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  Schleicher’s fable is clever, but his outdated theories of the proto-language were comically Indo-centric, and his little fable does not do justice to the poetic power of the language.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  http://beforebabel.tripod.com/genesis

You can e‑mail the author at  BBarrois@verizon.net


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 t.r.sa bholya ĝ.rH.na karpa-qʷe

  • bher-oi-t = let it bear -- optative > Latin ferat
  • bhol-ya / dhal-ya = folia, φυλλα, θαλλα -- acc-pl (N)
  • ĝ.rH.na = 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 an.mom

  • 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 sept.mom 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