Meanings of IE roots

ThomasK

Senior Member
Belgium, Dutch
I am simply wondering... I can safely say, I suppose, that IE roots are based on a hypothesis, subtantiated of course by phonetic/etymological rules, but how about the meanings of those roots: also based on a hypothesis?

Is that hypothesis considered to be fairly or quite reliable or... ? Reference to websites is very welcome!
 
  • As far as I imagine, there is no way to learn the meanings of reconstructed roots, so semantics remains — and will remain forever — the weakest part of historical linguistics. The basic procedure is that one finds two words in related languages, say the English become and Dutch bekomen, and then tries to speculate what their original meaning could have been. This hasn't seriously changed since the dawn of science. I have never seen any strict rules presented anywhere: it's all more or less intuitive.
     

    ThomasK

    Senior Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    Quite so. Just wanted to be sure how it worked, but you confirm what I had guessed. Thanks!

    Become/ bekom(m)en is an excellent example of a strange semantic shift indeed [btw: I suppose the fact that in West Flemish we use komen to convey the idea of becoming (I become old, ik komme oud) can be considered an ingweonism]...
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    A classic example is Latin flavus "yellow" cognate with blue. Did Germanic innovate, and if so, how did it drift? Did the PIE word originally mean blue, or yellow, or green, or cover all or part of those? I think old historical linguists tended to duck out of this by positing a lot of words meaning "bright, shining", when really it had a more definite meaning but we can't tell what.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    Become/ bekom(m)en is an excellent example of a strange semantic shift indeed [btw: I suppose the fact that in West Flemish we use komen to convey the idea of becoming (I become old, ik komme oud) can be considered an ingweonism]...
    Become is common Germanic. In this case the original meaning is reasonably clear, viz. to come close/arrive ("bij komen"). The different meanings is different modern languages (turn into, grow something, being proper/becoming for, receive) are all semantic shifts from this original meaning. In English the meaning to arrive at a place is attested up to early modern English.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    Well, it is obviously the same base verb, with and without the be- prefix. The meaning turn into is rooted in the base verb itself. Cf. uses like How comes? which works in English, German und Dutch alike.
     

    Sobakus

    Senior Member
    A classic example is Latin flavus "yellow" cognate with blue. Did Germanic innovate, and if so, how did it drift? Did the PIE word originally mean blue, or yellow, or green, or cover all or part of those? I think old historical linguists tended to duck out of this by positing a lot of words meaning "bright, shining", when really it had a more definite meaning but we can't tell what.
    What if the old historical linguists simply considered more evidence, such as Latin fulgēre "to shine", flagrāre "to be ablaze", flamma "flame", AGr. φλέγμα "heat" and φλέγω "I burn", Sanskrit भ्रज (bhrája) "shining; a fire", Russian бе́лый (belyj) and Lithuanian bãlas "white", Old Norse bál "fire", English bale(-fire)? :rolleyes:
     
    Last edited:

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    Okay, perhaps not the best example if you take off the stem extensions and look at everything from the root. But the particular stem giving flavus and blue was probably a colour, and it's not obvious what.

    And in fact, going back and 'researching' this, I was amused by the confusion in Wiktionary, which under 'blue' has:

    from Proto-Germanic *blēwaz (“blue, dark blue”), from Proto-Indo-European *bʰlēw- (“yellow, blond, grey”)

    But if you click into the Proto-Germanic it glosses it as:
    1. blue
    2. a dark bluish or grey colour, black
    and 'related terms' include *blakaz meaning "black" and *blaikaz meaning "pale, white". Meanwhile, if you click into the PIE . . . bleat, blow? I have no idea whether those are supposed to be coincidental homophones of the same root, or semantic developments of a single one.
     

    Sobakus

    Senior Member
    Okay, perhaps not the best example if you take off the stem extensions and look at everything from the root. But the particular stem giving flavus and blue was probably a colour, and it's not obvious what.
    Taking off the stem extensions is precisely what makes it obvious - it's like determining the common element in trickster, tricky, trickery, trick-or-treat if you've never met the word "trick" before. The relevant reconstructions are found under *bʰel- and *bʰleyǵ-.
     
    Last edited:

    j.Constantine

    New Member
    Spanish
    I found this
    bhel-1

    To shine, flash, burn; shining white and various bright colors.
    ▲ Derivatives include blue, bleach, blind, blond, blanket, black, flagrant, flame.
    I. Suffixed full-grade form *bhel-o-.
    1. a. beluga from Russian belyĭ, white; b. Beltane from Scottish Gaelic bealltainn, from Old Irish beltaine, "fire of Bel" (ten, tene, fire; see tep-) , from Bel, name of a pagan Irish deity akin to the Gaulish divine name Belenos, from Celtic *bel-o-.
    2. phalarope from Greek phalaros, having a white spot.
    3. phalaenopsis from Greek phallaina, moth (< *"white creature").
    II. Extended root *bhleə1-, contracted to *bhlē-.
    1. Suffixed form *bhlē-wo-. blue from Old French bleu, blue, from Germanic *blēwaz, blue.
    2. Suffixed zero-grade form *bhl̥ə-wo-. flavescent, flavo-; flavin, flavone, flavoprotein from Latin flāvus, golden or reddish yellow.
    III. Various extended Germanic forms.
    1. bleach from Old English blǣcan, to bleach, from Germanic *blaikjan, to make white.
    2. bleak1 from Old Norse bleikr, shining, white, from Germanic *blaikaz, shining, white.
    Is related,maybe
     

    fdb

    Senior Member
    French (France)
    Become is common Germanic. In this case the original meaning is reasonably clear, viz. to come close/arrive ("bij komen"). The different meanings is different modern languages (turn into, grow something, being proper/becoming for, receive) are all semantic shifts from this original meaning. In English the meaning to arrive at a place is attested up to early modern English.

    There is a nearly identical semantic shift with French de-venir. Also Persian šudan, still “go” in Early New Persian, then “become” in Modern Persian.


     

    ThomasK

    Senior Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    I found this
    bhel-1

    To shine, flash, burn; shining white and various bright colors.
    ▲ Derivatives include blue, bleach, blind, blond, blanket, black, flagrant, flame.

    I. Suffixed full-grade form *bhel-o-.
    1. a. beluga from Russian belyĭ, white; b. Beltane from Scottish Gaelic bealltainn, from Old Irish beltaine, "fire of Bel" (ten, tene, fire; see tep-) , from Bel, name of a pagan Irish deity akin to the Gaulish divine name Belenos, from Celtic *bel-o-.
    2. phalarope from Greek phalaros, having a white spot.
    3. phalaenopsis from Greek phallaina, moth (< *"white creature").

    II. Extended root *bhleə1-, contracted to *bhlē-.
    1. Suffixed form *bhlē-wo-. blue from Old French bleu, blue, from Germanic *blēwaz, blue.
    2. Suffixed zero-grade form *bhl̥ə-wo-. flavescent, flavo-; flavin, flavone, flavoprotein from Latin flāvus, golden or reddish yellow.

    III. Various extended Germanic forms.
    1. bleach from Old English blǣcan, to bleach, from Germanic *blaikjan, to make white.
    2. bleak1 from Old Norse bleikr, shining, white, from Germanic *blaikaz, shining, white.
    Is related,maybe
    Hope I have not missed an answer to this question, but: Is there any plausibility in connecting all those words/ meanings? What is the [methodological?] basis for that? Is it based on phonetic rules connecting roots and then exploring/... the various concrete meanings and then trying to distil some abstract underlying meaning...
     

    Vojvoda

    Banned
    Serbian
    A classic example is Latin flavus "yellow" cognate with blue. Did Germanic innovate, and if so, how did it drift? Did the PIE word originally mean blue, or yellow, or green, or cover all or part of those? I think old historical linguists tended to duck out of this by positing a lot of words meaning "bright, shining", when really it had a more definite meaning but we can't tell what.
    Serbian word for blue color may indicate that the original meaning referred to blue and not yellow. I am not an expert in languages, but as far as I know, in many languages the word for blue is descriptive, so the Serbian word plav ("blue") is semantically related to water.
    plav "blue"
    plaviti "flooding", "bluish"
    splav "raft"
    plovak "float"
    plivati "to swim"
    ploviti "to sail"
    pljuje "spit"
    pljusak "heavy rain"
    The last two words are probably related to French pluie "rain".
     

    Vojvoda

    Banned
    Serbian
    I forgot to mention that during antiquity there was a process of spirantization, so in some languages there was a shift from P to F, so plav ("blue", "blonde") became flav + us ("yellow", "blonde").
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    Serbian word for blue color may indicate that the original meaning referred to blue and not yellow. I am not an expert in languages, but as far as I know, in many languages the word for blue is descriptive, so the Serbian word plav ("blue") is semantically related to water.
    plav "blue"
    plaviti "flooding", "bluish"
    splav "raft"
    plovak "float"
    plivati "to swim"
    ploviti "to sail"
    pljuje "spit"
    pljusak "heavy rain"
    The last two words are probably related to French pluie "rain".
    That is unlikely. If we look at other Slavic languages, the original meanings seems to be pale blond, pale yellow. In other related language families we have English pale from Latin pallidius and in German we have fahl, all meaning pale. The likely PIE original meaning is pale. The similarity with the root pla- = swim, float seems to be accidental or if there is a relation it is so distant in the past that it can't be reconstructed.
    I forgot to mention that during antiquity there was a process of spirantization, so in some languages there was a shift from P to F, so plav ("blue", "blonde") became flav + us ("yellow", "blonde").
    Slavic p- corresponds to Italic p- and Germanic f-. Latin f- usually corresponds to Slavic and Germanic b-. Compare Latin frater and English brother and Russian брат.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    Balto-Slavic bal-/bel-/bol- is related to Latin fla- as in flavus. Germanic cognates are e.g. English blue and German blau.
    Latin bellus/-a/-um is etymologically a diminutive of bonus/-a/-um, which is from earlier dwenos/-a/-om.
     

    Vojvoda

    Banned
    Serbian
    Latin bonus ("good", "right", "valid") from duenos ("good") from PIE *dew- (“to show favor, revere”), i can't see any relation to bellus ("beautiful", "pretty").
     

    Sobakus

    Senior Member
    Latin bonus ("good", "right", "valid") from duenos ("good") from PIE *dew- (“to show favor, revere”), i can't see any relation to bellus ("beautiful", "pretty").
    Even accounting for you lack of knowledge of Latin sound changes, don't you have anything like Es. bonito, Ru. хоро́шенький, Bel. прыго́жы, Pl. ładny, En. fine in Serbian??
     

    Vojvoda

    Banned
    Serbian
    The similarity with the root pla- = swim, float seems to be accidental
    I don't think so. In ancient times there was no need for a word referring to the color blue because in nature there are only a few blue things like the sky, water, bruises, eyes, gemstones and some birds. I think that the Slavic languages are a good example.
    Polish niebieski ("blue") / niebo ("sky"), Russian голубой, синий ("blue") / голубь ("pigeon"), синяк ("bruise")...I don't see why it would be an exception in the Serbian language. I think the problem arose with the settlers associating yellow hair with blue eyes in the natives.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    I don't think so. In ancient times there was no need for a word referring to the color blue because in nature there are only a few blue things like the sky, water, bruises, eyes, gemstones and some birds. I think that the Slavic languages are a good example.
    Polish niebieski ("blue") / niebo ("sky"), Russian голубой, синий ("blue") / голубь ("pigeon"), синяк ("bruise")...I don't see why it would be an exception in the Serbian language. I think the problem arose with the settlers associating yellow hair with blue eyes in the natives.
    The semantic context pale out of which the Serbian word for blue has been discussed. For the words you mentioned connect with water are derived from the base meaning flow (PIE *plew-). Among cognates in other language groups are English flow and Greek πλέω.

    Your explanation of the semantic shift from pale blond to blue in some Slavic languages by the association of blond hair and blue eyes seems plausible but I have no information to confirm it. I can't see a need or plausibility to invoke any like to swim or navigate given the underlying notion of flow.

    Polish niebieski is indeed from niebo. But this is a different story.
     
    Last edited:

    Vojvoda

    Banned
    Serbian
    What about it?
    Forget about it.

    I wanted to say that the only way to express color in words is to make a connection with something in the environment, so when we are looking for the original meaning, we should pay special attention to it. e.g Serbian siva ("gray") / sova ("owl") ; Russian соловой (solovoj, “yellowish-grey”) / солове́й (solovéj, "nightingale") ; Old High German salwo (“dirty yellow”) English sallow ...
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    I wanted to say that the only way to express color in words is to make a connection with something in the environment
    True. The only thing is that you would have to know in what environment the meaning evolved. Silva = grey is rather old (there are Baltic cognates with the same meaning suggesting the meaning is older than Proto-Slavic) and it is not clear where and when the meaning developed. In the case of соловой - солове́й, the relationship is undisputed but there the assumption is that the bird is named after the colour and not the other way round.
     
    Last edited:

    Vojvoda

    Banned
    Serbian
    In the case of соловой - солове́й, the relationship is undisputed but there the assumption is that the bird is named after the colour and not the other way round.
    In that case, our ancestor should have a word for the color that was created accident by mixing sounds used for ??? and the unnamed bird that he listens every single morning.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    It is just that the word for the colour was probably older than that for the bird and the the bird was named after its colour. It is not uncommon to name plants or animals after its colour, e.g. blackbird, blueberry or blackberry. Nightingales have very different names in Slavic, Germanic and Italic and in each of these groups there is an obvious etymology within that group (the cream-coloured one in Slavic, the one-eyed singer in Latin and the night singer in Germanic). Whatever name the bird might have had in PIE (if any), it had probably been lost when the modern names were created. If the youngest common ancestors of these three language groups was spoken somewhere around the border triangle of modern Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, as some people think, then this wouldn't be too implausible as this area is outside of the habitat of the nightingale. Who knows what happened.
     

    Vojvoda

    Banned
    Serbian
    In Serbian, there is no word for color that is related to slavuj ("nightingale") that color iz smeđa from *medvě̀dь ("bear") from *medъ (“honey”) +‎ *(j)ěsti (“to eat”) and slavuj is probablu related to slava ("glory", "fame"), slovo (“word”), slušati (“to hear”)...
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    In Serbian, there is no word for color that is related to slavuj
    Sometimes words get lost over time, as e.g. the Old High German salwo you mentioned that is also lost in modern German.

    It can be very misleading to try to reconstruct the etymology of words only by looking at a single language and only in its modern form. The power of Indo-European etymology is that we have so many descendant languages with different attested development stages we can compare. In the case of Russian соловой there apparently is an attested OCS form (if the etymology here is right) as well as a likely Germanic cognate. This should be sufficient to assume that the word is rather old and the fact that is does not exist in modern South and West Slavic languages does not change much.
     
    Last edited:

    Vojvoda

    Banned
    Serbian
    In the case of Russian соловой there apparently is an attested OCS form (if the etymology here is right) as well as a likely Germanic cognate.
    "Per Derksen from Proto-Indo-European *sal-wo-. Per Schrijver from Proto-Indo-European *solH-wo-. Indo-European cognates include Old High German salwo (“dirty yellow”)"

    Missing here
    the only way to express color in words is to make a connection with something in the environment
    The only candidates we have for now are солове́й (“nightingale”) or соло́вый
    ("pale yellow horse with light tail and mane"). Most likely the horse is named after a bird as in the case vranac ("black horse") vrana ("crow") and bird солове́й / slavuj probably has roots in PIE *ḱlew- (“to hear”)
    True. The only thing is that you would have to know in what environment the meaning evolved.
    Somewhere where the nightingale's natural habitat is.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    The only candidates we have for now are солове́й (“nightingale”) or соло́вый
    ("pale yellow horse with light tail and mane"). Most likely the horse is named after a bird as in the case vranac ("black horse") vrana ("crow") and bird солове́й / slavuj probably has roots in PIE *ḱlew- (“to hear”)
    That is not how things work. You don't reconstruct a language that was spoken many thousand years ago by making wild associations left, right end cenre in your own language and your own environment in the 21th century. This is just meaningless guesswork based and has nothing to do with serious linguistic analysis.
     

    Vojvoda

    Banned
    Serbian
    I think you can do better than that.
    PIE *gʰneydʰ (“to gnaw, chew, scratch, rub”) > Proto-Germanic *gnīdaną (“to rub, crush”) > English gnide ("to rub")

    PIE *ḱ(o)nid- ("louse egg") > Proto-Germanic *hnits ("louse egg") > English nit ("louse egg")

    PIE *gʰen- (“to gnaw; bite; scratch; grind”) > Proto-Germanic *gnattaz > English gnat ("any small insect of the order Diptera"), Danish gnid (“gnat”), Swedish gnet (“nit”), Norwegian gnit (“gnat”), Icelandic gnit, nitur (“gnat”)

    PIE ??? > Proto-Balto-Slavic *gnī́ˀdāˀ ("nit", "louse egg") > Proto-Slavic *gňìda ("nit", "louse egg") > Czech hnida, Polish gnida > BCS gnjida ("nit", "louse egg")

    @berndf Better?
     
    Top