Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Lovely Tree

Not long ago, I read Ett Träd Med Vida Grenar: De Indoeuropeiska Språkens Historia by Ola Wikander. In case you don’t know Swedish, the title is A Tree with Wide Branches: A History of the Indoeuropean Languages. And in fact, the only problem with this book is that as of now, it’s only in Swedish. I hope it will be available to readers in other countries soon, as it is quite interesting.

Mr. Wikander is a young Ph.D. student and translator in Sweden who is already the author of several books on “dead” languages, as well as co-author, with his father, of a novel. In this book, he discusses the science of reconstructing what is called proto-Indoeuropean (PIE), or the language from which stem all the Indoeuropean languages, including Swedish, English, Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, Romanian, and many more. The purpose of this field, as he thoroughly explains in his book, is not just to reconstruct this language for the fun of it (although he includes some examples of writing people have attempted to do in PIE in modern times), but is in part to understand the cultures and languages that have helped shape Europe, Asia, and other parts of the world.

Mr. Wikander is a talented writer who manages at times to make this science seem like a mystery, in that it is exciting to learn about how the reconstruction work is done and how Indoeuropeanists can use the reconstructed vocabulary, and other evidence, such as archaeology, come to conclusions about where those who spoke PIE lived (probably the south Russian steppes) and what their culture was like.

If you can read Swedish, I recommend this book and also Mr. Wikander’s
blog. If not, you’ll have to wait for a translation!


Helena said...

It's a shame this work isn't translated yet.
I can't read Swedish, but your post made me very curious.
I am sure any translator would love to work on this writer's book, since it's primarily about Languages, and there's nothing that could interest a translator more...
Is there anything from this writer available in any other language?
If so, could you please tell me where to find it?

B.J. Epstein said...

Hi Helena. Thanks for you comment!
As a translator from Swedish, you can bet I'd love to translate Mr. Wikander's book! The question is -- is there a publishing company in the US or the UK that would make the effort to publish this book? I hope so. Perhaps Mr. Wikander needs to talk to his agent or publisher.
On his blog, Mr. Wikander has a bibliography (see, and look at the right for 'Bibliografi'). As far as I can ascertain, none have been translated to English or any other language. This is too bad and should be rectified!

Best wishes,