Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Slavic family

The following list of kinship terms will help you easily connect the Slavic language terms while showing how the terms have in some cases spread out across Indo-European and in others have not.

English / Polish / Czech / Slovak / Dutch / Latin
wife / żona / manželka / manželka / vrouw / uxor
husband / mąż / manžel / manžel / man /
mother / matka / matka / matka / moeder / mater
father / ojciec / otec / otec / vader / pater
daughter / córka / dcera / dcéra / dochter / filia
son / syn / syn / syn / zoon / filius
sister / siostra / sestra / sestra / zuster / soror
brother / brat / bratr / brat / broer / frater

Looking at the table, you’ll see that matka/matka/matka/mater, syn/syn/syn/zoon, siostra/sestra/sestra and brat/bratr/brat/broer are close to one another, bringing together other IE languages and Slavic.

The word for father, ojciec/otec/otec, adheres within Slavic but looks out of place against other IE languages. This is because the Slavic languages (like the Celtic languages, incidentally), lost initial “p” in a lot of places. Probably the “ts” sound on the end arises from a front “r” getting mispronounced, as in Lat. cathedra (chair) > OFr chaire > Fr chaise.

As for daughter, the cór- of the Polish is like the Czech and Slavic, but there’s a diminuitive suffix on the end, i.e. it means “little daughter.” Because IE kinship terms are all over the map, I wouldn’t be astonished to find out this is connected to Latin soror, but I don’t have good evidence for that relationship, and have to consider “daughter” the odd-man-out in Slavic vs. IE kinship terms.

[Update: A reader points out a likelier connection to "daughter":
The word change is clearer when able to read in cyrillic with Russian and Bulgarian where there is an "o" between, making dcera 'back' to 'dochera' to align with Germanic tochter and English daughter.

Czechs seemed over the centuries to prefer a back-throat and dental sound instead of labial with some of the vowels shortening almost to disappearing and in some cases disappearing as in 'sem' for jsem.'
Thanks to our reader for the explanation. And remember, we're all langauge learners here - if you've got a tip about a language or language learning, let us know so we can make this site the best possible resource for everybody.]

Finally, as far as “husband” and “wife” are concerned, I confess total ignorance. You can see a feminine/diminuitive ending on “wife” in Czech and Slovak, which is also, helpfully, the same in the two languages. And if you’re looking for a memory device, the three Slavic terms for husband all start with the sound, “man,” which is just like the Dutch, though I’m not sure if they’re related. The Polish “żona” has the same source as queen, which in IE was something like “kona.”