Note: Marijn van Putten (p.c.) suggests, contrary to the conclusion in Bjørn 2017, that the connection to Semitic is of continued interest. The phonetic matchup is certainly worth entertaining, and I rely heavily on Diakonoff to dismiss the connection on semantic grounds. I hope to return to this etymology again and invite the reader to share arguments for and against in the comment section below.

PIE *h2ster
Gloss: ‘star’ (item 55 in Bjørn 2017)

Attestations: Hit. ḫaster-; Toch. A śreñ (pl.), Toch. B ścirye; Lat. stēlla; OIr. ser; Goth. staírno; Gr. ἀστῆρ; Arm. astl; Ved. stár-, Av. star-.

Notes: Latin requires an *-l- derivation that seems to be resonated in Celtic (de Vaan 2008: 585). The term is widespread and retains its meaning in all branches of attestation, making a reconstruction for the earliest strata of PIE unavoidable. Bomhard suggests that the noun is internally derived from the verb *h2eh1-s– ‘to burn, dry’ (1986).

External comparanda:
Semitic: *ʕaθar(-at)– ‘Venus, deified star’

Apparently a religious symbol in the Proto-Semitic world, the formation is not included by Orel & Stolbova (1995), which necessarily has consequences for the evaluation of possible provenance. Since the word is attested in IE to warrant reconstruction of an old and concrete meaning ‘star’, it is significantly more attractive to posit PIE as the potential provider vis-a-vis from the specialized and culturally dependent meaning in Semitic as propounded by Dolgopolsky (1987: 15f., 1993: 244). Moreover, the connotations in Semitic conducive for the comparison are demonstrably secondary cultural attributes to the deity (Diakonov 1985: 122f.), so this comparison can safely be ascribed to chance.


PIE *semh1r-
Gloss: ‘clover’ (not in Bjørn 2017)

?Gaul. ui-sumarus, OIr. seamar; Icel. smæra

Notes: The data is taken directly from Guus Kroonen’s presentation on the agricultural substrate in Europe, available here (PDF). Not reconstructable to PIE proper, and the forms are not completely compatible either, thus Proto-Celtic *semmar and Proto-Germanic *smēr-; with extensive contact between early speakers of Celtic and Germanic the item may have entered one and passed on to the other.

External comparanda:
Kartvelian: *s-m-q-r > Georg. samqura 

The argument is best explored through Kroonen’s slides (see link under Notes above). Most salient is the proposed Kartvelian etymology from sam ‘three’ and qur ‘ear’, and thus comparable to Latin trifolium. For geographical and distributional reasons, the transfer is highly unlikely to have been  directly from Kartvelian to Germanic/Celtic. Rather, a transfer may have occurred along with some of the goat words that also appear to have unique ties between European languages and the Caucasus. The connection seems plausible, probably in the semantic sphere of agriculture rather than a natural term.


PIE *h3or-(n-)
Gloss: ‘eagle’ (item 63 in Bjørn 2017)

Hit. ḫāran-, Pal. ḫāran-, CLuw. ḫarran(i)– ‘bird’; (?)Middle Irish irar; Goth. ara; Lith. erẽlis; OCS orĭlŭ; Myc. o-ni-ti-ja-pi ‘of a bird’, Gr. ὂρνις ‘bird’; Arm. oror ‘gull’

Notes: Greek has inverted the inherited words for ‘eagle’ and ‘bird’ (*h2euei-) so that the former means ‘bird’ and the latter ‘eagle’ (Mallory & Adams 1997: 173), while the Luwian shift is without consequence thanks to semantically more conservative inner-Anatolian cognates. Different derivations are required to account for all of the branches, but especially the *-n-desinence appears widespread and old, while Balto-Slavic are alone to extend with the *-l-formant. The appurtenance of the Celtic stock is tentatively questioned by Matasović (2009: 117f.). The distribution suggests early PIE origins, but the lack of Indo-Iranian and Tocharian cognates may indicate a more regionally confined phenomenon, cf. PIE *woin– ‘wine’ (item 133).

External comparanda:
Semitic: *γVrVn > Akk. urinnu, Arab. γaran
Sumerian: erin, (ḫ)u11-rí-in ‘e., standard’

Discussion: The sporadic Semitic evidence could indicate a borrowing from an Anatolian language; Militarev & Kogan, who hesitantly propose this connection, also include Central Chadic ‘white-bellied stork’, that, however, more probably should be considered a later loan from Arabic (2005: 131); it may be added that the item is not included by Orel & Stolbova (1995), and that a connection between Akkadian and Sumerian seems solid (Sahala 2009: 6). Phonetically the value of PIE *h3 is in play and the evidence does seem to point in a direction of ancient affinities, the question, of course, is how old.

Mead, sweet

PIE *médhu-
Gloss: ‘mead; sweet’ (item 92 in Bjørn 2017)

(?)Hit. mitgaimi- ‘sweetened’, Toch. B mit ‘honey’; OIr. mid; ON mjo̜ðr; Lith. medùs ‘honey’; OCS medŭ ‘honey, wine’; Gr. mέθυ ‘wine’; Ved. mádhu– ‘honey, wine’; Av. ma𝛿u ‘berry wine’.

With comparison to the PIE word *mélit– ‘honey’, it seems clear that already in PIE times the current item had a distinct meaning, requiring that the semantic shifts to ‘honey’ in Tocharian, Lithuanian, Old Church Slavonic, and Vedic can be explained by synecdoche (Mallory & Adams 1997: 271). The suggested Hittite cognate is used to describe bread, but is not the primary word for ‘sweet’, perhaps borrowed from an unattested Luwian formation.

External comparanda:
Semitic: *mVtḳ– ‘sweet’ (Nichols 1997: 143)
NE Caucasian: *miʒʒV ‘sweet’ > e.g. Ingush merza
Uralic: *mete ‘honey’ (Thomsen 1869: 2, Wiklund 1906: 63)

Orel & Stolbova connects Semitic with the almost identical Central Chadic *mVtak- ‘sweet’ (1995: 393), sufficiently removed on the other side of the Sahara to substantiate Afro-Asiatic origins, which has consequences for the reconstruction in PIE, e.g., how a received *-tḳ– is organized into the native phonological system; in this Gamkrelidze & Ivanov’s analysis seems convincing (1995: 771), despite Diakonoff’s scepticism (1985: 129). The disputed Hittite form may be a secondary entry directly from a Semitic source. The NE Caucasian forms could alternatively represent an intermediate step; the prefixed version
*hwi-miʒʒV ‘honey’ certainly qualifies the semantic connection. The internal PIE connection to *mélit– ‘honey’ is thus likely to be ascribed to chance; cf. Bomhard & Kerns for a primordially Nostratic connection to Afro-Asiatic (1994:657). The Hittite form may even be an independent and later loan from Semitic (Tischler 1990:221), separating the IE stock and possibly granting a relative chronology of the term. The Uralic connection is obvious and has been proposed as a loan by, e.g., Koivulehto (1993:184), but the exact stratum for a transfer is disputed. Although a number of IE loanwords in Uralic can be diagnosed convincingly as Indo-Iranian (§, this cannot be extended to this stratum on linguistic grounds. Napolskikh’s invocation of a Proto-Tocharian or, alternatively, Proto-Balto-Slavic form to account for both semantics and vocalism (2001: 372) seems convincing, the former especially so when confronted with the seemingly strong cultural force it yielded, cf. thus similarly Old Chinese *mjit ‘honey’ (Lubotsky 1998). The only linguistic evidence directly against a loan from PIE proper is the lack of Samoyedic cognates to the root, which, too, may prove problematic for the Tocharian relation (cf. also items 52 and 109), although, on the other hand, it is conceivable that the term was simply lost in proto-Samoyedic (cf. Joki 1973: 283ff.) [See further in the comment by Juho below this post]. With the word seemingly also entering the NE Caucasian languages, the cultural dispersal hypothesis is attractive in light of the similarly shaped comparanda in many other languages (e.g. Japanese mitsu). The circumstances, including time and space, for such a spread need to be further interdisciplinarily investigated before conclusions can be drawn. A tentative hypothesis may be to consider PIE the recipient of a different strain of a, perhaps, ancient root parallelly passed down directly to PIE *mélit-.


PIE *moro
Gloss: ‘blackberry’ (item 95 in Bjørn 2017)

(?)Lat. mōrum; (?)Welsh merwydden ‘mulberry’; Gr. μόρον; Arm. mor

Welsh may, like the more secure cases of OHG mūrbeere ‘mulberry’ and Lithuanian mõras ‘id.’, be a loan from Latin, that again may have transferred from Greek (Schindler 1964: 172); Beekes even suggests that the Armenian cognate be borrowed from Greek, too (2010: 968), which would render it solitary in Greek, but this idea is rejected by Martirosyan (2010: 474ff.). Despite the resemblance of Hittite mūri(yan)– ‘grape’ (Tischler 1990: 233f.), there seems to be no reason to posit the noun for the oldest layers of PIE.

External comparanda:
NE Caucasian: *mer(ʔ)V ‘a kind of berry’
Uralic: *mura ‘cloudberry’

The Uralic stock is exceptionally consistent both formally and in terms of semantic scope, which suggests that the word entered (P)IE from Uralic. There is hardly a semantic gap between the cloudberry of Uralic and the black- and mulberries of IE that all resemble each other, and the fact that the cloudberry (also called arctic raspberry) is confined to very northern latitudes practically forces a shift. The item was also borrowed into Turkic and Tungusic languages, probably from Ob-Ugric, and later even Russian (UEW 287), so the directionality is certainly established. Campbell also posits the more general FU *marja ‘berry’ as related in a wider complex (1990: 165f.), but enough of a connection can be drawn from the more immediate resemblances. Nikolayev & Starostin have showed that a similar noun is of significant age in the Northern Caucasus (NCED s.v. ‘berry’), but the vowel quality seems better to have been affected by a desinential *-i– somewhere, possibly the derivation for the associated bush or plant (cf. Martirosyan 2010: 474ff.). Friedrich similarly suggests that Burushaski biranč may be connected (1970:150) and thus substantiates a widespread root. A transfer likely happened into a very late stage of PIE, if not purely dialectal; the geographic distance between the Uralic languages and the attested Greek and
Armenian is obviously insurmountable, as noted by Joki (1973:287f.).


PIE *ĝherd
Gloss: ‘pear’ (item 25 in Bjørn 2017)

(?)Alb. dardhë; Gr. ἂχεδρος ‘wild p.’, ἀχράς ‘id.’; Mac. ἀγέρδα ‘id.’

Limited distribution to a very compact geographical region, the Balkan, has very weak bearings on PIE etymology, even more so if Orel’s reservations on Albanian are heeded (1998: 56). Furnée considers it a particular pre-Greek substrate word (1972 :127).

External comparanda:
NW Caucasian: *q(w)a
NE Caucasian: *qcör (Dolgopolsky 1989: 15)
Kartvelian: *msxal– (Fähnrich 2007: 296f.)

Nikolayev & Starostin, scrutinizing the North Caucasian connections, further compare the Kartvelian forms, although they concede the formal difficulties the inclusion entails (NCED s.v. ‘pear’). The linguistic travels of the fruit may be compared to that of the apple (item 42) that nonetheless appear to have wider distribution within IE. If connected, Dolgopolsky’s suggestion of a loan from North Caucasian *qcōrV (NCED *qHǖre, s.v.) or one of its descendants into a dialectically diversifying PIE (1989: 15) best fit the picture (cf. also S. Starostin 2009: 88f.), although the geographic discontinuity poses a serious obstacle (cf. Matasović 2012: 290). Caucasian connections for the Balkan languages are also pertinent in the discussion of *ĝhor-io- ‘pig’ (item 18).

Note: See now also Fenwick (2017) “An Indo-European origin of Kartvelian names for two maloid fruits”. Iran and the Caucasus, vol. 21: 310-323.


PIE *ghel-u(H)-
Gloss: ‘tortoise’ (item 24 in Bjørn 2017)

RusCS želvĭ; Gr. χέλυς ‘t., chest cavity’

Notes: While Vasmer considers the Slavic forms derived from a verbal root ‘to bend’ (1955: 414f.), the Greek forms are significantly more contested (cf. Frisk 1966: 1086f.), and Beekes even prefers substrate origin (2010: 1623ff.).

External comparanda:
Kartvelian: *γl-az1– ‘crocodile’

The scattered yet very concretely matched IE evidence does lend credibility to external origins, but the Kartvelian comparandum does not match semantically. The comparison, suggested by Smitherman (2012: 510), is unfocused and draws on a proposed common verbal root ‘twist, turn’ (cf. Fähnrich 2007: 488f.) that would render the animal derivations secondary anyhow. Further circumstantial evidence may bolster future attempts, but the connection seems quite improbable.


PIE *dheĝh-om
Gloss: ‘earth’ (item 10 in Bjørn 2017)

Hit. tēkan, HLuw. takam- (; Toch. A tkaṃ, Toch. B (t)keṃ; Lat. humus; OIr. ; Goth. guma ‘man’; Lith. žẽmė; OCS zemlja; Alb. dhe; Gr. χθών; Ved. kṣás, Av. zam-.

This item harks back to the oldest layers of PIE with representation in most branches, including the decisive ancient Anatolian and Tocharian that further help establish the original sequence of the obstruents (D-G) that underwent metathesis sometime in late middle PIE (to G-D). This item has been mentioned as an argument in favor of Tocharian as the second branch to leave the PIE dialect continuum (cf. Kretschmer 1931).

External comparanda:
Kartvelian: *diɣwam- ‘fertile soil’ > Georgian diɣvam– ‘black earth, sufficiency’ and Svan diɣwam ‘damp low place with f.’.
Kartvelian (alternative): *diqa- ‘clay’ > e.g. Georgian tixa, (?)Svan gim

Klimov proposes the connection with ‘fertile soil’ (1998: 41), which semantically seems a viable loan item due to its specialized meaning and formal triconsonantal quasiidentity (D-G-M), although the vocalism seems somewhat discontinuous; the labial
treatment of the IE velar similarly needs to be explained. These considerations would establish PIE as the provider of the term. Alternatively, Gamkrelidze & Ivanov suggest that the meaning ‘clay’ in Kartvelian may be related to PIE ‘earth’, and that the Svan form represent a simplified stem *ĝhem– < *dhĝhem– (1995: 774) to illuminate internal PIE development as well, but note that Klimov does not include Svan in this cognate set (1998: 72), reducing the reconstruction to Georgian-Zan, while Fähnrich treats it along with Mingrelian gim-e ‘below’ (2007: 107). This Svan form is, moreover, not an exact semantic parallelism, but the connotations in PIE with inherent association with ‘human’, e.g., at least some European languages, Goth. guma and Latin homō (cf. Mallory & Adams 1997: 366), could mend the comparison somewhat. The sequence of the obstruents in either Kartvelian comparandum would surely establish the loan to an early stratum of PIE, i.e. before the metathesis sometime after the presumed split of Tocharian. Kaiser & Shevoroshkin reject the hypothesis on formal grounds (1986: 368), but, all things considered, the connection with ‘black soil’ appears most attractive if the similarity is not merely due to chance resemblance.


PIE *bhei-
Gloss: ‘bee’ (item 3 in Bjørn 2017)

Lat. fūcus ‘drone’; OIr. bech; ON ; Lith. bìtė; OCS bičela.

Notes: The distribution is limited to the European branches of IE that represent several different formations. Mallory & Adams suggest that the word is internally derived from the verbal root *bhei(H)– ‘to strike, attack’ (1997: 57).

External comparanda:
Egyptian: bj.t

According to Gamkrelidze & Ivanov (1995: 773) this item is significant in the placement of the PIE homeland in the Near East (or at least close to Ancient Egypt), yet the distribution of the term within IE coupled with the apparent internal derivation makes a foreign intrusion unlikely (cf. Diakonoff 1985: 127). The possibility of folk etymological reanalysis is, of course, always present, but further circumstantial evidence need be provided before a more favorable scenario for their relation can be envisaged, tentatively through the proposed Neolithic substrate (§ 2.5).


PIE *(h2)(s)kwal-o-s
Gloss: ‘catfish’ (item 78 in Bjørn 2017)

Lat. squalus ‘large fish’; Germ. *hwali– ‘whale’; OPrus. kalis ‘wels catfish’; Gr. (Hes.) ασπαλος ‘fish’; YAv. kara ‘name of a fish’, MPers. kar māhīk ‘mythical fish’.

The inclusion of the Greek form demands an extension of the root with initial *h2s not otherwise warranted, although possible. De Vaan’s suggestion that Latin is an internal derivation to homonymous squālus ‘unkempt, dirty’ (2008: 584) is semantically unconvincing, and the Italic s- form gains plausibility in light of Greek. The semantic development of a riverine ‘fish’ to a maritime ‘whale’ in Germanic, Old Prussian ‘catfish’ or Italic ‘large sea fish’ is not surprising in light of the native distribution of the catfish, a large river fish, historically absent in Western Europe ( The circumstantial evidence in favor of the Graeco-Aryan sub-set is presented by Rodriguez (1989). Kroonen reconstructs the word internally in PIE as a derivation from the verbal root *kwelh1– ‘to turn’ (item 80) → *kwol– ‘the turner’ (2013: 262), but this fails to explain the consistent a-vocalism, which presents an additional problem for the age of the stock. In defense of an old PIE item, and given the distribution of the wels catfish on the Pontic steppes, loss may be expected in emigrant branches such as Anatolian, Celtic, Armenian, etc., although this is very ad hoc and fails to account for the lack of Slavic evidence. There are no reflexes in Anatolian and Tocharian, but the intricacies regarding this particular sphere are salient, especially in the former branch (cf. Mallory & Adams 1997: 204f.).

Distribution of the wels catfish

External comparanda:
Uralic: *k(w)ala


There are several phonemic features that are relevant to the comparison with the Uralic material. Most salient is the unquestionable IE labiovelar which does not exist in traditional reconstruction of Proto-Uralic, and there is no vocalism that could round the velar from assimilation. Although strictly tentative, Samoyedic Selkup does alternate two different reflexes of Uralic initial *k-, viz. q– and k-, that are seemingly unconditioned by the phonetic environment (Collinder 1960:50), and further seems to correspond to IE labiovelar comparanda, cf. *gwelh1– ‘die’ (item 26) with q- for PIE *gw– opposing k- for *-, e.g. *k̂uon (item 72) and pronominal kut ‘who’ for PIE *ku– (traditionally reconstructed as PIE *kw-, cf. Bjørn 2016: 9ff.); Attractive, of course, in light of the Indo-Uralic hypothesis, the ramifications to Uralic linguistics of this analysis are palpable as it demands an expansion of the traditionally reconstructed phoneme inventory of Proto-Uralic, and it is important to stress the caution with which this proposal is put forward, including this author’s very limited familiarity with the Samoyedic languages in general, and Selkup in particular. Confounding factors include some variation within the interrogative pronoun [see further in the comments below]. Rédei suggests further connections among the steppe languages, cf. Proto-Tungusic *kcolo ‘fish’ (UEW: 119), that similarly could provide a comparable phonetic environment. Within such a paradigm, ancient loan relations may work in either direction. A substrate origin has been suggested by Schrijver (2001: 423), but it has to be very old to account for widespread Uralic occurrences, incl. Samoyedic, as well as a diverging PIE dialect continuum. A very early loan Uralic > PIE seems to be the most probable solution, although chance resemblance in some of the more southern IE branches may strengthen the case for a later borrowing with more limited regional distribution in Northeastern Europe.