Dedicated to classics and hits.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Indo-European Poetry and Myth by M.L. West

South Ossetia today.

Book Review
Indo-European Poetry and Myth
 by M.L. West
Oxford University Press, 2007

 This title has been on my Amazon wish list for half a decade.  It's a cornerstone text in the field of Indo-European comparative linguistics.  Considering the role that Indo-European languages (English, French, Spanish, German, Slavic, Armenian, Farsi, Hindu) have played in the development of comparative linguistics as a FIELD, that is almost like saying the field of comparative linguistics comparative linguistics.  Most (if not all) of the concepts that describe the relationships of languages and families of languages is imported directly from studies of Indo-European languages.

  Indo-European Poetry and Myth appears to follow directly in the path of How to Kill A Dragon: Aspects of Indo-European Poetics by Calvert Watkins.  I'm guessing that West was a student of Watkins because much of Indo-European Poetry and Myth appears to be an academic strengthening of many of his observations via additional support in different literatures.  Notably, West is seemingly familiar with the ins and outs of Ossetian Mythology, the Ossetians being an obscure Indo-European linguistic group from the Caucasian geographic region.  West also expands the practice of using personal names from the Hittite world to illustrate that certain words or phrases exist across cultures, on the theory that people name themselves after specific things, and those words get imported into the name.

  West also shows a much greater grasp of lesser known mythologies like those of the Slavs, "Old Russian" and the Baltics.  The Baltics play an important role in Indo-European linguistics because they are "conservative" languages that have experienced less change over time.  West is also not afraid to call something NON Indo European, which is a refreshing tendency in a field given to rampant over-speculation. Most notably, tales involving items like Chariots or Swords are always going to be NOT original Indo European because those things were invented after the initial dispersal of the people from their ancestral homeland, called "Euro-stan" by the author.

  Since this is an academic book, you won't be able to really grasp the underlying arguments unless you can literally read the Greek alphabet, but his summaries of what are and aren't Indo European ideas is useful indeed. 

No comments:

Blog Archive