Languages of Europe belong to a big Indo-European family and therefore it is not strange to find some words which are shared in English and Slavic languages. On this list, you will find more than one hundred such words. These words were in everyday use since ancient times.
Note: Some of the English words on this list start with a softened “F” instead of the original “P” sound. In many Germanic words, the original Indo-European sound “P” at the beginning of the word was exchanged for the sound “F”. For example pater-father, fire-pyr, fish-pesces, for-por… Following the same reasoning, we get some very obvious Slavic cognates.
Nature: SUN – SUNCE, EAST – ISTOK, DAY – DAN, SNOW – SNEG, LAKE – LOKVA, SEMEN – SEME, DOLINE – DOLINA, FLAME – PLAMEN, FUEL – PALITI (to burn)
Food and drink: MILK – MLEKO, WATER – VODA, WINE – VINO, MEAD – MED, SOUP – SUPA, LEEK (Old English for “onion”) – LUK, FRY – PRZITI, FRESH – PRESNO, CHEESE – KISEL (SOUR), SOUR – SIR (Cheese)
Family relations: MOTHER – MATER, SISTER – SESTRA, BROTHER – BRAT, SON – SIN, DAUGHTER – DUSHTER (Old Church Slavonic), CHILD – CHELJAD, NEPHEW – NECAK, WIDOW – UDOVA
Body parts: NOSE – NOS, RIB – REBRO, BROW – OBRVA, BEARD – BRADA, HEART – SRCE (via German Hertz), FIST – PEST
Animals: WOLF – VUK, MOUSE – MIS, GOOSE – GUSKA, CAT – KOTKA, LION – LAV, SWINE – SVINJA, EWE – OV(CA), WOOL – WULNA, HERD – KRDO, COW – GOVEDO, HEDGE(HOG) – JEZ (both words share the same PIE root “h₁eǵʰis”. In Old English the name for hedgehog was “igil”, a cognate with Slavic “igla” – needle, coming from the same PIE root as above)
Objects: BARREL – BURE, STOOL – STOL(ICA), DOOR – DVERI, CROWN – KRUNA, PATH – PUT, GRAIN – ZRNO, WHEAT – ZITO, DESK – DASKA (wooden board), CUP – ĆUP
Misc nouns: GUEST – GOST, STEP – STOPA, STEPS – STEPENICE, LIE – LAZH, LUST – SLAST, WILL – VOLJA, DEVIL – DIAVOL, FLEET – PLUTATI (to float) FREE and FRIEND – PRIJATELJ (officialy via Snaskrit priya, dear, beloved) CURVE – KRIVA
Misc verbs: TO ASK – ISKATI, TO LOVE – LYUBITI (via German Liebe), FLOAT – PLUTATI, TO FALL – PAL, PASTI
Misc adjectives: SMALL – SMOL(EN), BROWN – BRAON, BLUE – PLAV, NEW – NOV, DEEP – DUBOK
Numbers: ONE – JED(AN), TWO – DVA, THREE – TRI
Basic grammar: YES – JESTE, NO – NE, TO BE – BITI, some forms of personal pronouns like (to) ME – MI, MENI, TO – DO, and so on…
But there are some other interesting parallels that are maybe less obvious. Here is my Top 10 list:
(Note: All English etymologies are taken from http://www.etymonline.com. You can go directly to the link by clicking the highlighted word.)
10. HAPPY – KOB
happy, (adj) from hap (n.) “chance, fortune”
So what is “hap” then?
hap (n.) from PIE *kob– “to suit, fit, succeed” (Sanskrit kob “good omen; congratulations, good wishes,” Old Irish cob “victory,” Norwegian heppa “lucky, favorable, propitious,” Old Church Slavonic kobu “fate, foreboding, omen”).
The English word “hap” comes from Proto-Germanic “hap”, which in turn comes from PIE “kob”. The original word, “kob”, exists only in Sanskrit and Slavic languages. Etymonline lists it here as “kobu” but that is incorrect. The word “kob”, meaning destiny, fate, omen, is still used in all Balkan languages, and even the Wiktionary lists it as Slavic – kob
9. SWAN – ZVONO
Officially, the etymology behind the name of the swan bird comes from PIE “swonh”, “to sing, to make the sound”. Slavic words zvono – bell, and zvoniti – ringing, come from the same root. However, the common Slavic word for this bird is “labud” meaning “white bird”.
8. STONE – STENA – STAN
stone (n.) Old Church Slavonic “stena“, Russian stiena “wall”).
So “stone” was STAN in Old English. What does that mean?
-stan from Persian -stan “country,” from Indo-Iranian *stanam “place,” literally “where one stands,” from PIE *sta-no-, suffixed form of root *sta- “to stand”.
Every Slavic person knows that STAN means “dwelling”, STATI means “to stop” and STAJATI means to stand. It seems that this word remained preserved from those ancient times when people were still nomads so they called their rock (stone) shelters STAN?
7. PLOUGH (PLOW) – PLUG
plow (n.) a late word in Germanic, of uncertain origin. Old Church Slavonic plugu.
6. HLIEF (Old English for BREAD) – HLEB (preserved only in Slavic langauges)
5.Some words beginning with Q
QUEEN – ŽENA (ZHENA)
queen (n.) Old English cwen “queen, female ruler of a state, woman, wife,” from Sanskrit janis “a woman” The original sense seems to have been “wife”
I would never see this one coming without the etymological dictionary. It is interesting that in Slavic ZHENA means both, “woman” AND “wife”. The sound Q sometimes acts as Slavic ZH as we see in these other examples too:
QUERN – ZRNUVI
quern (n.) Old Church Slavonic zrunuvi “mills”
QUICK – ZHIV
quick (adj.) Old English cwic “living, alive, animate,” , from PIE root *gweie- “to live”
4. HAMMER – ČEKIĆ / MOLOT
I know, no connection at first glance. But the etymology of this word is the following:
hammer (n.) “tool with a stone head” , from PIE *akmen” stone, sharp stone used as a tool” (cognates: Old Church Slavonic kamy, Russian kameni “stone”)
3. RED – RUDA
From all colors, the word for the red has the most commonly shared root in all Indo-European languages. We see it even in Sanskrit “rudhira”. However, the meaning behind this root is unknown. In Slavic languages, “ruda” related to the red ore, taken from the mine, which is “rudnik”. This word is probably Neolithic and could originate in the Balkans, where there are some of the earliest traces of mining activities known to history.
2. SADDLE – SEDLO
saddle (n.) from PIE *sed- (1) “to sit” (Old Church Slavonic sedlo “saddle”)
Ok, perhaps we could call the root SED proto-indo-European, but -LO is a typical Slavic suffix!
1. BOOK – BUKVA (letter) and TO WRITE – RITI
book (n.) Old English boc “book, writing, written document,” from Proto-Germanic *bokiz “beech” (cognates: German Buch “book” Buche “beech;” see beech), the notion being of beechwood tablets on which runes were inscribed, but it may be from the tree itself (people still carve initials in them).
So just like we have the word “paper” because of “papyrus”, the word “book” comes from the “beech” tree. So let’s see some parallels:
- ENGLISH: BOOK – BEECH
- GERMAN: BUCH – BUCHE
- SLAVIC: BUKVA – BUKVA
Well, it definitely seems that the English were not the first to write on a beech tree. Was it Slavs or Germans who brought it on the island is really the question. So let us have a look at the words for writing:
The German “Schreiben“, to write, originally meant “to scrape”
From Proto-Germanic *skrībaną, a late borrowing from Latin scrībō (“write”), meaning “to scribe, to scrape”.
The Slavic equivalent is “grebati“, or “zgrebati”, to be more precise.
So it’s a draw again. What about the English word?
write (v.) Old Saxon writan, Old Norse rita “write, scratch, outline,” Old High German rizan, German reißen “to tear, pull, tug, sketch, draw, design”), outside connections doubtful.
Outside connections are doubtful? How about the Slavic riti, meaning “to carve, engrave, dig”?
But Etymonline continues:
Words for “write” in most Indo-European languages originally mean “carve, scratch, cut” (Latin scribere, Greek graphein, glyphein, Sanskrit rikh-); a few meant “paint” (Gothic meljan, Old Church Slavonic pisati, and most of the modern Slavic cognates).
In conclusion, it is still hard to say who was the first to master writing, but what is for sure is that only the Slavic lexicon has the full specter of words – from the word for the beech tree, to book and the same words for the process of scraping and carving the letters, whether it was German or English language. Moreover, they have a bonus word, meaning to paint, relating either to walls or manuscripts.
In short, the words in this article show that Slavic languages are indeed ancient Indo-European and that in many cases they still preserve the oldest, original forms of words. But to have such linguistic similarities with Germanic languages simply means that Slavs had to be in Europe much longer than it is generally assumed. Perhaps, they were there even before the Germanic people arrived.