The University of Chicago offers over 50 languages every year, making the Language Competency Requirement the most open-ended component of the Core curriculum. And while old standbys like Spanish and Mandarin continue to fill up every year, some students verge off the beaten path. In “What Speaks to You,” we’ll showcase some of the University’s uncommon language courses, as well as the passionate students and faculty they bring together.
Ancient Greek too new for you? Try Hittite. Dating back to 2000 BCE, Hittite is the closest documented relative of Proto-Indo-European—the common ancestor to modern tongues as diverse as English, Russian, and Hindi. Before abruptly dying off in 1200 BCE, Hittite was the language of a powerful empire in ancient Anatolia (modern-day Turkey). With no daughter languages spoken today, Hittite lives on in preserved cuneiform tablets, fragments of which can be found in our very own Oriental Institute.
Since the 1940s, the University of Chicago has been at the forefront of Hittite research. As a result, students in the College have the chance to get up close and personal with some of the biggest names in the field. In addition to leading the Chicago Hittite Dictionary project, Professor Theo van den Hout teaches courses in Elementary and Advanced Hittite to a handful of students each year.
When he arrived at the University in 2000, Professor van den Hout brought with him a new way of teaching Hittite. His “more user-friendly” technique brings traditional methods of teaching Greek and Latin to the Ancient Near East: in his textbook The Elements of Hittite, he lays out the basic principles of the language over 10 lessons, each featuring sample exercises taken from real Hittite literature.