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Indo-European Studies 1, Requirement 1

Describe several of the factors that define a culture as Indo-European and how those defining factors are useful in understanding that culture. (minimum 300 words)

Indo-European is a linguistic-cultural classification that defines a group or set of groups based on a number of criteria. The most important criteria is that the language spoken by the group or groups be a descendant of an Indo-European language, or of the ancestral, postulated, Proto-Indo-European language. It is important to note that Indo-European languages are inflected languages, though of course not all languages that are inflected are Indo-European languages.

There is also an aspect of inherited culture that these Indo-European groups must exhibit. In particular are two categories of inheritance that we can see visibly in most Indo-European cultures: tripartation and comparative mythology.

Tripartation is a system of culture that shows a social organization based primarily on three classes of people: magico-religious, warriors, and producers.

Comparative mythology indicates that any culture that is Indo-European will retain some sort of shared mythological structure, and will encounter many similar myths.

Neither of these, though, is sufficient to indicate that a culture is indeed Indo-European, and both bring about concerns of reductionistic tendencies that are problematic for most scholars.

Archeology is also generally insufficient for defining a culture as Indo-European, as burial practices, temple layouts, and materials used to make weapons varies from culture to culture.

Really, the best way to look at a group and consider whether it is Indo-European or not is to look at its linguistics in a cultural context. Rome and Vedic societies can be linked through their common function of the position of brahman and flamen, both priests who oversee sacrifices, who also have cognate names. Similarly, we can find the cross-cultural terms for "sky-father" as the head of the gods in various pantheons as evidence of shared culture and language. (Mallory, 128). The names of sun gods and goddesses, similarly, can be used to show such commonality (Mallory, 129). In these case, we see the function indicated by language to carry across cultures.

These factors generally provide a place to look, a starting point. The do not provide historical evidence of Indo-European belief, practice, or descent, but rather lead to valuable lines of questioning.


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