Indo-European Roots
Bridget Germain
Comparative Method
Example of Reconstruction
Some interesting roots
The Comparative Method
The Comparative Method
“The Sanskrit language, whatever be its
antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more
perfect than the Greek, more copious than
the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than
either…[but] no philologer could examine
them all three, without believing them to have
sprung from some common source, which,
perhaps, no longer exists.” - Sir William Jones
The Comparative Method
Need to ignore:
“baby talk”
One Fact: certain languages are so
similar that these similarities cannot be
attributed to chance
One Hypothesis: these languages must
be descended from a common original
Several Indo-European languages have
a similar word for “daughter-in-law”
Sanskrit [snu∫āá]
OE [snoru]
Old Church Slavonic [snūkha]
(Russian [snokhá])
Latin [nurus]
Greek [nuós]
Armenian [nu]
Step 1 - Prefix
Sanskrit, Germanic (OE) and Slavic agree
with an Indo-European word starting with
*snIndo-European ‘s-’ was lost before ‘n’ in
other Latin, Greek and Armenian words
Thus, they all go back to a word beginning
with *sn-
Step 2 - First Vowel
Sanskrit, Latin, Greek and Armenian agree
that the first vowel is [u]
Slavic [ū] corresponds to Sanskrit [u]
Germanic [o] (OE snoru) has been
changed from earlier [u]
So, the Proto-Indo-European word started
with *snu.
Step 3 - Next Consonant
Sanskrit [s] always changes to [∫] after [u]
Slavic [s] changes to [kh] after [u]
In Latin and sometimes in Germanic languages,
old [s] between vowels changes to [r] (Latin nurus
and OE snoru)
Greek and Armenian [s] between vowels
disappeared entirely
Based on all these assumptions, it can then be
assumed that the next vowel in the original word is
[s], thus *snus-.
Step 4 - Ending
Sanskrit, OE, Slavic all presuppose earlier [-ā]
(feminine ending)
Latin, Greek and Armenian presuppose [-os],
which is still feminine even though most nouns
ending in [-os] were masculine
Since these endings were abnormal, they must be
Suggests the original form is *snusos, even though
normal feminine ending was [-ā], because it implies that
Sanskrit, OE and Slavic all replaced the unconventional
[-os] with conventional [-ā].
Step 5 - Accent
Sanskrit [snu∫āá], Greek [nuós], and Slavic
[snokhá] all place an accent on the final
Germanic: old [s] changes to [r] only when
the accented syllable came after the [s]
Final reconstructed word: *snusós
Some Interesting Roots
LeukOriginally means ‘light, brightness’
Derivatives include ‘light,’ ‘illuminate,’
‘lunatic,’ ‘lucid,’ and ‘lynx’
Becomes ‘leukos’ (-) in Greek,
meaning ‘clear, white’
Combined with  ‘blood’ to form “leukemia,”
which is caused by abnormal accumulation of
white blood cells
Some Interesting Roots
SleubhOriginally means ‘to slide, slip’
Irish bhf  ‘v’ sound  English ‘sleeve’
OE slēf, slīf, slīef ‘sleeve’ (into which the arm
Some Interesting Roots
Nomen-, NominFrom Latin, originally means ‘name,
Derivatives include ‘nominal,’ ‘denominate,’
‘misnomer,’ ‘nomenclature’
Also Greek onoma, onuma ‘name’
Derivatives include ‘anonymous,’ ‘metonymy,’
‘pseudonym,’ ‘synonymous’
The End

Indo-European Roots