PIE

PIE, but not the kind you're thinking of

nope. just kidding.

Even though that pie is strawberry rhubarb, which has to be one of my favorites, PIE stands for Proto-Indo-European, the theoretical language root of Indo-European languages (a vast linguistic grouping), and is probably the most fascinating thing in the world. Then again, it might be the most fascinating thing in the entire universe, thanks to its starring role in Prometheus.

I remembered PIE this morning while researching the etymology of seminary, and from thence semen, which has roots in three non-Romance languages. Ridiculously entrancing. Meaning that the next step was for me to research Oxford’s DPhil program in Linguistics, Philology, and Phonetics.

And from there, sadly, to be overwhelmed by the abundance of things in this world that I want to learn and know everything about. Or, as Cosmo Brown says in the first 10 seconds of this video:

And then I got excited because I thought of heaven, and of the possibility of learning for all of eternity, of becoming a physicist, a philologist, a philosopher, and other pursuits that don’t even start with the letter P. But mostly I thought about being a Professor of Philology at the . . .  uh . . . Pearly Gates Institute for Universal Language . . . I’m getting carried away now, but the question that gave me pause was this.

Will our language evolve in heaven?

We’ll all be speaking one language, obviously. (Although the presence of babel fish or a TARDIS isn’t necessarily out of the question, for the purpose of this argument I expect one language.) We might even be speaking PIE.

But PIE, as we know, over the years, became Old Church Slavonic and Phoenician and Latin, and Italian and Spanish and Romanian . . . And somewhere along the line came this bastard child of all languages, English, which has taken its own road from Chaucer to Shakespeare to Proust, and not to esteem myself so highly, but I bear this mantle too.

Any quick search of a good etymological dictionary will show that over time words change in meaning, and new words are birthed, and dialects are formed and branches split off, and suddenly we’ve cursed our own heaven-reaching towers and spread far and wide, each to his own tongue.

But does this natural turn of events continue in a perfect world? Will meanings continue to metamorphose as they whim, or will we have finally reached the Perfect Understanding, where evolution is an exercise in blasphemy?

This prods at the sleeping question–does change imply imperfection? By naturally morphing, does language define previous meanings as inherently bad?

In case you were wondering, I don’t have any answers. I just ask the questions.

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