Last weekend one of the choirs I sing in presented a concert which had been delayed and disrupted by COVID and reduced in numbers by choristers travelling. Alongside works in English, liturgical Greek and Latin, we sang works in Church Slavonic (a movement from Tchaikovsky’s Liturgy of St John Chrysostom) and Latvian (a new work by a local composer of Latvian birth or heritage).
Church Slavonic and Latvian are both Indo-European languages, so I was on the lookout for any words which are obviously related to other IE languages I know about. But the only words I could discern are loan words into those languages just as into English: kheruvímy (cherubim) in the former and fenikss (phoenix) and oranži (orange) in the latter (all heavily influenced by the pronunciation and spelling of those languages). There is also trisvętúju in the former, which is guessable as trinity.
Even though all these languages are Indo-European, they are obviously very different. Even though Church Slavonic and Latvian are both Balto-Slavic, they are obviously very different. Among other things, Church Slavonic is Slavic and Latvian is Baltic. Also, the texts we sang are liturgical dating to perhaps the 9th century and a 19th century secular poem.
Linguists started by comparing closely related languages, such as Church Slavonic, Bulgarian and Macedonian, and Latvian and Lithuanian, then work their way back from there, eventually linking Polish, Czech and Slovak, the Balkan languages, the Russian-related languages and others into Slavic and thence with Latvian and Lithuanian into Balto-Slavic and then Indo-European. (Some people have attempted to reconstruct further back than than that, but their efforts are speculative and inconclusive at best.)
PS The Latvian poem is Putns ar uguns spārniem (which I can’t find anywhere online) by Aspazija. The title translates as Bird with wings of fire. I wondered if putns is related to a certain Russian surname, but no, the certain Russian surname apparently comes from put (path or way) + in (belonging to) and probably means something like ‘one who travels on a path’. (I couldn’t find any authoritative source and am relying on several user-submitted websites.)
“Putns” seems related to “pteron” / “feather” and “uguns” related to “ignis”. Sorry for not posting the original Indo-European forms – I could probably look them up.
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Oooh, interesting. Thank you. Over breakfast, I found https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/putns and https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/uguns. I didn’t think of those because pteron and ignis aren’t English words (but are etymological parts of English words).
I must admit I did no actual research and just relied on what occurred to me while singing (or listening to the other parts sing).
The book ‘Babel’ by Gaston Dorren profiles each of the world’s 20 largest languages, with a particular focus. The focus (and sub-heading) of the chapter on Russian is ‘Being Indo-European’, basically ‘how do we know two languages are related. He compares a sentence in English and German, and then in English and Russian. The relationships are less obvious, but he clearly points out some of the the almost-obvious and less-obvious ones.
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