Written in stone A journey through the Stone Age and the origins of modern language

Chris Stevens, 1964-

Book - 2015

Draws on mythology, ancient history, archaeology, the roots of society, technology, and warfare to reveal how the English language is based on original Stone Age language and uncovers the most influential and important words used by humanity's neolithic ancestors.

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New York : Pegasus Books 2015.
Main Author
Chris Stevens, 1964- (author)
First Pegasus Books hardcover edition
Item Description
Originally published: London : Virgin Books, 2014.
Physical Description
272 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 258-259).
  • Introduction
  • The Stone Age Words
  • Ak, An, Ank, Ap and Arg
  • Bha, Bhal, Bher, Bhleu, Bhrag and Bhur
  • Dam, Dha, Dhar, Dik, Diiv, Do, Dok and Drei
  • Em and Es
  • Fri
  • Gar, Gel, Ghu, Gn, Gri
  • Ieh, Neh and Iug
  • Kad, Kap, Kar, Kard, Kas, Ker, Kiv, Km, Ku, Kwa and Kwi
  • Lab, Lag, Li, Lubh and Luh
  • Ma, Mag, Mai, Met, Men, Mor and Min
  • Nek, Nem and Numbers
  • Pa, Pe, Pel, Pend, Per, Pi, Plak, Pod, Prel and Pu
  • Re, Reg, Ru and Rud
  • Sa, Sat, Sed, Spek, Sta, Streg and Swear Words
  • Tarn, Teks, Ten, Ters, Tor, Tu and Tup
  • Us
  • Wa, Wagh, Wak, War and Wid
  • Last Words
  • Acknowledgements
  • An Incomplete Bibliography
  • Word List
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Stevens (Thirty Days Has September) takes readers on a lively romp through history as he traces the origins of English and many other modern languages all the way back to the Stone Age. With a showman's enthusiasm, he examines how the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) language laid the groundwork for over six millennia of linguistic evolution, revealing how each ancient syllable forms the root of dozens of words and concepts. "It's proof that today's languages didn't evolve across two continents by accident-they developed from a mother tongue that was infinitely more efficient, memorable, and flexible than anything the other tribes could come up with," he explains. Stevens elaborates on "the way new words built on old, letter by letter," and notes that PIE "wasn't so much a mother tongue, more a construction kit." Each short chapter focuses on a single syllable, its evolution, and its descendants. Thus, em, which meant to buy, becomes emporium, example, premium, redemption, promptly, irredeemable, and ransom. Diw, which meant to be bright as day, becomes divine, journey, daisies, Jupiter, deity, and dismal. Stevens's passion for wordplay can lead to frenetic writing, but it's always enlightening and engaging. This is a delight for anyone who loves language in any form. Agent: Heather Holden-Brown, HHB Agency (U.K.). (Nov.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

The premise of this provocative, albeit not fully convincing, book is that certain Proto-Indo-European (PIE) prehistoric sounds are at the root of many current English words. In a brief, enticing introduction, journalist Stevens (Thirty Days Has September) makes an intriguing case that hundreds of "single syllable words used by our ancient ancestors are at the heart of English" (and other modern languages). The "Stone Age sounds" of these never-written-down utterances form an individual prehistoric "mother tongue" and describe, writes Stevens, the "DNA of English." What follows is a narrative, anecdotal dictionary of some 100-plus sounds that comprise some of the most pervasive root sounds in English from "Ak" to "Wid." In search for an ancestor to our whole family of Indo-European languages, this journalistic theory doesn't quite hold up to our linguistic knowledge, however. While compelling, readers will wish that Stevens provided further documentation for his theories and more than "An Incomplete Bibliography." -VERDICT The history of English is fascinating and this is a delightful distraction from a more serious linguistic approach to the topic.-Herbert E. Shapiro, Lifelong Learning Soc., Florida Atlantic Univ., Boca Raton © Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

Stevens (Thirty Days Has September: Cool Ways to Remember Stuff, 2008) proves etymology remains a lively pursuit in this engrossing, sometimes-startling dissection of Indo-European, an ancient language that is the basis for half of the world's modern tongues. Combining the dexterity of a linguist, a philologist's passion for the influence of words on cultural history, and a taste for the bizarre, as befits a TV critic for London's Daily Mail, the author takes us on a detailed tour of a language that is profoundly alive in our everyday speech and literature. He breaks down and analyzes its DNA, engaging in some fascinating speculations along with the more concrete reportage. Of all the languages of Europe and the Americas (including Latin and Greek), only a handful, including Basque and Hungarian, are not rooted in Indo-European. First spoken in Stone Age times 6,500 to 8,000 years ago and thought to have originated with Kurgan people on the shores of the Black Sea around 4500 B.C.E., many Indo-European words have remained unchanged in the present dayor are so little altered that readers will experience aha moments on every page. Equally surprising are the radical changes in meaning familiar words have undergone over the centuries. The book is nothing if not comprehensive, perhaps too much so. Though the chapters are punchy and brief, there is the sense that the book is somewhat overfurnished and presented in an unvarying style that, were it not for the compelling subject, would grow monotonous and wearisome. There are also some careless errors and dated notions sprinkled around. Nonetheless, such a book is quite an undertaking, and the author deserves credit for having approached it with the requisite seriousness, despite some spasms of uneven humor. This study of Indo-European's primal building blocks and their interactions should be irresistible to the layman or devotee of origins. Stevens, an adventurer in language, demonstrates considerable prowess (from Es, to exist) in making the journey both edifying and entertaining. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.