script writer tells us explicitly, there is no way of knowing. David speaks in a fictional language, and people have tried to parse what he says here. […]

  36. Victor Mair said,

    June 11, 2012 @ 9:42 am

    From Donald Ringe:

    This might be intended as PIE, but if it is, we have a case of the "philological dialect problem": the versions of PIE reconstructed by different specialists (especially of different generations) can be and often are mutually unintelligible–and the less mainstream the specialist, the greater the divergence. (I can't claim credit for the joke; it was Warren Cowgill's response when I asked, on a whim, whether he thought he could talk to Oswald Szemerényi in PIE.) If somebody knows what the utterance is supposed to mean, we might reconstruct how it was reconstructed, so to speak. Cheers (maybe *two* cheers, with apologies to Jay Jasanoff)!

    People are often unaware how much difficulty and disagreement is involved in reconstructing anything longer than a word.

  37. MF said,

    June 11, 2012 @ 5:19 pm

    I'm fairly sure the language wasn't intended to be PIE. He mentions that he has been studying "ancient languages" on the ship while everyone else is asleep; we just happen to see him doing some IE work. He also mentions that he's trying to extrapolate backwards from these.

    The idea, then, seems to be that he's doing his best reconstruction of a putative Proto-World, which the space jockeys apparently spoke: they can be heard making speech noises in a hologram in one scene, and it sounded vaguely like the same sort of language.

  38. William Steed said,

    June 11, 2012 @ 7:31 pm

    My first thought upon hearing Fassbender's pronunciation when I saw the movie the other day was that I was hearing ejectives, and that whoever had come up with it might have subscribed to the glottalic theory (with ejective stops instead of aspirated).

    I too look forward to hearing more from Anil (thanks for popping by!). I sure perked up when the screen popped up with undeniably PIE-like words.

  39. anthar said,

    June 12, 2012 @ 4:29 am

    can anyone post an audio file with David and Computer reciting Schleicher's fable? I can't find it anywhere, and I can't go the cinema to listen because the movie is dubbed where I live.
    I suppose, that would be quite helpful in placing the laryngeals in the 'tax manamai' phrase (if it really is PIE).

  40. bulbul said,

    June 12, 2012 @ 4:22 pm

    Alright, saw the movie. Minor spoilers ahead:

    @vadim: "and is it part of Schleicher's fable?". It most definitely is. David is studying with the help of a video tutor (if you were wondering, that's the appearance of Dr. Biltoo – hello there – IMDB and KD mention) who explicitly says something along the lines of "And now we'll recite the Schleicher's fable". I tried to read it, but only got the first word. Could be "Hwejis" or something like that. Anyway, it didn't look like any of the versions I know.

    Also, I noticed something about automated voices for Czech and Aramaic and other languages in the credits, but can't for the life of me figure out where that happened.

  41. anthar said,

    June 12, 2012 @ 5:28 pm

    it was dubbed here, but I heard "khewis". if they didn't digress too much, it may be Kortlandt's version – his first word is ʕʷeuis.

  42. aquavit said,

    June 12, 2012 @ 7:29 pm


    I extracted the audio of David's language lesson with the reference to Schleicher's fable.

    WAV file is here:


  43. Murat said,

    June 12, 2012 @ 9:50 pm

    No real facts to offer here, you all seem a lot better versed than i in PIE, bu something to think about when considering whether subjecting this to the old linguists' scrutiny: I think Chekhov's old axiom of economy in (visual) storytelling might be relevant here: "One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it." The movie introduces a lot of obvious and subtle elements which, if the filmmaker is any good –he is– don't go to waste. Going so far as to spend something like 10 seconds (?) or so on something so arcane as PIE, with some real authenticity, should produce a payoff. If the Schlecher's Fable scene was just to inform the audience that David is boning up on the world's oldest languages, it seems redundant, especially given that it's stated that he is doing so outright towards the middle of the film. My guess is that when David is speaking to the engineer, he's doing so in at least one reconstructed proto-language.

  44. Murat said,

    June 12, 2012 @ 9:52 pm

    Just to put an example out there: the introduction of several of the elements of the "lifepod" (in particular the surgical pod) seem very, very out of place and heave-handed at the beginning of the film, though come back to prove themselves as plot devices.

  45. KD said,

    June 12, 2012 @ 11:13 pm

    It sounds like Schleicher's fable has been edited down; first there is the fable itself:

    h2ówis, (H)jésmin h2wlh2néh2 ne éh1est

    (taken from Lühr (2008), cited on Wikipedia)

    Then it sounds as if Dr Biltoo asks David a (comprehension?) question which I hear as:

    /mʌhmʌʔsə dʌdruktə hyɛwɪs/

    David replies:

    /jahsma hwɛnɪn nʌhɪst aʛusta dʌdruktə/

    Again, apologies for my inevitably flawed transcription, but since this part doesn't seem to be in the original text of the fable, and David's reply is different, but repeats the word (verb?) /dʌdruktə/ in a different position, it looks to me like a question/answer exchange. Also, I think the consonant I've transcribed here as /ʛ/ may be the same one I earlier transcribed as /p/ in /puifa/; Fassbender gives both sounds a distinctive (implosive?) quality.

  46. aquavit said,

    June 13, 2012 @ 12:01 am

    I've been having a listen to this and grabbed some online proto-indo-european dictionaries to look at.

    Only word I can seem to make out is M∂rtos (death).

    No idea if that is correct, just a laymans interpretation of what I'm hearing.
    Whatever David says to the engineer, it sets off the engineer from a previously calm manner to a highly aggressive/violent state.

  47. KD said,

    June 13, 2012 @ 4:32 am

    A quick correction to my earlier attempt of the Schleicher's Fable dialogue:

    Dr Biltoo: h2ówis, (H)jésmin h2wlh2néh2 ne éh1est [A sheep that had no wool…]

    Dr Biltoo: mʌhmʌʔsə (?) dedork’e h2ówis [The sheep saw X]

    David: (H)jésmin h2wlh2néh2 ne éh1est (h1)ék’wons dedork’e […that had no wool saw horses]

    I've just used the PIE scheme from Lühr again, mainly because it seems closest to the actors' pronunciations, but there's a few points of difference; for instance in the recording [dedork’e] sounds to me more like [dedrukte]. I'd like to imagine /mʌhmʌʔsə/ is an interrogative pronoun, but Wikipedia tells me they all begin with *kʷ, and the word seems to begin with a /m/ sound. Since it the word [h2ówis] is missing from the beginning of David's dialogue, it may well be that more was cut, resulting in a dialogue that doesn't quite make sense.

  48. Nelson said,

    June 13, 2012 @ 5:23 am

    aquavit, I was also wondering about that word, which I heard more or less as mṛ́tu, which is reasonably good Sanskrit or PIE for 'let him/it die' (3rd person singular aorist imperative to (IE) √mer 'die, vanish'). But it seems an odd place for an imperative (especially if that's inside a relative clause), and that might not be the right word division to make there anyway (since the following ste:dah/ste:dha(?) seems closely run together with it.

  49. Anil said,

    June 13, 2012 @ 7:14 am

    Greetings, KD and others. Schleichers' Fable is indeed the practice piece used in David's language lesson. Fassbender took, by his own admission, about 17 hours to commit the entire fable to memory – poor man – and RS ended up using only the first line, which runs as follows:

    hjewɪs jasmə hwælnə nahəst akʷunsəz dadʳkta (KD

    This isn't a million miles away from Kortlandt or Lühr (or, for that matter, Schleicher's original). On the subject of the writing system, let me quash a rumour: it ISN'T of my doing. The use of what resembles a mixed cuneiform/hieroglyphic system, with elements of Eteocypriot and Linear Elamite chucked in for good measure, would not have occurred to me – I'm glad to say. The script comes courtesy of Fox's art department.

  50. KD said,

    June 14, 2012 @ 4:54 am

    So, if the consonant in "horses" (akʷunsəz) is the same one in [puifa], could that word actually be something like an indefinite pronoun? For instance, Wikipedia has *kʷeybh- as the indefinite/interrogative plural dative pronominal pronoun.

    I think there may be something to the idea that [murtuste:da] includes the word 'death'… could the -steda element be either a verbal ending (Wikipedia gives -mosdʰh₂ as a 1st plural subjunctive vern ending for *bʰer-) or else some form of the verb 'to stand' (*steh2-), with 'murtu' understood as a noun?

  51. Anil said,

    June 14, 2012 @ 6:24 am

    It isn't [puifa]. There's no /f/ in the reconstruction and the initial phoneme is a labiovelar /gʷ/: gʷivah. You're absolutely on the money as regards /mərt-/ ;)

  52. Ezr said,

    June 14, 2012 @ 7:43 pm

    gwivah = *gweio "to live"?

  53. aquavit said,

    June 15, 2012 @ 10:33 pm

    Hmmm anyone else hearing something else other than "manamai" at the start?

    I am hearing it as "mudoo my" or "mother my" as you would say in english.

    I uploaded a slowed down version to here:
    It is easier to understand than the normal version in my opinion.

    If only Anil would divulge the secret. :)
    I've been reading up about PIE and am deeply fascinated at how complex it is.

  54. Matt said,

    June 15, 2012 @ 11:27 pm

    My feeling when I heard this in the film was that David had gone with Shaw's question since he had (to my dilettante's ears) said something like murtu*. Her question was, if I recall, something along the lines of, "If you created us, why do you want to kill us?"

    That works with some of the words that people have parsed, and had confirmed, namely: death and life. Although those words would also pertain to Weylands question. /kɛna/ certainly has the ring of a question word to it. If that's the case then, /tax manamai/ might be separated with a comma, a bit of introductory information about what someone thinks, wonders, believes etc. and then a question begins with /kɛna/ about why to kill when they gave life in the first place. Just my thought.

  55. anthar said,

    June 16, 2012 @ 3:46 am

    @aquavit, thanks a lot! and @anil, thanks a lot for the clarification!

    I still hear "manamai". then I hear something like /hjamamrtusteda/ or /hjamamrtu steda/ and even 'mrtus steda/, then /quiva/ (revealved here as /gwiwa/, then /xon itta sostatr kreda/.

    as already said above, mrtu- has to do with death, and gwiwa should be something like 'live' (lat. vivo, looks like 1st Sg *gwiwoh2; or it could be something like 'live!'), and manamai looks like 'I think'.

    the /steda/ thing puzzles me; the form @KD mentioned would rather be not subjunctive, but a simple medio-passive present tense, because of the zero grade stem. still, it doesn't look right on the money.
    but could it be /deda/? I'm most certainly wrong, but I'm thinking of something like the Gothic past tense endings like '-dedun'. 'deda' would also make a fine perfect, but for the root vowel.

    I think, the word division might be "hjam amrtus steda" or "deda". a relative clause meaning 'whom immortal(ity?)… X", and then something like 'live!'

  56. puzzlet said,

    June 16, 2012 @ 5:45 am

    Speculating from what David might want to say, how does it fit if the beginning of the line is tuH mādi h1moi "you came to me"?

  57. anthar said,

    June 16, 2012 @ 9:24 am

    @puzzlet, wow! I can't hear /mad/ there, but it looks probable.

  58. decora said,

    June 17, 2012 @ 11:51 pm

    My question is that the star maps in the film came from various cultures that presumably had languages not derived from PIE…. so why would the Engineers speak 100% PIE rather than, say, a mix of PIE and some other Proto Language?

  59. KD said,

    June 18, 2012 @ 1:19 am

    I agree with your point, but it does seem that the language Ridley Scott used was based on PIE rather than, say, Proto-World or Nostratic. Anil Biltoo, who was responsible for the Engineer language dialogue, seems to have more or less confirmed this in his earlier comments. It might be because PIE sounds to speakers of Indo-European languages like Latin and Sanscrit, i.e. a bit mystical and ceremonial; also PIE, controversial as it may be, is a lot easier to reconstruct than an even earlier stage of human language. I was talking about this the other day to another friend studying Egyptology, and he made the good point that if they'd gone instead with Proto-Afro-Asiatic they'd have a language 5-10,000 years older than PIE (and a little easier for me to understand!), but I suspect it would have sounded to most people like gibberish. At least here we have world endings and sound clusters which sound vaguely familiar to some English (and French, and Hindi etc.) speakers.

    It looks like there were some scenes cut from the final movie ( which probably had more dialogue, so if a DVD or extended cut comes out one day we may have more text to transcribe and make hardcore nerdy speculations about :)

  60. Oliver said,

    June 18, 2012 @ 4:42 am

    Might the end be something like sustater kreda?
    A perfect form of the root *sta: "they put up well"?

  61. Anil said,

    June 19, 2012 @ 7:37 am

    Just a quick word to dispel some assumptions that have kept surfacing throughout this discussion. The language of the engineers in Prometheus is not 'pure PIE' (whatever that's supposed to be, given that all reconstructions are hypothetical). A very pertinent comment was posted by NW, on June 8th, addressing the use of PIE by non-linguists. Any dialogue intended to be learned by actors has to be capable of being pronounced, which does not appear to be a quality discernible in reconstructions proposed thus far. If the dialogue in Prometheus appears to contain words that have an immediate resonance with languages known to the viewer, that is all to the good since it is intended (The use of Proto-Afroasiatic would likely have yielded no such result). The emphasis was less on authenticity with respect to what is generally agreed upon vis-a-vis PIE phonology and roots, and more on ease of articulation, sonorousness and the suggestion of a possible connection of 'Engineer' with terrestrial speech.

  62. Prometheus | Digest Movies said,

    June 19, 2012 @ 8:32 am

    […] actually say to the Engineer at the end?  (A discussion among linguists about this is over at the Language Log).  Does Shaw really "deserve to know why" the Engineers changed their minds about […]

  63. Anil said,

    June 19, 2012 @ 9:03 am

    Aah… now that's one heck of a question! One might argue that humans had more than exceeded their makers' expectations by developing the ability (or having the impudence) to travel to the planet/moon referred to as LV223 and to demand anything whatsoever. We're all going to have to wait for the Director's cut to see if the conversation between the Engineer and David – and there was indeed originally a conversation, not merely an utterance from David – yields any fruit. A knowledge of PIE will help but, as was the intention, the dialogue is not in a single known (or reconstructed) language. One can only suppose that 'Engineer' and PIE are in some way related but separated by many millennia and exhibiting marked differences.

  64. Lauren said,

    June 19, 2012 @ 2:01 pm

    @Anil Can they be "separated by many millennia?" The dead engineer found near the beginning of the film is said to have died approximately 2000 years ago if I remember correctly, and so if we assume that the one preserved in stasis was alive around the same time, doesn't this suggest that the engineer spoke a PIE-based language roughly corresponding to what was used on Earth? Perhaps "Engineer" is the parent-language of PIE, but if so the engineer in the film would have to have been speaking a version of "Engineer" separated from PIE only by subsequent divergent development on Earth, not by millennia of divergent usage.

  65. Lethal_Mutation said,

    June 19, 2012 @ 6:07 pm

    When David is practicing with the linguist, he may be speaking PIE. That is a red herring.

    David speaks Latin to the engineer. Fassbender pronounces the Latin words with a German accent so it's slightly difficult to understand at first. You can hear David speak to the engineer at the following link:

    This is my loose translation:
    Remember. He is in the decaying (dying) stages of aging. To whatever place you will, we respectfully believe you can stop it.

    Base words with translation.

    First sentence
    memini – Remember
    canu stadi – stages of aging
    mortuus – dead, decayed, whithered

    Second sentence
    quovis – to whatever place you will.
    honesta – respectfully
    stati – stasis (stop)
    crede – believe

    My translation may be off, but I'm reasonably sure that's the gist of what David says to the engineer.

  66. Anil said,

    June 20, 2012 @ 6:38 am

    Lauren, what is the suggested timeline for PIE? By the year zero, PIE had long since developed into the various proto-languages (at the branch level) and indeed well beyond, into individual languages. As for Lethal_Mutation's comment, there is nothing I can add – or would wish to – other than that it represents the most inaccurate guess so far.

  67. Anil said,

    June 20, 2012 @ 8:41 am

    Hmm. I hadn't realised until Lethal_Mutation provided a link to the dialogue (which was very useful, so thanks) how indistinct individual syllables were. The initial syllable seems to have been clipped, although there's an interesting 'echo' of it. Elsewhere, David speaks rapidly, to the point where some sounds are swallowed. Here is the actual line, presented in the format in which it was put in front of Fassbender:

    /ida hmanəm aɪ kja namṛtuh zdɛ:taha/…/ghʷɪvah pjorn' ɪttham sas dātṛ kredah/

    (Watch out for sandhi: both sentences contain sandhified forms)

  68. vince peersman said,

    June 20, 2012 @ 12:37 pm

    i asked a friend who studied latin and according to him it is:
    Manu mai qa na mortu steta coi var od bi temps su stara creda.

    which would loosely translate to

    because the dead rose, may your hand grant charity. a drink to stand against time. i believe we should receive that.


    June 20, 2012 @ 2:08 pm

    […] insights, have a look at this discussion board over at the linguistic forum called Language Log, here. There are some great isolated audio clips of dialogue from the film. GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", […]

  70. Britton Watkins said,

    June 20, 2012 @ 2:35 pm


    See immediately above your comment.

    According to the man who was hired by Ridley Scott to create the dialogue for the film (Dr. Anil Biltoo), it is quite clearly not Latin, but:

    /ida hmanəm aɪ kja namṛtuh zdɛ:taha/…/ghʷɪvah pjorn' ɪttham sas dātṛ kredah/

    It would seem that your friend has gotten two of the roots correctly on the board. As for the translation, he may want to look at what the line's creator has recently supplied and try again.

  71. Lethal_Mutation said,

    June 20, 2012 @ 6:07 pm

    It may be PIE but my Latin translation (see above) was close.

    Here's my translation (see above for more detail):

    Remember. He is in the decaying (dying) stages of aging. To whatever place you will, we respectfully believe you can stop it.

    As I stated above, my translation was off but did reveal the gist of what David said:

    /ida hmanəm aɪ kja namṛtuh zdɛ:taha/…/ghʷɪvah-pjorn-ɪttham sas da:tṛ kredah/

    Revealed translation at the following URL:

    I won't quote the exact translation here in case others wish to continue to work on it.

    Since Dr. Biltoo has stated it's not Latin (Latin derivative?), then the similarities must be coincidental. Looking forward to reading the word-for-word translation.

  72. Trivia: Just What Did David Say to the Engineer in ‘Prometheus’? | Music Movie Magic said,

    June 20, 2012 @ 6:42 pm

    […] Not much of a revelation, I know. That's text we might have guessed. But every little detail is valuable in making up the overall picture. There's a bit more detail and discussion here. […]

  73. christian said,

    June 21, 2012 @ 12:05 am

    The line that David speaks to the Engineer (which is from a longer sequence that didn’t make the final edit) is as follows:

    /ida hmanəm aɪ kja namṛtuh zdɛ:taha/…/ghʷɪvah-pjorn-ɪttham sas da:tṛ kredah/

    in English is:

    ‘This man is here because he does not want to die. He believes you can give him more life’

  74. KD said,

    June 21, 2012 @ 2:29 am

    Ah, well now we know the transliteration and the translation (thanks Anil!) it's a lot easier to pick out the roots! Here's my attempt:

    ida= *h1id, demonstrative pronoun (cf. English this, the)
    hmanəm = *(dh)ghomon, "human (literally 'earthling') (cf. Latin homo, hominis English human)
    kja = *kwi, relative pronoun (cf. Latin qui, English who)
    na- = *ne, negative prefix (cf. English 'no' etc.)
    mrtuh = *mer, "to die" (cf. Latin mors, mortis, English murder)
    ghʷɪvah – *gweiə (life, cf. Latin vivus, Greek bios, English quick)
    pjorn – really not sure about this one… maybe from *pu, meaning to "blow, swell"?
    iittham = *tuhom (?), emphatic second person pronoun, "you" (cf. Latin tu, English thou) (?)
    sas = *so, masculine demonstative pronoun functioning as 3rd person pronoun, "him" (?)
    datr = *do, "give" (cf. Latin dos, dotis, English dowry)
    kreda = *kre-dhə, "to place trust, ie. believe" (cf. Latin credere)

    Pjorn, ittahm and sas gave me a bit of trouble, so I'd appreciate any better suggestions. Three of the roots had been correctly identified on this comment thread: *mer, *gweiə and *kre-dhə, so that's something at least! I'll leave it to more competent linguists to parse the syntactical relations in the sentence.

    The similarities to Latin are not a coincidence; since Latin is a descendant of PIE, and one of our main sources for that language, it's not surprising it retains a few roots with forms and meanings close to the source language. As Anil has said, 'Engineer' is based to some extent on PIE; whether it's intended to be another descendant of PIE, its ancestor, or a language which influenced it, is another interesting question.

  75. KD said,

    June 21, 2012 @ 2:45 am

    Oops, I can already see I've made some mistakes with the fiddly little words, and missed out "ai" between "hmanəm" and "kja". There must be an adverb "here" and a conjunction "because" in there somewhere. The American Heritage Dictionary of IE Roots gives *ki for "here", so I'd guess that that's the [kja]. Maybe [ai] is from *epi, "upon", here with the sense of "concerning" (cf. German über)? Or is there a copula I've missed?

  76. Trivia: Just What Did David Say to the Engineer in ‘Prometheus’? | Rudeni Movies said,

    June 21, 2012 @ 6:19 am

    […] Not much of a revelation, I know. That’s text we might have guessed. But every little detail is valuable in making up the overall picture. There’s a bit more detail and discussion here. […]

  77. Anil said,

    June 21, 2012 @ 6:34 am

    KD and Lethal_Mutation, I salute you both! – and I'm delighted, despite how it may have sounded yesterday, that Latin was cited as the possible source. A few people have made the same claim for Sanskrit and I just wonder how much longer it's going to be before somebody volunteers Greek or Avestan (The latter was certainly at the back of my mind when devising the phonemic inventory). This discussion has been a wonderful demonstration of how much linguistic acumen currently exists amongst students of IE studies and historical linguistics. KD, would you be willing to divulge what your research interests are? My guess is historical linguistics and… Middle Egyptian (?) – despite an unnervingly keen instinct for PIE.

  78. KD said,

    June 21, 2012 @ 9:23 am

    Thanks for the compliments, Anil, although I suspect my skills in PIE are a lot less impressive than many of the earlier commenters. I'm currently a graduate student in Ancient History with a research focus on Egyptian magico-religious practices during the late Roman period, so I have a working knowledge of the languages in use during that period (Middle & Late Egyptian, Demotic, Coptic, Greek, and to a lesser extent Latin), and the modern languages of scholarship. Historical linguistics and PIE are just side interests at the moment, although I'm seriously considering doing a second degree in linguistics (after I finish this one, of course!). This whole discussion has been fascinating, and not only am I planning to buy Lehmann's Theoretical Bases, but I now know the first line of Schleicher's fable off by heart (which I think is a pretty good party trick!).

  79. Nelson said,

    June 21, 2012 @ 1:05 pm

    KD, while Lehmann's book is fine, I'd rather recommend Benjamin Fortson IV's Indo-European Language and Culture: An Introduction as a basic textbook (pace Chris Culver's preference for the latter in his numerous Amazon reviews). Though IE linguistics now has quite a few textbooks of various sorts.

    Anyway, I've just seen Prometheus, so now actually have some context for the phrase. I'm curious to take another look at this phrase when I have some time, now that I've got this context and a reliable transcription.

  80. Nelson said,

    June 21, 2012 @ 1:07 pm

    Oops, 'for the latter' is a reference to Lehmann's book. Changed the phrasing around, but forgot to make that 'former'.

  81. KD said,

    June 21, 2012 @ 10:49 pm

    Nelson, thanks for your advice, I think the Amazon reviews you mention are the very ones that put me on to Lehmann in the first place! Any advice for a lexicon? The American Heritage Dictionary of IE Roots seems fairly good to me, having used a reference copy.

  82. Nelson said,

    June 22, 2012 @ 4:32 am

    I'm not terribly familiar with the AHD Roots, but since it was put together by Calvert Watkins, I'd assume it's reasonably well done (it also gets a positive mention in Fortson). The newest major lexicon is Lexikon der indogermanischen Verben (usually abbreviated LIV) by Helmut Rix et al., revised edition 2001. As the name implies, it covers only verbal roots and formations (though this is also relevant to the large number of nouns derived from verbal roots). The main complete dictionary is Julius Pokorny's somewhat older Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch (which you should be able to find online).

    There are also of course quite a range of etymological dictionaries of the various older IE languages.

  83. Nelson said,

    June 22, 2012 @ 5:32 pm

    A few thoughts building on KD's notes:

    ida This is a little strange since the *id stem is usually neuter in IE (as it still is in English it). But hmanəm is also either neuter or masculine accusative, neither of which seems quite right if it is supposed to be 'man' (for more usual *(dh)ĝh(e)mon- or something) – either I'm not sure why it's neuter, or I'm not sure what it's the object of. Perhaps the -əm is meant as an absolutive marker? Anyway, even if hmanəm is neuter, ida might mean 'here, now', like Avestan iδa (Sanskrit iha).

    I peeked at the 'serviceable translation' (in part because I wanted to confirm that na- was a negative), and that led me to wonder if this might be a 'perfect' of *ʜ1ei- 'to go', with a for *o and no reduplication (actually it looks like we might have a systematic replacement of *o with a – the only actual o is in pjorn', and I'm not sure what that's supposed to be). Not that a perfect is actually reconstructed for this verb, but we've been told this isn't 'pure' PIE already. If it is an intransitive verb, an absolutive 'subject' would be appropriate. So maybe this is supposed to be some form of pre-PIE.

    zdɛ:taha If this is a form of *steʜ2-, then the zd is presumably a sandhi effect, and the -taha is an ending of some sort. But I have no real idea whether this is meant as a finite verb (in which case it should presumably be 3rd person singular), a participle, or a verbal noun (the latter two presumably agreeing with either kja or -mṛtuh). Maybe this is supposed to be something like 'that death not be established'?

    ɪttham This is basically exactly the same as Sanskrit ittham 'thus, in this way' (presumably related to Latin item), though maybe that's coincidence.

    Most of this is still pretty obscure to me, in part because I have no idea how the verbal constructions are supposed to work. I see nothing that looks like a straightforward 3rd person finite verb. So I'm wondering whether ah(a) is a finite ending of some sort, or if this phrase employs entirely nominal constructions. sas dātṛ might be a fairly clear case of using an agent noun instead of a verbal construction (if this is really equivalent to Sanskrit so dātā as it kind of looks like).

    I'd be curious to know if any of this is on even remotely the right track. The possibilities for each word are pretty extensive, given that's it's obviously not 'pure' IE by anyone's reconstruction, and I think there's only so far we can get on such a small corpus without more information or feedback.

  84. Nelson said,

    June 23, 2012 @ 7:18 am

    That Sanskrit should of course be sa dātā, not so.

  85. KD said,

    June 24, 2012 @ 9:58 am

    Nelson, thanks again for your advice, I'm currently working my way through Forston and greatly enjoying it. If you're still interested in parsing the sentence, there's a forum post here which you may find useful:

    Although he does not give a source or discuss morphology, the poster seems confident in parsing it as follows:

    this man (is) here because not-die he-desires. life_increase_wish to-him you-(can)-give he-believes

    He also provides the full version of Anil's take on the Fable:

    hyewîs yasmâ hwælnâ nahâst aqwhunsâz dadrrkta, tâm ghêrmha vagam ugênthâ, tâm magham bhrrma, tâm hâmanam hêhok bharânt. hyewîs aqwhobyun vakta; mya kêrt xnutâya vizât hmanam aqwhunsâz uh-gnathâ. aqwhunz vaktantâ: kludh hyewa! kêrt xnutâya vîvîzdama: hâmanas patâsa hyewasya hwælnam swah gwhârmam vastram hyewîzbya hwælnâ nahâst. tod aklawa hyewîs agrâm abhogtâ.

    And also this note from Anil for the speakers of the 'Engineer' language:

    “A certain care must be taken when producing the distinctive clicks in the language. The gwh in gwhivah, meaning "life," is a good example. It’s crucial that the pronunciation be clear and emphatic. Air is powerfully pulled IN to the back of the throat after a brief closure in a manner that linguists refer to as ingressive articulation. This kind of sound is rare in everyday speech on Earth, and so alien to the vast majority of human languages, that it is likely to become an iconic aural signpost for recognizing the speech of the Engineers.”

    A prediction which turned out to be true, since it was the similarity of the 'qw' in 'aqwhunsâz' to the 'gw' in 'gwhivah' that first made me think it was PIE being spoken.

  86. KD said,

    June 24, 2012 @ 9:58 am

    Nelson, if you're still interested in parsing the sentence, there's a forum post here which you may find useful:

    Although he does not give a source or discuss morphology, the poster seems confident in parsing it as follows:

    this man (is) here because not-die he-desires. life_increase_wish to-him you-(can)-give he-believes

    He also provides the full version of Anil's take on the Fable:

    hyewîs yasmâ hwælnâ nahâst aqwhunsâz dadrrkta, tâm ghêrmha vagam ugênthâ, tâm magham bhrrma, tâm hâmanam hêhok bharânt. hyewîs aqwhobyun vakta; mya kêrt xnutâya vizât hmanam aqwhunsâz uh-gnathâ. aqwhunz vaktantâ: kludh hyewa! kêrt xnutâya vîvîzdama: hâmanas patâsa hyewasya hwælnam swah gwhârmam vastram hyewîzbya hwælnâ nahâst. tod aklawa hyewîs agrâm abhogtâ.

    And also this note from Anil for the speakers of the 'Engineer' language:

    “A certain care must be taken when producing the distinctive clicks in the language. The gwh in gwhivah, meaning "life," is a good example. It’s crucial that the pronunciation be clear and emphatic. Air is powerfully pulled IN to the back of the throat after a brief closure in a manner that linguists refer to as ingressive articulation. This kind of sound is rare in everyday speech on Earth, and so alien to the vast majority of human languages, that it is likely to become an iconic aural signpost for recognizing the speech of the Engineers.”

    A prediction which turned out to be true, since it was the similarity of the 'qw' in 'aqwhunsâz' to the 'gw' in 'gwhivah' that first made me think it was PIE being spoken.

  87. First Things First: Prometheus And The Engineer’s Language And Script said,

    September 23, 2012 @ 5:53 am

    […] in its grammar and vocabulary, although not in its pronunciation. As Prof. Biltoo said (in a thread on this matter at Language Log) about his Prometheus' version of the Schleicher's Fable: This isn't a million […]

  88. bhāvasindhu dāsa said,

    October 8, 2012 @ 12:05 pm

    I've been working on the Vedic version of PIE for a good while now, and it looks to me that the phonetics come quite close to a form of Vedic. There are important differences, however, like the use of a fricative, which one will not find in Vedic. But in any case, it seems legible enough that I'd be willing to take a stab:

    "tax manamai kɛna murtuste:da puifa hɒniʔtam sas tatir kre:da"

    tax: (takṣ?) this might be closest to a pronoun, i.e., "that", in some inflected form, though I'm unsure which. It looks closer to middle eastern than indic forms. if it is straigtforwardly a root, then at least in Whitney's roots, this means "to fashion". Often, using a root without any declension implies an imperative. So this, taken together with the next term, could be taken as a command.

    manamai: this could be a few diff things, but I take the root to be √man*, measure. It could be a dative singular, an instrumental plural, though I also hear a potential genetive singular. In purāṇic, the term comes close to mama-manas, which basically renders as 'my opinion'. so here, it seems that David (the robot) is asking for the engineer's opinion.

    kena: appears more straightforwardly instrumental singular interrogative pronoun, "by what?".

    murtuste:da – possibly a product of phonetic elision, I would suggest the following vigraha (phonetic analysis): murtus -ta – ida (death, that, in this way)

    puifa: I do no know what to make of this: the IE √pū* means to purify, but I do not recognize the stem or declension.

    hɒniʔtam: this sounds like a past passive participle of √han* (to kill), so "slain" or "killed"

    sas: nominative masculine pronoun: "he/that"

    tatir: this seems to be a phonetically inflected form of tatis/tatiḥ. The declension is a bit strange, but it could be a form of genetive neuter singular of "tat". It might also be the correlative, if this system of semantics doesn't use the k/y/t series for the interrogative/relative/correlative syntax strictly.

    kre:da – from the context of the film, and from the syntactic placement at the end of the sentence, I would suspect this is an imperative form of √kṛ*, so that the meaning might be rendered as, "please do that". but the phonetics seem to favor a different root √krīd* (play). This would be a stem form, and still an imperative, so "do thou play". But it makes less sense that way, unless Scott intends to suggest that the activities of the gods are like play.

    As such, putting it all together (though admittedly this is a bit sloppy and speculative), I think that "tax manamai kɛna murtuste:da puifa hɒniʔtam sas tatir kre:da" comes to mean: "Fashion [us] an opinion. By what may the death of the slain be purified? Do that to him."

  89. bhāvasindhu dāsa said,

    October 8, 2012 @ 12:23 pm

    well silly me. I should at least have done a check to see whether the phonetics were faithfully rendered.

  90. Why androids in space love the direct method « EFL Notes said,

    December 14, 2012 @ 8:13 pm

    […] The above is from the film Prometheus. There have been some interesting discussions on the invented language that is  seen here being learned by David the android e.g. Language Log's Proto-Indo-European in Prometheus? […]

  91. joequant said,

    January 26, 2013 @ 2:18 pm

    Just a note here… I was able to parse out some meaning with high school Latin, and the sociolinguistics is quite fascinating.

    It's quite brilliant if you think about it it for the android to try to speak in a reconstructed PIE. It's not necessarily the case that the Engineer was able to communicate in PIE, but if the Engineer thought that he was speaking Latin, Greek, Sanskrit or something close to PIE, it would have been possible to try to communicate some rather abstract thoughts.

    Also the Engineers appear to be quite technologically advanced, so it's possible that they have a PIE-like language functions as a liturgical language (as does Latin, classical Greek, and Sanskrit), and since their civilization is more advanced, it's possible that their liturgical language is more conservative than Latin and Sanskrit since they have a better way of preserving the old language.

    Then again maybe not…. This might be a lesson in the dangers of miscommunication. If the Engineers had a PIE-like liturgical language, it would be easy to get the meaning wrong. The Engineer hears death, life, and want, and it could result in a great deal of misunderstanding. One thing that I've found is that when two people don't understand each others language, you usually don't end up with bad situations. It's when two people *partially* understand the language that you can end up with major problems, so it's not clear what the Engineer heard.

  92. Adramaticus Creant said,

    February 16, 2013 @ 2:08 am

    Greeting, fellow travelers. I regret to say it, but you all have it wrong. The words are as follows: "… sustater credam" More on the correct sounds the Engineer actually uttered later… Just plain old ancient Latin-sounding words they made up.

  93. Adramaticus Creant said,

    February 16, 2013 @ 2:25 am

    "M'andemai… chiam'a murrth'u steeda… q'kuuiv'a… h'on ittha'am sustater credam." Now this taken in its entirety is a whole other matter of course. But this is actually what David pronounced as he spoke to the Engineer.

  94. Adramaticus Creant said,

    February 16, 2013 @ 2:28 am

    One more detail: the "m" from "credam" is actually silent.

  95. Adramaticus Creant said,

    February 16, 2013 @ 3:41 am

    Oh, and one last thing: I meant the "m" is "silent" only insofar as how David actually said it, but I believe he definitely mispronounced the word "credam"; he should have closed the lips on "m", but without most of the resonating throat sound that humans normally make when they would endeavor to pronounce "credam" as if it were spoken in Ancient Latin. A small trace of the throat articulation would suffice on the "m". Regards.

  96. Mark West said,

    February 26, 2013 @ 3:12 pm

    What Peersman volunteered as perhaps Latin:

    Manu mai qa na mortu steta coi var od bi temps su stara creda.

    isn't, I don't think. PIE modified for sonority and ease of pronunciation — and perhaps to give us poor nerds a pleasant puzzle — is a better guess, I'd wager. A nice diversion for a rainy day.

  97. Adramaticus Creant said,

    February 27, 2013 @ 6:21 am

    Right… only "sustater" and "credam" resemble actual Latin, but the rest is not. In any case, all I did was capture the exact sounds that David was making. The grouping I utilized is not my own, it is how David himself pronounced the words.I neither added, nor subtracted anything from what he uttered. Regarding "Manu mai… " etc., that is not actually what he says. Clearly there is a "d" present, I can hear it categorically, therefore it is "M'andemai". The reason I used the apostrophe is to indicate David's accentuation and emphasis. Regards.

  98. Adramaticus Creant said,

    February 27, 2013 @ 6:29 am

    Personally, I think it is bunk to assume that what David says is or even resembles PIE. After all, a reconstruction is not the actual thing. I believe they made up something that sounds great as a movie line, based on some perceived scholarly-generated preconceptions and expected linguistic characteristics—albeit based on research—just like they did in "The Mummy".

  99. K International | Alien Language in "Prometheus" said,

    October 15, 2013 @ 7:57 am

    […] not the common language of all humanity, just of the Indo-European language family. Commenters at Language Log suggest (I think accurately) that PIE was chosen because it's the oldest reconstructed […]

  100. Jean-Marc Laurin said,

    January 6, 2014 @ 5:17 am

    Here's a few suggestions.

    bhāvasindhu dāsa said,
    October 8, 2012 @ 12:05 pm

    "Do though play" in French almost literally translates as "s'il vous plaît" or "if it pleases you" or perhaps more accurately in this context : "do thy bidding".

    Has anyone ever tought of the basque isolate ? It predates indo-European and many postulate its existence as the last surviving remnant of a cromagnon family of languages having survived the last ice age having recently discovered links to PIE, but more with na-dene. Since we are to understand that the engineers were on earth prior or during the last ice age, and the highland mountainous scene at the beginning of the movie suggests visiting at a period where the sea level was higher, perhaps the basque language may be an interesting path to follow.

    Just a thought.

  101. Jean-Marc Laurin said,

    January 6, 2014 @ 5:28 am

    The basque postulate makes sense when you consider the ancient Egyptians and Semites (another possible link with the basques) wished to return to the high-ground or sky from whence they came. It gives credence to the antediluvian myth of the people of earth descending from the sky (actually descending from an ancient retrait to mountaineous regions to avoid flooding during the last ice age.) This certainly could be the case for the Caucasus (PIE) and the Pyrenees (basque) and the Scottish highlands (celtic or Finno-urgaic?) pictured in the film.

    It's a movie don't forget.

  102. Josef J. Jarosch said,

    October 5, 2014 @ 2:12 pm

    Since 1917, Hittite (rather: Anatolian) has been the language that most closely resembles PIE. Therefore: PIE has no thematic stems. PIE has no feminine gender. PIE has no perfect tense. PIE (in -e-roots) has no -o-grades or lengthened grades, and definitely no accented -o-grades or lengthened grades, and especially no accented zero-grades. A few days ago, I rewrote Schleicher's story and gave linguistic comments ("discussion"). Only good and solid PIE basic knowledge gives you a chance of knowing about the real and basic problems, and maybe their solution.

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