Origin of 'to be' and 'I am'

Roel~

Member
Nederlands - Nederland
What's the origin of these words? Somebody explained me that the origin of 'am' is from Sanskrit, but I couldn't find anywhere what the origin of these words is. The strange thing is that they don't seem to resemble any other German language or Roman languages.
 
  • Cenzontle

    Senior Member
    English, U.S.
    Those etymologies in the links from killerbee256 look reliable. How nice to find that "am" is thought to be from something that might sound like "is me"!
    Be careful about saying an ordinary word in English is "from" Sanskrit.
    Sanskrit is often mentioned in extended English etymologies, but only because something is cognate with a Sanskrit word.
    English and Sanskrit, being both Indo-European languages, have many words with a common ancestor.
    But direct borrowings from Sanskrit into English have happened only in relatively modern times, mostly abstract vocabulary about philosophy, yoga, etc.
     

    Roel~

    Member
    Nederlands - Nederland
    Those etymologies in the links from killerbee256 look reliable. How nice to find that "am" is thought to be from something that might sound like "is me"!
    Be careful about saying an ordinary word in English is "from" Sanskrit.
    Sanskrit is often mentioned in extended English etymologies, but only because something is cognate with a Sanskrit word.
    English and Sanskrit, being both Indo-European languages, have many words with a common ancestor.
    But direct borrowings from Sanskrit into English have happened only in relatively modern times, mostly abstract vocabulary about philosophy, yoga, etc.
    Hmmm, the person from whom I have heard it said that some person from India explained it to her.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    Hmmm, the person from whom I have heard it said that some person from India explained it to her.
    Claiming that am is derived from Sanskrit is clearly a confusion of etymon and cognate. Sanskrit is often regarded as the closest approximation to Proto-Indo-European among the well attested languages (Hittite is probably even closer to the proto language but less well attested). This is sometimes misunderstood to mean that Sanskrit is the origin of the Indo-European language group.
     

    Roy776

    Senior Member
    German & AmE
    The oldest form of 'to be' I can provide you with existed in Old English in the form of 'beon'. The oldest of 'am' is also from Old English and is the first person singular of the verb 'sindon'. It might be necessary to mention that Old English had three verbs for the meaning of 'to be', each of them differing in usage, conjugation and availability in tenses.

    The three verbs were 'beon', 'wesan' and 'sindon'.

    Sindon was conjugated as follows (Present, Present Subjunctive):
    1ps - eom, sîe
    2ps - eart, sîe
    3ps - is, sîe
    Plural - sind, sîen

    Beon's conjugation (Present, Pres. Subj., Imperative):
    1ps - beo, beo
    2ps - bist, beo, beo
    3ps - bið, beo
    Plural - beoð, beon, beoð
    Present participle: beonde
    Past participle: gebeon

    Wesan's conjugation (Present, Past, Pres. Subj., Past Subj., Imperative):
    1ps - wese, waes, wese, waere,
    2ps - wesst, waere, wese, waere, wes
    3ps - west, waes, wese, waere,
    Plural - wesað, waeron, wesen, waeren, wesað
    Present participle: wesende

    As you can see, the forms of have merged to form one verb only. Today's 'to be' has the following:

    Infinitive of 'beon' (to be)
    Present tense forms of 'sindon' (I am, thou art, he is), though having adopted 'are' as the plural.
    Present subjunctive forms of 'beon' (be)
    Past forms of 'wesan' (was, were)
    Past subjunctive forms of 'wesan' (were)
    Imperative of 'beon' (be!)

    Hope it helps!
    (Ic hope þaet hit hilpeþ!)
     

    Roel~

    Member
    Nederlands - Nederland
    Claiming that am is derived from Sanskrit is clearly a confusion of etymon and cognate. Sanskrit is often regarded as the closest approximation to Proto-Indo-European among the well attested languages (Hittite is probably even closer to the proto language but less well attested). This is sometimes misunderstood to mean that Sanskrit is the origin of the Indo-European language group.
    Yes, I knew that Sanskrit is Indo-european, I didn't know though in how far it is similar to other Indo-European languages, except for that some basic words seem to be similar. Isn't Lithuanian the language which kept the most Indo-European words which are most close to what the original ones sounded like? When I looked for university education in linguistics, the study programme contained Lithuanian because it seems to still contain a lot of traits from the first Indo-European language which was Proto Indo-European.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    Yes, I knew that Sanskrit is Indo-european, I didn't know though in how far it is similar to other Indo-European languages, except for that some basic words seem to be similar. Isn't Lithuanian the language which kept the most Indo-European words which are most close to what the original ones sounded like? When I looked for university education in linguistics, the study programme contained Lithuanian because it seems to still contain a lot of traits from the first Indo-European language which was Proto Indo-European.
    The significance of Vedic Sanskrit is that it is the oldest attested IE language (apart from Hittite) and is believed to reflect most accurately the late PIE declension and conjugation system (Hittite is believed to have split from PIE earlier and its declension system is believed to represents and earlier development stage with fewer cases and only two instead of three genders).

    The interesting thing in the context of this thread is that Vedic Sanskrit retained the athematic conjugations -mi, -si, -ti which exist only in traces in other IE language and which explain the form 1st person forms εἰμί in Greek, sum in Latin and am (< PGerm *immi) in English.
     

    fdb

    Senior Member
    French (France)
    Vedic Sanskrit retained the athematic conjugations -mi, -si, -ti which exist only in traces in other IE language
    -mi etc. are the normal suffixes for the present indicative active also in classical (post-Vedic) Sanskrit, Avestan and Old Persian. In Sanskrit, Young Avestan and Old Persian -mi has spread even to the thematic verbs, and survives as -m still in New Persian and other modern Iranian languages.
     

    Dhira Simha

    Senior Member
    UK
    Russian
    The interesting thing in the context of this thread is that Vedic Sanskrit retained the athematic conjugations -mi, -si, -ti which exist only in traces in other IE language
    Why should we go this far, they are well preserved in Old. Slavonic

    Sing.DualPlural
    1jes-mǐjes-jes-mǔ
    2je-sijes-tajes-te
    3jes-tǔjes-tesǫ-tǔ
    (jes-tǐ )(su-tǐ)

    In parentheses modern Rus. forms
     

    Stoggler

    Senior Member
    UK English
    The oldest form of 'to be' I can provide you with existed in Old English in the form of 'beon'. The oldest of 'am' is also from Old English and is the first person singular of the verb 'sindon'. It might be necessary to mention that Old English had three verbs for the meaning of 'to be', each of them differing in usage, conjugation and availability in tenses.

    The three verbs were 'beon', 'wesan' and 'sindon'.

    Sindon was conjugated as follows (Present, Present Subjunctive):
    1ps - eom, sîe
    2ps - eart, sîe
    3ps - is, sîe
    Plural - sind, sîen

    Beon's conjugation (Present, Pres. Subj., Imperative):
    1ps - beo, beo
    2ps - bist, beo, beo
    3ps - bið, beo
    Plural - beoð, beon, beoð
    Present participle: beonde
    Past participle: gebeon

    Wesan's conjugation (Present, Past, Pres. Subj., Past Subj., Imperative):
    1ps - wese, waes, wese, waere,
    2ps - wesst, waere, wese, waere, wes
    3ps - west, waes, wese, waere,
    Plural - wesað, waeron, wesen, waeren, wesað
    Present participle: wesende

    As you can see, the forms of have merged to form one verb only. Today's 'to be' has the following:

    Infinitive of 'beon' (to be)
    Present tense forms of 'sindon' (I am, thou art, he is), though having adopted 'are' as the plural.
    Present subjunctive forms of 'beon' (be)
    Past forms of 'wesan' (was, were)
    Past subjunctive forms of 'wesan' (were)
    Imperative of 'beon' (be!)

    Hope it helps!
    (Ic hope þaet hit hilpeþ!)
    Thanks for that Roy. Do we know how those three verbs were used? Was there a similar usage as in the two Spanish verbs for "to be" (for example)?

    Ic þe þancie
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    Thanks for that Roy. Do we know how those three verbs were used? Was there a similar usage as in the two Spanish verbs for "to be" (for example)?

    Ic þe þancie
    Seon (not *sindon) and wesan merged already in Proto-Germanic (I continue to use the OE infinitives as verb names). Seon meant to be, to exist in a timeless way and therefore lacked a past tense (aorist and perfect in PIE). Wesan meant to dwell, to stay. In this respect, it is similar to the opposition ser (<esse = to be) and estar (<stare=to stand, to remain) in Spanish. In Germanic languages wesan provided to missing past tense for seon.

    Beon means to become, to grow, to come into being and become something like a future tense of seon subsequently replacing individual forms of the merged verb seon-wesan. In English beon eventually supplanted forms of seon in infinitive, present subjunctive, imperative, present participle and provided the hitherto missing past participle while in German only the 1st & 2nd singular present indicative (ich bin, du bist) survived.
     

    Gale_

    Member
    Russian
    It's very interesting indeed!
    ... while in German only the 1st & 2nd singular present indicative (ich bin, du bist) survived.
    Are French "suis"/"sont"/"sommes" cognate with "seon" or maybe "sindon"? And what about Latin "sum"?
    In Old Slavic the verb "byti" ("to be") was used in the present like English "am"/"are" /"is", but now in Russian it isn't, although rarely, if we want to accent, we say "я есть такой-то" instead of "я такой-то". In Old Russian it was "аз есмь ..." (jes-mǐ).
    But still the verb "быть" ("byti") is used in the future tense, subjunctive (here as a particle), passive...
    I don't know much about Sanskrit and German or Roman languages, but I've noticed that it seems to sound like English "be" and German "bin" as well as its present form "есть" resembles Latin "esse"/"est", Italian "essere" and French "être"/"es"/"est".
     
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