The Sound of Ancient Languages, parts 1 and 2

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0:00 Etruscan 

0:39 Sumerian 

1:25 Ancient Greek 

2:24 Urartian

3:24 Avestan 

3:50 Egyptian 

4:41 Akkadian 

5:34 Sanskrit

6:33 Hittite 

7:31 Latin 

8:28 Phoenician 

9:14 End

0:00 Proto Indo European

0:30 Sabaic 

1:00 Sanskrit 

1:30 Aramaic

2:00 Sumerian

2:30 Old Chinese

3:00 Ge`ez

3:30 Gothic language

And here are two shorts

Old Norse

Old English

I saw a longer, full version of the one on Old Norse and a very impressive of Viking, plus other ancient languages, but can't find them right now.

Selected readings

[Thanks to Alan Kennedy]


  1. John Swindle said,

    October 25, 2023 @ 2:46 am

    Old Chinese sounds like it was really horrible. No wonder they (or rather the Yellow Emperor) had to invent those funny characters to write it.

  2. Lasius said,

    October 25, 2023 @ 5:42 am

    Is that Schleicher's fable for PIE?

  3. Mark Williamson said,

    October 25, 2023 @ 6:56 am

    What are your thoughts on the Old Chinese? A lot of commenters felt it was poorly done, but for the most part their reasoning seems specious ("it sounds nothing like modern Chinese")

  4. Coby said,

    October 25, 2023 @ 8:15 am

    The Ancient Greek sounded a lot like Modern Greek, with η pronounced as /i/ and αι as /e/.

  5. Scott Mauldin said,

    October 25, 2023 @ 9:51 am

    I know little about the other languages but the Latin was clearly ecclesiastical, not classical.

  6. Kate Bunting said,

    October 25, 2023 @ 10:56 am

    I wonder why the Old English is illustrated with pictures of Dr Johnson and another 18th century gent?

  7. Joe said,

    October 25, 2023 @ 11:09 am

    Is Old Chinese the only tonal language in the bunch? Maybe the algorithm isn't well suited for tonal languages, and that's why it sounds like a fictional language spoken by insectoid aliens in a sci-fi movie, no vowels all consonants.

  8. David B Solnit said,

    October 25, 2023 @ 12:04 pm

    @Joe, most reconstructions of Old Chinese don't have tones. Tones are thought to have developed under the conditioning of final consonants (s and glottal stop), with the process not complete until Middle Chinese (Tang dynasty) if I remember correctly.

  9. Philip Anderson said,

    October 25, 2023 @ 12:28 pm

    My understanding is that Old Chinese did not have tones, but that the different tones arose, in Middle Chinese, as its final consonants or consonant clusters were lost. So the final consonants are linguistic reconstructions. The topolects, which are also tonal, then evolved from Middle Chinese. But I’m sure a Sinologist will correct me or expand on this.
    I think tones are also a regional feature, in other, unrelated SE Asian languages.

  10. Mark Hansell said,

    October 25, 2023 @ 1:58 pm

    The difference between the Chinese and some of the others is striking. He sounds like he is choking on all the consonants. Chinese has been reconstructed syllable by syllable, and the proto-language has been packed full of consonants, but nobody knows how the synchronic phonology dealt with big consonant clusters– were they simplified by deletion (like in English– try pronouncing all the consonants in "fifths" fast), or by assimilation (like Latin octo > Italian otto), or were epenthetic vowels inserted in some places? Without knowing that, we have absolutely no way of knowing what connected speech would have sounded like.

  11. Victor Mair said,

    October 25, 2023 @ 2:25 pm

    Bravissimo, Mark!

    That's why some historical linguists, such as Jerry Norman and South Coblin, ceased taking historical reconstructions of Sinitic LITERALly, if I may put it that way.

  12. Christian Weisgerber said,

    October 25, 2023 @ 2:30 pm

    The PIE one is "The King and the God".

  13. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    October 25, 2023 @ 4:49 pm

    What surprises me is that there are vast areas of the world where we apparently can’t even reverse-engineer, as it were, contemporary languages to get a hint of how humans talked millennia ago because those speakers did not use written languages.

    Some of the languages had large geographic spheres of influence, but do historical linguists believe that in general there were lots and lots of languages that had relatively small numbers of speakers or a lot of dialect variations?

  14. Chris Button said,

    October 25, 2023 @ 8:35 pm

    That's why some historical linguists, such as Jerry Norman and South Coblin, ceased taking historical reconstructions of Sinitic LITERALly, if I may put it that way.

    I vaguely recall someone pointing out to me that Kabardian can’t have a such a minimal/vertical (even vowelless) vowel system because they had heard the language, and it was full of vowels!

    I’m not quite sure what they were expecting to hear, but clearly they were confusing surface phonetics with underlying phonology.

    It reminds me of comments about Old Chinese like: you can’t just have schwa (or zero as a default feature of syllabification) and /a/ as the only “vowels” along with no “open” syllables because that’s completely unnatural! Again, it’s a confusion of surface phonetics with underlying phonology.

    It’s why the so-called “rounded vowel and front vowel hypotheses” in Old Chinese are so problematic. Besides obscuring etymological connections across the lexicon, they are overly prescriptive.

    That palatal or labial feature that should be treated as a feature of the syllable in a Firthian-prosody way rather than a segment/phoneme (and so may front or round the onset, coda and nucleus to varying degrees across the syllable with a myriad of potential reflexes) is instead forced onto the nucleus in exactly the same way for all speakers as if everyone pronounced the syllable identically in one completely homogeneous form of Old Chinese.

  15. Lasius said,

    October 26, 2023 @ 3:25 am

    @Christian Weisgerber

    Thanks, I should have listened to the end with the obvious: "What will?" "Will son!"

  16. Veronica said,

    October 28, 2023 @ 6:55 am

    As a professional historian, I think these videos reveal something very unfortunate about the way that we apparently still think about history. Why is it that when the makers of these (very interesting) videos envisioned the past, they only envisioned men?

  17. Terpomo said,

    October 28, 2023 @ 3:47 pm

    I agree about the Greek. Even considering that the text dates from the first century CE, so you wouldn't expect it to be in Classical Attic, it has some sound changes that didn't happen 'til some while later.

  18. Terpomo said,

    October 28, 2023 @ 3:59 pm

    I'll also add the channel has posted another such video:

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