Schleicher's Fable in Proto-Slavic language

Schleicher's Fable in Proto-Slavic language

I like to constantly browse internet for Slavic-related stuff and read anything new which comes up. Recently I've typed "Proto-Slavic language" into the YouTube Search bar, and it gave me this video: 

"Schleicher's Fable in Proto-Slavic language"

I was familiar with the Schleicher's Fable from before (from the movie Prometheus) and I thought this will be interesting. However, as soon as I have played the video, I realized that the only Slavic in this video is in the title. The text is far from Proto-Slavic. Anyone who's familiar with any Slavic language could see that this is not Slavic at all.

No Slav can understand a single word of the fable, and if indeed it was 5th century Slavic, we would understand a lot (given that Slavic language family is the family whose languages are the closest to each other, since it's one of the youngest families. One of the proofs for this is how much of Church Slavonic a typical Slav can understand).

So I have Googled a little, and found the text version of the fable:

Ovĭs esvŭ-če.
Ovĭs, česo vlĭna ne jazĭt,
esva speset,
inŭ žarŭõ vozŭ vézõtẽ,
inŭ-če meža borŭ,
inŭ-če žmonŭ asŭ bérõtẽ.
Ovĭs nŭ ésvomŭ vjučét:
“Srĭd áznutĕ mĕ,
esvŭ ágõtŭ virŭ vídẽti”.
Esva tu vjučõt: “Sludĭ, ove!
srĭd áznutĕ ẽsmí vídẽtmŭ:
ner, podĭs, óvjemĭ-rĭ vlĭnõ
sĕbi germŭ vestrŭ črĭnjutĭ.
Óvjemĭ-če vlĭna ne jázĭtĭ.”
To sésluvŭ ovĭs agrŭ bugĭt.

As soon as I've read the text, I've realized what it is: PIE (Proto-Indo-European)! Then, I have found this page which confirms it:

This text was made by someone who's familiar with the historical phonetics of Slavic, but not the Slavic language itself, because it's simply a PIE text with Slavic phonetic changes applied to it. However, languages don't work this way, we don't possess every single word and a word root from PIE. Sometimes words are lost, and new ones are loaned, or a Semantic change happens, etc. Languages go through many things, and certainly phonetics is not the only thing which changes in a language.

Therefore, this text should've been labeled differently to not confuse people. The webpage which link I posted, simply shows PIE dialects, and not the Proto-languages descending from it.

The text is still in PIE, with only phonetic changes applied to it. I guess it'd be more accurate to say that this is PIE with the earliest traces of a certain language family, so therefore saying that this is Slavic as it was before it became a separate language, while it still was just a dialect of PIE (and that would be around 1000BC, and not 500AD). However, even if it was, it certainly wouldn't look this way. Since, Slavic is not believed to directly descend from PIE, but through the PBS (Proto-Balto-Slavic) first, and then PIE. PBS language has already developed differently from PIE not just on the level of phonetics!

So, I have decided to analyze this text, correct it's mistakes, and present how Proto-Slavic version of this text would actually more likely look like. However, I've made this post already too long, so I'll correct the text in the next post.


  • First of all, the title: "Ovĭs esvŭ-če", is just, as I said, PIE with Slavic phonetic changes applied to it. In PIE it'd be "Owis ekw s-kwe" (or according to the latest PIE reconstruction [Byrd (2013)]: "H₂óu̯is h₁éḱu̯ō s-kʷe").

    Another thing about this text is that it uses a rather uncommon orthography for writing the Proto-Slavic language, however, we will go with it.

    First of all, the Proto-Slavic word for "a sheep" is *ovĭca. Indeed, it comes from PIE: *h₂óu̯is + the suffix *-i-keh₂ which denotes diminutive, however in Slavic, it's a standard word for a sheep. It comes from PBS: *awi+kāˀ which is a diminutive of *awis. However, Slavic doesn't have the "non-diminutive" version of it.

    The word for a horse in Slavic is *konjĭ, and it comes from PIE: *ḱem- (meaning "hornless").

    It's a cognate with Sanskrit "śáma-" (hornless); English "hind" (female deer); Ancient Greek "kemás" (young deer); Old Prussian "camstian" ‎(sheep) and "camnet" ‎(horse).

    Slavic doesn't have a word which comes from the PIE *h₁éḱu̯ōs [although Baltic and PBS has - compare Lithuanian "ašvà" ‎(mare) and Old Prussian "aswinan" (mare's milk)].

    Therefore, my translation of the title of the fable in Proto-Slavic would be:

    "Ovĭca i konji".

    Let's continue analyzing the fable, verse by verse:

    Verse no. 2: "Ovĭs, česo vlĭna ne jazĭt" - meaning: "A sheep that had no wool".

    There is so many things wrong with this sentence. First of all, *česo is not a determinative, but an interrogative pronoun, second of all, it's used in Genitive case for some reason. The word "wool" (*vlĭna) was misspelled, it should've been *vĭlna. Also, it's written in Nominative instead of Accusative case. *jazĭt?? what is that. First of all, all Slavic syllables end with a vowel, but second of all what is this word? It's root seems to be PIE *h₁es- (to be). Slavic descendant of this PIE root is: *estĭ ; however, we need a verb "to have" and not "to be":

    "Ovĭca kŭja vĭlnõ ne jĭměla estĭ"

    On the other hand, we could also say: "A sheep that WAS WITHOUT wool" (if we really want to use the verb "to be"):
    "Ovĭca kŭja estĭ byla bez vĭlny" or in any other word order: "Ovĭca kŭja bez vĭlny byla estĭ" or in present tense (a sheep that IS without wool): "Ovĭca kŭja estĭ bez vĭlny" or "Ovĭca kŭja bez vĭlny estĭ"

    Verse no. 3: "esva speset" - meaning: "saw horses".

    We've already explained the *esva - that it should be *konji. But what is this verb "*speset". I guess it should be in past tense, but neither of the Slavic past tenses are built this way. Also, I've already mentioned that Slavic syllables can't end with consonants. The PIE root of *speset seems to be *speḱ (compare English words "to spectate" and "to spy"; etc.). However Slavic doesn't have a word of this root, but rather uses a root *weyd- for "to see":

    "konjẽ vidě"

    Verse no. 4: "inŭ žarŭõ vozŭ vézõtẽ" - meaning: "one pulling a heavy wagon".

    The word *inŭ means "(an)other one". In the English text, next 3 sentences start with the word "one" ("one pulling a heavy wagon, one carrying a big load, and one carrying a man quickly"). I suppose we can make this in two ways: one is to use ordinal numbers *pĭrvŭ, *vŭtorŭ, *tretĭ (so that it's: "the first one pulling a heavy wagon, second one,...") or to perhaps to say literally: "one pulling a heavy wagon, and one carrying a big load, and another one carrying a man quickly". I won't discuss *žarŭõ since it's the same as most other words - a root non existent in Slavic; but, well done for *vozŭ, the first word they got right! It indeed means "a wagon", or "a load". However, the verb *vesti which they used means "to lead" or "to conduct". I believe the more fitting verb would be *tẽgnõti:

    "edinŭ tẽžĭkŭ vozŭ tẽglŭ"

    Verse no. 5: "inŭ-če meža borŭ" - meaning: "one carrying a big load".

    They keep using the suffix *-če as a conjunction, while Slavic conjunction is a simple *i. I find the word *meža quite funny. What they wanted to make is the descendant of PIE *méǵh₂s (compare the internationalism "mega") with the Slavic first Palatalization... However, it doesn't work this way. *borŭ means "pine" in Slavic, and it's quite funny how they assumed that PIE *bʰer- would reflex into that. This PIE root gave the English words "to bear" and "burden", and in Slavic it gave *bermẽ:

    "i edinŭ veliko bermẽ"

    Verse no. 6: "inŭ-če žmonŭ asŭ bérõtẽ" - meaning: "and one carrying a man quickly".

    This sentence clearly proves how when reconstructing languages should be done in an opposite direction (not from PIE to Proto-Slavic, but other way around - from comparison of modern Slavic languages the common ancestor, the proto-language is reconstructed. Sure PIE plays a huge role, because this language should be inbetween the modern Slavic languages and PIE. It's a clear proof how languages can't be reconstructed word-by-word and without taking all things in account. Because then creations such as *žmonŭ appear.... <span>:worried:</span>... Hmm *asŭ?? is that supposed to mean quickly... hmm *bérõtẽ seems to be the verb *bĭrati (also coming from *bʰer-; however it means "to pick up" or "to take". We need a verb to carry: *nositi:

    "i ešče edinŭ čolvěka bŭrzo nosilŭ"

    Verse no. 7: "Ovĭs nŭ ésvomŭ vjučét:" - meaning: "The sheep said to the horses:".

    Hmm... I guess *nŭ is supposed to mean "to" or "on" or something. In Slavic we have *na; however it's unnecessary in this sentence, since we have grammatical cases, and we can simply use Dative case on the word "horses" (which they have done themselves [just used the wrong word for "horse"] which makes the *nŭ even more redundant). *vjučét?? once again... what kind of verbal tense is this?? If they really want to use the verb *věťati for "to speak" (I would prefer the verb *rekti; so that it's "ovĭca reče" [the sheep said] rather than "ovĭca věťa"). From their reconstruction of the PIE *wekʷ- as "vjučét" I am kinda starting to think that I was wrong when I said in my first post that this was made by people which are familiar with Slavic historical phonetics. It seems they aren't:

    "Ovĭca kõnjemŭ reče:"

    Verse no. 8: "Srĭd áznutě mě" - meaning "My heart pains me".

    *srĭd... once again, the same case as with "*ovĭs" and most other nouns in here... The heart should be: *sĭrdĭce... 
    What is *áznutĕ?? Hmm... seems to come from the PIE *h₂eǵ-... a cognate to English "ache"... However, once again... it's a root which isn't used in Slavic. Another observation is that they seem to, on multiple places mix *ě with *ẽ... in this case, it should be *mẽ... and it should be written before the verb:

    "Sĭrdĭce mẽ bolitĭ"

    Verse no. 9: "esvŭ ágõtŭ virŭ vídẽti" - meaning: "seeing a man driving horses".

    I guess *ágõtŭ should mean "to drive"; from PIE *h₂eǵ (note that this word can mean both "to drive" and "to ache"), but, once again, it's a root non existent in Slavic. *virŭ means "whirlpool", what does that have to do with anything? Once again... wrong reconstruction... And this sentence also shows the observation I've made in the previous one, it should be *viděti and not *vídẽti:

    "konjẽ že vozitĭ čolvekŭ viděti"

    Verse no. 10: "Esva tu vjučõt: “Sludĭ, ove!" - meaning: "The horses said: “Listen, sheep!".

    What is *tu? Do they mean *tŭ? (this/that)? so that it means "The horses said this:..." hmm well.. In any case, the *tŭ is redundant... Once again with the verb *věťati... Why do they use it, when the verb *rekti is just so much more common and better. As for the rest of the words, their roots exist, but they have been reconstructed wrongly:

    "Konji rekošẽ: “Slušaji, ovĭce!"
  • The only word I recognized was vlina like Slovak vlna for wool. @cHr0mChIk amazing analysis I'll never debate with you about languages again ;) 
  • edited March 2017

    Verse no. 11: "srĭd áznutĕ ẽsmí vídẽtmŭ:" - meaning: "our hearts pain us when we see this:".

    First of all, there seems to be no "this" in this sentence (it's just "our hearts pain us when we see:"). I've already mentioned *srĭd; first of all, syllable has to end with a vowel, and second of all, the correct reflection of he PIE *ḱḗr should be: *sĭrdĭce in Slavic. I've also mentioned *áznutĕ, but the third word is interesting. It's a verb to be (a copula); used in a quite illogical way. Like if we would literally write in English: "our hearts pain us we are see" or something as such. Instead of the copula, the adverb "when" (*kogŭda) should've been used. Also, a personal pronoun "us" (*nasŭ) has to be used; "our" (*naša) can be left out, but "us" can't. And, finally... correct first person plural present tense of the verb *viděti should be: *vidimŭ and not *vídẽtmŭ, I believe:

    "sĭrdĭca nasŭ bolẽtĭ kogŭda vidimŭ:"

    Verse no. 12: "ner, podĭs, óvjemĭ-rĭ vlĭnõ" - meaning: "a man, the master, makes the wool of the sheep".

    Actually, literal translation of the sentence would be: "a man, the master, from the wool of the sheep..." and in the next sentence is said: " himself a warm garment makes". *Ner is such an awesome word, it's such a shame Slavic doesn't have it. It's cognates include Sanskrit "nara" (man); Persian "nar" (man); Albanian "njeri" (man). However, Slavic has an another word which shares the same PIE root *h₂nḗr; and that is: *norvŭ, which means "custom" or "habit". However, in this case, we need a word "man". We can use either *čolvek or *muž. The word Master or Lord is very clear to Slavs, especially Eastern and Southern ones: *gospodĭ. The remaining two words are correct, but reconstructed wrongly:

    "možŭ, gospodĭ, ovĭčĭjejõ vĭlnojõ"

    Verse no. 13: "sĕbi germŭ vestrŭ črĭnjutĭ" - meaning: "into a warm garment for himself".

    Firstly, the correct form of this reflexive pronoun is *sebě and not *sĕbi, but this is really a minor mistake. Both *germa and *vestra are words which Slavic doesn't have, and they're not too interesting to talk about. The interesting is the fourth word: *črĭnjutĭ. It appears to come from PIE *kʷreyh₂- which means "to buy"; and it means the same in all of it's descendants ("krīṇā́ti" in Sanskrit; "crenaid" in Old Irish; "xaridan" in Persian, etc.) And even Slavic has a descendant of this root. It's proper rendering is: *krŭnõti; and it means "to buy" as well. To an unacquainted Slav observer, it might sound as it means "to do"; since it looks awfully similar to the word "to do": *činiti; with an "r" inserted. However, it's not. And even if it was, it wouldn't really fit well in there " himself a warm garment does". I guess in Slavic languages "do" and "make" are sometimes used interchangeably, however it wouldn't really work well this way. My solution is:

    "sebě teplŭ drabŭ tvoritĭ"

    Verse no. 14: "Óvjemĭ-če vlĭna ne jázĭtĭ" - meaning: "And the sheep has no wool".

    I've already spoken about each one of these words. They are more-less correct, just reconstructed wrongly: *ovĭs -> *ovĭca; *-če -> *i / *a ; *vlĭna -> *vĭlna ; *jázĭtĭ -> *estĭ. However, as it's already known, languages are not just words thrown around, they are much more than that. Also, it's known well that it can't be reconstructed word-by-word. Therefore, if we want to say "and the sheep has no wool", we'd say: "A ovĭca vĭlnõ ne jĭmatĭ." However, I believe a much more natural, and better option would be to literally say "and the sheep is without the wool":

    "A ovĭca bez vĭlny estĭ"

    Verse no. 15: "To sésluvŭ ovĭs agrŭ bugĭt." - meaning: "Having heard this, the sheep fled into the plain."

    This sentence is just hilarious. Read it... Does it sound even 1% Slavic? Nope. However, we have to give them props for this one, since it contains the second correct word in the entire text, and that is: *to (meaning "this/that"). Proper rendering of PIE *ḱlew- should be *slyšati and not.. hmm *sésluti?? hmm... the following words aren't interesting except for the last one. Correct root, however, the verb *běgati / *běžati is imperfective (so it would mean "the sheep was fleeing into the plain"); and we need to make it perfective: *poběťi:

    "To slyšavŭ, ovĭca vъ dolъ poběže."
  • So, there you have it. The final product. The Schleicher's Fable in Proto-Slavic language, "Ovĭca i konji":

    Ovĭca i konji.
    Ovĭca kŭja bez vĭlny estĭ,
    konjẽ vidě,
    edinŭ tẽžĭkŭ vozŭ tẽglŭ,
    i edinŭ veliko bermẽ,
    i ešče edinŭ čolvěka nosilŭ bŭrzo.
    Ovĭca kõnjemŭ reče:
    "Sĭrdĭce mẽ bolitĭ,
    viděti konjẽ že vozitĭ čolvekŭ".
    Konji rekošẽ: "Slušaji, ovĭce!
    sĭrdĭca nasŭ bolẽtĭ kogŭda vidimŭ:
    možŭ, gospodĭ, ovĭčĭjejõ vĭlnojõ
    sebě teplŭ drabŭ tvoritĭ.
    A ovĭca bez vĭlny estĭ."
    To slyšavŭ, ovĭca vъ dolъ poběže.

    If anyone has a greater knowledge of the development of Slavic languages and Proto-Slavic, may they feel free to comment, and propose a better reconstruction than mine.

    Of course, many people may, in the favour of the original reconstruction, use the argument: "It's a dead language, centuries old, spoken before a writing system for it has even been invented, there is no way that we are able to surely know how it sounded, and how it truly was, so the originally reconstructed text might as well be correct, for all we know."

    Well... I agree that we can't know how the reconstructed/proto-language WAS. But we can know how it WASN'T. Claiming that that text is in Proto-Slavic, or claiming that it is in Proto-Japanese wouldn't make much difference, because it doesn't match with neither of the two. Of course, I am exaggerating, it uses seemingly Slavic phonetics, and it has 2 correct words (*vozŭ and *to) and it's Indo-European... however, still, it surely isn't Proto-Slavic, since Proto-Slavic is the latest common ancestor of all the modern Slavic languages, and that text surely hasn't got much to do with modern Slavic languages.

    Anyway, now the finished product is here. We can peek into how the language of our ancestors has most likely (I'm emphasizing the most likely, since it's most likely, but not 100% certainly) sounded like.

    If you found this excruciatingly long post interesting, and would like to see more posts of such type, I'd be glad to make more, and to reconstruct and translate more texts, to Slavic of any period of time. :smiley:

    Thank you for reading! :)
  • Aren't there suppose to be nasal sounds in proto-slavic?
  • edited March 2017
    @Svevlad - Yep, there are. And as I said in the beginning, this text uses a rather uncommon orthography for writing the Proto-Slavic language. It represents nasal sounds with: ẽ and õ. :)

    (also, I've realized I wasn't consistent. In the last row I wrote "vъ dolъ" instead of "vŭ dolŭ"; sorry)
  • We can also write the text this way:

    Ovьca i konji.
    Ovьca kъja bez vьlny estь,
    konję vidě,
    edinъ tęžьkъ vozъ tęglъ,
    i edinъ veliko bermę,
    i ešče edinъ čolvěka nosilъ bъrzo.
    Ovьca kǫnjemъ reče:
    "Sьrdьce mę bolitь,
    viděti konję že vozitь čolvekъ".
    Konji rekošę: "Slušaji, ovьce!
    sьrdьca nasъ bolętь kogъda vidimъ:
    možъ, gospodь, ovьčьjejǫ vьlnojǫ
    sebě teplъ drabъ tvoritь.
    A ovьca bez vьlny estь."
    To slyšavъ, ovьca vъ dolъ poběže.

  • Didn't original protoslavic have jedinu and not edinu? I thought dropping the je like jedin->adin in russian was a later east Slavic development 
  • @srdceleva - No. Originally there were no "j". Same with the copula: (j)esmĭ, (j)esi, (j)estĭ; or the words like (j)azŭ, (j)ablŭko, (j)agnę, etc.

    Compare the mentioned words in all Balto-Slavic languages, for example:
    Slavic: (j)esmĭ, (j)esi, (j)estĭ, (j)azŭ, (j)ablŭko
    Prussian: asmâ, asei, ast, as, wabelcke
    Latvian: esmu, esi, ir, es, ābols
    Lithuanian: esu, esi, yra, aš, obuolỹs
    - there is no "j".

    It's a type of "iotation". Us, Slavs, seem to be very fond of "j". This type of iotation in specific is a "vowel iotation".

    Proto-Slavic *edinŭ comes from Proto-Balto-Slavic: *eynos.
    Compare Old Prussian: aīns ("aīnan" in Accusative case)

    The PIE root for this word is: *HóyHnos, and if we look at a dictionary and compare it's descendants in other proto-languages, we see that there is no "j" anywhere. :)

    Proto-Balto-Slavic: *eynos
    [Old Prussian: aīns; Slavic: *edinŭ; Lithuanian: víenas; Latvian: viêns]

    Proto-Italic: *oinos
    [Latin: unus; Italian,Spanish: uno/un ; Portuguese: uno/um ; Romanian: unu/un ; French: un]

    : *ainaz
    [German: ein; Dutch: een; English: one; Old Norse: einn]

    : *óynos and *óywos
    [Ancient Greek: heîs (one"), oîos ("single,only"), oînos ("ace"); Modern Greek: énas ("one")]

    Proto-Celtic: *oinos
    [Irish/Scottish Gaelic: aon; Welsh: un; Cornish: unn; Breton: un]

    Proto-Albanian: *ainja
    [Modern Albanian: një]

    : *Haykas, *Haywas, and *Haynas
    [Proto-Indo-Aryan: *aika-/*aiwa-/*aina-; Sanskrit: éka/evá/ena; Proto-Iranian: *aika-/*aiwa-]

    - Cognates are a very, very, very interesting thing to me :smiley:
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