Origin of 'to be' and 'I am'

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages, and Linguistics (EHL)' started by Roel~, Feb 24, 2013.

  1. 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.
  2. killerbee256 Senior Member

    American English
  3. Cenzontle

    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.
  4. marrish

    marrish Senior Member

    اُردو Urdu
    ^I agree with the above, well said.
  5. Roel~ Member

    Nederlands - Nederland
    Hmmm, the person from whom I have heard it said that some person from India explained it to her.
  6. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    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.
  7. Roy776

    Roy776 Senior Member

    Kraków, Poland
    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!)
  8. Roel~ Member

    Nederlands - Nederland
    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.
  9. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    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.
  10. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    -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.
  11. Dhira Simha Senior Member

    Lithuanian is important for the IE historical linguistics but this is clearly an exaggeration. It is all explained very well in "Lithuanian Linguistic Nationalism and the Cult of Antiquity" by Scott Spires http://www.researchgate.net/publication/22951... .
  12. Wolverine9 Senior Member

    American English
    Is Vedic Sanskrit older than Mycenaean Greek?
  13. Dhira Simha Senior Member

    Why should we go this far, they are well preserved in Old. Slavonic

    Sing. Dual Plural
    1 jes-mǐ jes- jes-mǔ
    2 je-si jes-ta jes-te
    3 jes-tǔ jes-te sǫ-tǔ
    (jes-tǐ ) (su-tǐ)

    In parentheses modern Rus. forms
  14. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)

    This is, as the hackneyed phrase has it, a good question. We do not in fact have any reliable evidence for the date of the Vedas, or, for that matter, of the Avesta.
  15. Stoggler

    Stoggler Senior Member

    Sussex, GBR
    UK English
    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
  16. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    It seems that „sindon” is a cognate of Latin „esse” and Slavic “byti (1st person: sem, sam, jsem, jestem).
  17. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    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.
  18. Gale_

    Gale_ Member

    It's very interesting indeed!
    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".
  19. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    See #9 above.
  20. Gale_

    Gale_ Member

    I saw your last post:
    And I saw #9, but I'm not sure I see what you hint at :)
  21. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    It implies that Latin sum is indeed cognate to PGerm. immi as you surmised.
  22. Gale_

    Gale_ Member

    i.e. I saw that you told about "the athematic conjugations -mi, -si, -ti", but it's not clear enough.
  23. Gale_

    Gale_ Member

    Oh, I get it )

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