So a couple of weeks ago I was wondering about a word–I don’t remember which–and I went a googling and I came across this page that listed a ton of (I’m sure not all) Indo-European (I/E) Roots and how they related to words in the various daughter languages (such as English or German).
This is the kind of thing I find fascinating… and so I had to root through it (hardy har har) and make a list of the roots that appeared in English and German (the two languages I know fluently..) just to see what I could see. Also–doing this was far more fascinating than grading the papers I was reading–so I made it a game to grade a paper–copy 5 roots down–grade a paper.. etc… (I was a lot more productive this way…)
In any case–after collecting this list of 322 words… I did some sorting. The first sorting I did was to distinguish the words whose meanings exactly resembled the meanings of the original I/E root word (which was probably in use about 6 thousand years ago) from the words whose meanings had changed–even if slightly–from the base meaning.
One thing to keep in mind–there were WAY MORE than 322 I/E roots.. but there were only 322 that I found from this list that survived to produce words in English and German… i.e. there were many many roots that also produced words in Armenian or in Latin or Russian or whatever… but without leaving a descendent in English (and vice versa) and I didn’t pay any attention to those roots.. (but that might be interesting for those interested in those languages…)
Today’s post is going to be about the first group of words–the ones whose meanings have stayed almost exactly the same for over 6000 years. Now one should think about that… what would you expect from a word whose meaning hadn’t changed in such a long time period… Obviously, it would have to be a word about something that is still relevant after such a long time periods–it couldn’t be a word for a fleeting technology like a VCR or rotary phone or chain mail–and instead it probably is going to refer to things that were pretty basic and central to the early society… Finally, it would have to be relevant enough to be familiar to us today…
And this is what you find with these words.. all 145 of them…
Also not so surprising is that they fall into a number of categories that revolve around basic human activities. These categories–roughly grouped by me–are the following: agricultural things, trees, animals, agricultural verbs, some colors, some body parts, family words, numbers, and then a number of fairly basic nouns, adjectives, and verbs that would easily fit into a primitive lifestyle.
With no further ado–here are the words:
Ag things: Bean, Blossom, Tree, Grass, Apple, Ream(cream), egg, horn, udder, mead, nest, salt, wool, yoke.
Trees: Beech, Birch, Aspen, Oak, Alder, Ash, Elm
Animals: Bee, Bear, Goat, Crane, Cow, Yean(lamb), Beaver, Raven, Hound, Louse, Lynx, Mouse, Flea, Sparrow, Swine, Sau, Thrush, Otter, Wasp, Wolf, Worm.
Ag verbs: To bleat, to tame, to grow, to milk, to sow.
Colors: Brown, Green, Red.
Body Parts: Beard, Brow, Tongue, Tooth, Womb, Ear, Nose, Arm, Tooth, Eye, Nail, Navel, Heart, Lip, Mind, Foot, Sweat.
Family Relations: Brother, Daughter, Me, Mother, Mine, My, Nephew, Father, Sister, Son.
Numbers: One to Ten, Hundred, Thousand.
Basic Nouns: Bridge, Door, Quern (handmill), Guest, Axe, Star, Name, Wheel, Light, Moon, Night, Summer, Sun, Snow, Thunder, Work, Year, Bottom.
Basic Verbs: To dare, to come, to bear, is, to eat, (to) hate, to lean, to lie, (to) love, to tell a lie, to fart, to seek, to sit, to stand, to think, to work, to wade, to weave.
Basic Adjectives/Adverbs: Long, Deep, Cold, Evil, Over, yester, Young, Light(weight), naked, new, now, sweet, through, thin, farrow.
Reading through these words, it is interesting to see how they paint a kind of picture of the world according to the Indoeuropean tribes that eventually became the Germanic tribes. Now.. these are not the only words that these people had, obviously–these early Germanic tribes were not just composed of Indoeuropeans–but were a mixture–as best the archaeologists can tell us–of a more pastoral group of Indoeuropeans that “conquered”/merged with settled agriculturalists and fishing groups. Thus, there were many words in the language that these people all came to speak that were non-indoeuropean in origin and are thus not accounted for here. On the flipside, there are also words that came from indoeuropean roots that were probably used back then that either died out or were replaced by words from other languages or just by newer words.
Thus–this is not a picture of the entire life of my (and many readers of this page’s) ancestors–but it does give one a bit more insight into what these people found extremely primal and central to their lives–such that nothing had the power to displace or overwhelm the meanings and attachment to these words…
So read them again if you are of Germanic heritage…
Soon.. I will add in the other 170 or so words whose meanings that are based on slight modifications of the Indoeuropean root words. These words are equally fascinating in that they provide a different perspective on how these people metaphorically mapped terms from one realm onto another.. thus flavoring words in a manner that we are often barely conscious of…