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Yggdrasil (ok w attribution)
Yggdrasil (ok w attribution)

Indo-European Genesis:  Before Babel

Bertrand C Barrois


Tales from Genesis Retold in the Mother of European Languages


I composed Before Babel to fill a hole that persists after two centuries of dry academic work on Proto-Indo-European.  It seems a shame that nobody has composed a sample of reconstructed text with any literary merit.  Schleicher’s fable is clever, but his outdated theories of the proto-language were comically Indo-centric, and his little fable does not do justice to the poetic power of the language. 


I looked no further than Genesis and Psalms to find suitable texts.  I hope you find my light-hearted “translations” of the tales more substantial than Schleicher’s fablet, and more authentic than Dṇghū’s shameless calques on Latin models.  They prove the point that the proto-language, though poor in abstraction, lent itself to narration and poetry. 


I also take the opportunity to promote the theory that the tale of the Flood alludes to a conflict between ethnic groups that worshiped different gods, and that the name Noaḥ (נוח) derives from Indo-European *Nah²u.  Might Cain (קין), Abel (הבל), and Eve (חוה) also have Indo-European origins? 


The tales themselves use symbols that are not uniquely Semitic.  Sacred trees and malevolent serpents are staples of Indo-European myth.  Could the tales be Hebrew retellings of Indo-European fables?  If so, turnabout is fair play.


In fond tribute to the web site Early Indo-European Online, created by the Linguistics Research Center of the University of Texas, I have structured my materials in similar fashion.  Besides the annotated tales, the reader will find a précis of my grammatical conventions and a downloadable mini-lexicon, confined to  well-attested roots.


Before the reader has a chance to sniff out my distaste for the too-fashionable and over-developed theory of laryngeals, I will freely confess it.  Too many different phenomena have been explained by resort to laryngeals, and these theoretical explanations defy rigorous statistical validation via inter-branch correlations.  I minimize the use of obscure notation, and will further vent my opinions in the notes on orthographic conventions.


The reader will find the syntax somewhat unorthodox.  I was obliged to reinvent complex constructions by imitating models from recorded languages, and to violate canonical SOV word order at every turn.  I invite you to do better, in the knowledge that some of you will succeed.


The material below is a brief sample of the annotated tales.  For a less academic but better illustrated version, please visit

You can e‑mail the author at


The annotated tales are too long to display on this page, so please take advantage of the following complete downloads:  


In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth.

protemō qʷoret Deivós nebhesa dheĝhom(m)-qʷe

  • pro-tem-ō = first -- inst-sg of superlative used as adverb. 
    (Superlative suffixes include *temo, mo, isto, istimo.)
  • qʷor-et = he made -- weak-grade aorist from root *qʷer > Sanskrit akarat
  • deivós = god, divine -- nom-sg, derivative of root *dyeu (sky)
  • nebh-es-a = heavens, clouds -- acc-pl of abstract neuter *nebh-ës
  • The suffix of abstract neuters alternates between *os in strong (NAV) cases and *es in weak cases, yielding genus/genera = γενος/γενε(σ)α = janas/janasi, etc.

  • dheĝhom(m) = Earth -- acc-sg (F) > ĝdhom(m) > Greek χθονα, Sanskrit kšām, Latin humus, Slavic zemę.  The root is reduced to ĝh.m in weak cases, hence Vedic jm-.  


The Earth was unformed and void,

dheĝhōm ne-dhiçtá vana-au bhevet

  • dheĝhōm / dheĝhom-s = the Earth -- nom-sg, feminine as if personified.
    The nom-sg ending on M/N/R/L/A-stems is routinely suppressed, but compensatory lengthening takes place.

  • dhiç-ta / diĝ-dha = formed-- nom-sg (F), past passive participle of root *dhi(n)ĝh  > Latin ficta.   (This verb literally means to shape dough, or to build with mortar, but figurative derivatives include German dichten, to compose poetry.)
  • vana / euna = empty
  • au = but, whereas-- enclitic conjunction used to express opposition or contrast between simple or strictly parallel elements
  • bhev-et = it was -- imperfect of *bheu, connoting temporary state


and upon the depths was darkness,

bhudhnoisu-qʷe temos bhevet

  • bhudh-noisu = bottom, fundus, πυθμην -- loc-pl  > Sanskrit budhnesu
  • tem-os = darkness -- nom-sg of abstract neuter *tem-ës
  • regʷ-os = darkness, ερεβος -- yet another abstract neuter


and the spirit was passing over the waters.

ut’ an.mós udéni upéri peret 

  • ute = and then, and so -- conjunction used to join complex clauses
  • an(?)mos / an(?)los = anima, ανεμος, anilam, anāl (Old Irish)
  • Synonym: ātman, ατμος, ǣþm < *at
  • Synonym: πνευμα < *pneus
  • udén-i = water -- loc-sg of R/N-stem root *vëd-r/n
  • upéri = over, super -- comparative particle opposed to *upo
  • per-et / pi-per-t = it was passing -- imperfect of root *per


And now God said, "Let there be light," and (so) there was light.

nūn-qʷe voqʷet Deivós  -- bhevoit leuks ute bhuvet leuks

  • nūn = now
  • qʷe = and -- enclitic conjunction used in simple lists

  • voqʷ-et = he said -- weak-grade aorist of root *veq
  • bhev-oi-t = let there be -- optative of root *bheu
  • leuks = light -- nom-sg, feminine as if personified


And he saw that the light was good,

videt-qʷe qʷod kalya

  • vid-et = he saw -- weak-grade aorist of root *veid
  • qʷod = that -- subordinating conjunction

  • kalya = good, beautiful -- nom-sg (F)  > Greek καλλη


and he separated the light from the darkness.

skidet-qʷe leuk.m apo temesës

  • skid-et = he separated -- weak-grade aorist of root *ski(n)d
  • skeid-s(t) = he separated -- strong-grade S-aorist of same root
  • apo temes-ës = from the darkness -- Sanskrit fails to distinguish abl-sg from gen‑sg for athematic nouns, but the particle serves to clarify the usage.


The light he called day, but the darkness he called night.

Hnomnyet-qʷe leuk.m dinom temos-au nokt.m

  • Hnomn-y-et = named -- factitive-denominative verb
  • dino-m = day -- modeled on Sanskrit dinas, Russian день.  May connote division.  (Synonyms derive from *dyu, aus, dheĝh, with reference to sky or burning heat.)

  • nokt-m = night -- acc-sg, O-grade of root in NAV cases, E-grade in “weak” cases.  (Hittite nekut suggests *neqt, but this should yield νεπτ vice νυκτ in Greek. )


And there was evening, and there was morning, a first day.

vesqʷeros ausos-qʷe bhuvetëm-- dinos p.r.mos

  • vesqʷeros / vesperos = evening
  • aus-os = dawn, eos, aurora -- nom-sg of abstract neuter *aus-ës
  • bhuv-etëm = they were -- 3rd-dual of weak-grade aorist
    (Exact form of secondary ending is uncertain:  tem, tom, tām.)
  • p.r.mos = first  


Now God said, "Let there be a firmament amid the waters,

nūn-qʷe voqʷet -- bhevoit açmōn udéni medhyöi

  • aç-mōn = firmament -- Means sky in Indo-Iranian, but stone, anvil elsewhere.
  • medhyoi / medhyei = amid -- loc-sg of adjective > Sanskrit madhye


to stand between the waters above and the waters below."

staHtévei inter vedōr uperi vedōr-qʷe upo

  • staH-tév-ei = in order to stand -- dative of supine > Latin statu
  • inter = between -- particle employed when a mere locative won’t suffice
  • vedōr = waters -- acc-sg (N).  According to one currently fashionable theory, *vedōr connotes waters collectively, *vod.r the substance. 


And it was so.  And God called the firmament heavens.

bhuvet -- ute açmon(m) Hnomnyet nebhesa

  • The concept of a stable foundation could be conveyed by *stabhos, which yields Germanic stab and Sanskrit stambhati, and is related to *staH = stand.


And there was evening, and there was morning, a second day.

vesqʷeros ausos-qʷe bhuvetëm -- dinos anteros

  • an-ter-os / al-ter-os = another, second -- serves as ordinal of *dvo


And God said, "Let the waters come together, and let the dry land appear."

nūn-qʷe voqʷet -- son-gʷemoit vedōr ute bhanyoit tersa

  • son / som = together -- particle used here as prefix
  • gʷem-oi-t = let it come -- optative > Sanskrit gamet, Gothic kumaiþ
  • gʷen-y-oi-t = let it come -- optative > Latin veniat, Greek βαινοι

  • bhan-y-oi-t = let it appear -- optative of thematic root *bhan-yë
  • bhaH-yē-t = let it appear -- optative of athematic root *bhaH
  • These two roots have been confused.  In Greek, φαιν = appear, φη = announce;
    but in Sanskrit vice-versa.  Latin = announce, as in Greek; whereas Germanic bann < banja = announce, as in Sanskrit.
  • tersa = dry land, terra -- nom-sg, feminine as if personified


And he called the dry land earth, but the waters around seas.

Hnomnyet-qʷe t.r.sam dheĝhōm(m) vedōr-au ambhi moria

  • ambhi = around -- particle
  • moria / maria = seas, maria -- nom-pl (N)
    (Ambiguous back vowel:  Latin mar, Gaelic muir < *mor)


And he saw that they were good.

videt-qʷe qʷod kalya

  • kalya = good, beautiful -- nom-pl (N) to agree with *moria


Then God said, "Let the dry land bear green plants, and grains, and fruits."

ute voqʷet -- bheroit bholya ĝ karpa-qʷe

  • bher-oi-t = let it bear -- optative > Latin ferat
  • bhol-ya / dhal-ya = folia, φυλλα, θαλλα -- acc-pl (N)
  • ĝ = grāna, corn, зерно

  • karpa = fruits, harvest


And it was so, and he saw that they were good.

bhuvet ute vevoide qʷod kalya


And there was evening, and there was morning, a third day.

vesqʷeros ausos-qʷe bhuvetëm -- dinos treitos

  • trei-tos = third -- ordinal of *treis


Then God said, "Let there be two great lights in the heavens

ute voqʷet -- bhevoitëm meg.lō leukē nebhessu

  • meg.lō = great -- nom-dual of *meg.lo-
  • leukē = lights -- nom-dual of *leuk-
  • nebh-es-su = in the heavens -- loc-pl of abstract neuter *nebh-ës


to set apart the day from the night,

sonter-dheHtévei dinom nektét

  • dheH-tév-ei = in order to put -- verbal noun from root *dheH
  • son-ter = apart -- comparative particle opposed to *son / som
  • apo nektës = from the night -- substitute for abl-sg
    (Current theory predicts E-grade of root in the “weak” cases.) 


to measure the days and months and years,

meHtévei dinons meHnesa samróns-qʷe

  • meH-tév-ei = in order to measure, from root *meH
  • meHn-es-a = months, moons -- acc-pl of abstract neuter, from a related root
  • sam-rons = summers -- acc-pl


and he put stars into the heavens to light the earth

Hster.ns-qʷe dheHt en nebhesa luktévei dheĝhom(m)

  • Hster.ns / Hsternons / Hsterlons = stars, stella, aster -- acc-pl 
  • dheH-t = he put, he did -- athematic aorist
  • luk-tév-ei = in order to light -- with weak-grade of root


And there was evening, and there was morning, a fourth day.

vesqʷeros ausos-qʷe bhuvetëm -- dinos qʷeturtos

  • qʷetur-tos = fourth -- ordinal of *qʷetvōr


Then God said, "Let the waters generate living things,

nūn-qʷe voqʷet -- ĝneHskoit vedōr gʷeivons

  • gʷeivons = alive -- acc-pl of adjective
  • ĝneH-sk-oi-t = let it generate -- optative of an inchoative-iterative verb form, modeled on Latin root gnasc.  The basic root is simply *ĝen.


and let birds fly in the heavens."

petoiënt-qʷe Hvéyes nebhessu

  • pet-oi-ënt = let them fly -- 3rd-pl optative > Latin petant
  • Hveyes = birds -- nom-pl of *Hveis > Vedic ves, Latin avis 


And he made great serpents and fish and filled the water,

qʷoret-qʷe meg.lons ogʷhins peiskons-qʷe em-p.lH.s(t)-qʷe vod.r

  • ogʷhins / ongʷhins = serpents, ophidians -- acc-pl

  • peiskons = fishes -- attested only in Latin & Germanic
  • ĝdhuves = fishes, ιχθυες -- attested in Greek and Baltic
  • em-p.lH.-s(t) = filled -- S-aorist, modeled on Greek εν-ε-πλησε


and he made birds and flies and wasps and filled the air,

qʷoret-qʷe Hvéins mūskans-qʷe vespans-qʷe em-p.lH.s(t)-qʷe

  • mūskans = flies, midges -- acc-pl (F)
  • vespans / vopsans = wasps (F)


and he made and beasts and reptiles and filled the earth. 

qʷoret-qʷe ĝhvēr.ns serpont.ns-qʷe em-p.lH.s(t)-qʷe dheĝhom(m)

  • ĝhvēr.ns / gʷhēr.ns = wild beasts, ferus, θηρ, звѣрь -- acc-pl

  • serpont.ns = reptiles -- acc-pl of present active participle


And there was evening, and there was morning, a fifth day.

vesqʷeros ausos-qʷe bhuvetëm -- dinos penqʷetos

  • penqʷe-tos = fifth -- ordinal of  *penqʷe


Then God said, "Let the earth generate living things:

nūn-qʷe voqʷet -- ĝneHskoit dheĝhōm  gʷeivons


wild beasts and cattle and crawling things.

ĝhvēr.ns peçuns-qʷe (s)negons-qʷe

  • peçuns = cattle -- acc-pl (M/F)
  • (s)negons = snakes, nagas -- acc-pl


And he saw that they were good.

videt-qʷe qʷod kalyoes/oi

  • kalyoes / kalyoi = good, beautiful,  -- nom-pl (M)


Then God said, "Let us make a man in our likeness,

ut’ voqʷet -- qʷeroimë(n) vīróm som.lom n.sbhos

  • qʷer-oi-më(n) = let us make -- 1st-pl optative
  • vīrom / virom = man -- specifically male
  • som-lom = similar -- acc-sg, adjective derived from *som (together)
  • n.s-bhos = to us > Latin nōbis


so that he might rule the birds, the cattle, the wild beasts, and the crawling things."

ute reĝoit Hvéins peçuns-qʷe ĝhvēr.ns serpont.ns-qʷe

  • reĝ-oi-t = let him rule


And then he made humans like unto himself, men and women,

ute (d)ĝh.m.n.ns svoei som.lons qʷoret -- vīróns gʷ.nans-qʷe

  • (d)ĝh.m.n.ns = homines -- acc-pl, derived from *dheĝhom
    (Skeleton root gets vocalized as homines, gumans, žmones, doīni)

  • gʷ.nans = women -- acc-pl of A-stem feminine


And he said to them, "Go and multiply,

voqʷet-qʷe -- ite augsete-qʷe

  • ite = go -- 2-pl imperative
  • augs-ete / aug-éy-ete = wax, augment -- The latter is properly causative.


and rule the fish of the sea, and the birds of the air, and the beasts of the earth. 

reĝete-qʷe peisk.ns moréisyo avéins-qʷe an.mosyo ĝhvēr.ns-qʷe (d)ĝhmosyo

  • The pseudo-adjectival genitives ending in *syo are non-restrictive in this context, hence follow the nouns that they modify.  Restrictive modifiers normally precede.


Behold, I have given you green plants and seeds and fruit as food."

veidete -- yusbhos dhalya seHmena-qʷe karpa-qʷe svō paHtum dedoHa

  • yusbhos / vosbhos = to you -- dat-pl of personal pronoun
  • seH-men-a = seeds -- acc-pl (N) of verbal noun from root *seH (to sow)
  • svō /svei = so, as -- cf. Old Latin seī, Oscan svae, Gothic swō, Greek `ως
  • paH-tum / paH-dhrom / paH-dhlom = food, fodder -- acc-sg of supine of root *paH > Sanskrit pitum, Latin panem, pābulum
  • Synonym:  gʷroHm.n = βρωμα, grāmen, “voramen”

  • de-doH-Ha = I have given -- 1-sg perfect from root *doH.  The perfect expresses completed action that bears upon the present, unlike the aorist of narration.


And there was evening, and there was morning, a sixth day.

vesqʷeros ausos-qʷe bhuvetëm -- dinos sekstos

  • seks-tos = sixth -- ordinal of *seks


And thus the heavens and the earth were finished.

ute kom-qʷ.r.toes/oi bhuvont nebhesa dheĝhōm-qʷe

  • The prefix *kom emphasizes the perfective aspect of the verb.  Perfective prefixes are rare in Greek and Sanskrit, but common in all other branches.
  • qʷ.r.-toes / qʷ.r.-toi = made -- nom-pl of perfect passive participle from root *qʷer


But on the seventh day, there was an end of the works and God rested,

alyo dinom verĝo(n)om antom est ute çoieto Deivós

  • sept.m-os = seventh -- ordinal of *sept.m
  • verĝo(n)om = of the works -- O-stem gen-pl ending varies:  ōm / ōnōm / ōsom

  • çoi-eto = lay down -- weak-grade middle aorist from root *çei
  • logh-eto = lay down -- Middle voice serves to distinguish lie/lay from lay/layed


And he said, "Let the seventh day be holy."

eti voqʷet-qʷe -- sept.mos dinos yaĝyos syēt

  • eti = and also -- used interchangeably with *ute
  • yaĝyos = holy, worthy of worship > Greek `αγιος
  • s-yē-t = let it be -- athematic optative from root *es, connoting permanent state