PIE *gene- *gwen-

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I asked several Indo-Europeanist colleagues:

In Hittite, Tocharian, Indo-Iranian (Indic and Persian), Greek, Albanian, Germanic, Armenian, Celtic, Anatolian, Italic, Lithuanian, Balto-Slavic, Macedonian, Phrygian, and other IE languages, do you ever find reflexes (derivatives) of these two PIE roots in close association / linkage with each other?

PIE root *gene- "give birth, beget," with derivatives referring to procreation and familial and tribal groups.    could also be related to "king", which is of uncertain derivation

PIE root *gwen- "woman."  ("queen; gynecology")

I received the following responses:

Craig Melchert:

Despite lots of new discoveries in the "minor" Anatolian languages lately, I still know of no reflexes of *genH- in Anatolian. It seems to have been replaced by the source of Hitt. hass- 'to procreate' and 'to give birth', whose source remains less than entirely clear. The *gWen- root 'woman' is of course well attested.

All I can say is: stay tuned. The pace of studies on the languages other than Hittite is dizzying, and several roots that we did not think existed in Anatolian have turned up. The Luvian word for 'liver' is ikkur/ikkun-, vs. the very strange Hittite lissi-. So *genH- could still turn up.

Michael Weiss:

Italic doesn't have any reflex of *gwenh2 so I can tell you definitively that there is no association there.  I think puns might be possible in Sanskrit where the jani- and jan- look most similar but I don't know of any off the top of my head and jani- doesn't seem to be discussed in the Nirukta.

Don Ringe:

No.  The reconstructable PIE forms are *ǵenh₁- (beginning with a "palatal" stop and ending with the first laryngeal) and *gʷenh₂- (beginning with a labiovelar stop and ending with the second laryngeal).  They may look similar in Roman type, but they were easily distinguishable in the protolanguage and actually diverged in every daughter in which both survived. 

As for 'king':  PGmc. *kuningaz must have meant 'headman, head of a lineage', because 'lineage' was *kunją (and the words for 'king' were completely different); *kunją was indeed a derivative of *ǵenh₁-, but one not shared by other IE languages.  As for *gʷenh₂-, in PGmc. it got split into *kʷenōn- 'woman' and *kʷēniz 'wife'; the latter came to mean 'queen' only in Old English, and by then no one made any particular connection between cwēn, cyning, and cynn 'lineage, (extended) family', so far as we can tell.

Although a Turkologist, Peter Golden offered the following helpful remarks for Slavic:

In E. Slavic there is жена “wife”, Ukrainian has жінка (less polite, дружина is the customary formal form – another story in Russ. дружина is the term for the prince’s comitatus), Belarus. жонка ( which is the less polite form = Russ. жёнка ), žena in Serbo-Croat is “woman”
жена in Macedonian is “young woman”
Persian zan “woman”
Armenian կինը (kin) is probably related.

Not much comes to mind for the male *gene- root.  Latin progignere is the obvious source but Slavic “to give birth” is родить, рождать and variants throughout Slavic.  I will have to give it more thought. Nothing comes to mind at the moment.

Do Language Log readers have anything to add?


Selected readings

The modern English word gender comes from the Middle English gender, gendre, a loanword from Anglo-Norman and Middle French gendre. This, in turn, came from Latin genus. Both words mean "kind", "type", or "sort". They derive ultimately from a Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root *ǵénh₁- 'to beget', which is also the source of kin, kind, king, and many other English words, with cognates widely attested in many Indo-European languages. It appears in Modern French in the word genre (type, kind, also genre sexuel) and is related to the Greek root gen- (to produce), appearing in gene, genesis, and oxygen. The Oxford Etymological Dictionary of the English Language of 1882 defined gender as kind, breed, sex, derived from the Latin ablative case of genus, like genere natus, which refers to birth. The first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED1, Volume 4, 1900) notes the original meaning of gender as "kind" had already become obsolete.



  1. martin schwartz said,

    August 10, 2023 @ 4:55 am

    Don Ringe has what is typographically the best reconstructions;
    all other remarks above are correct and worthwhile.
    Indeed, Persian has, from the root under discusssion, zāy- 'be born'
    (cf. OInd. jāyate) and zāda/zāde 'born', cf. OInd. jāta-; the ā is from
    PIE syllabic n followed by laryngeal in the zero-grade. For 'woman',
    Kurdish (for example) has jin /žin/, with phonologically more conservative initial than Persian z-. And, as Peter Golden may have added, 'wife' vs. woman' are distinguished by variant cognate forms e.g. in Russian: žená vs. žén'ščina. The Germanic 'king' word
    is borrowed into Slavic, e.g. Russian knjaz 'prince'. And re Craig
    Melchert's interesting note on 'liver' in Anatolian, Romance and
    Mod. Greek have replaced the resp. Latin and Anc. Gr. forms by
    words meaning *'the figged', from the culinary preparation of the organ. Arm. leard only partially seems to be from the PIE word for
    liver (preserved by the Luvian, Anc Gr.and Lat.)
    Martin Schwartz
    Martin Schwartz

  2. Ollie Sayeed said,

    August 10, 2023 @ 7:27 am

    I'll defer to Sanskrit experts, but can it really true that speakers didn't connect jáni "woman, mother" < *ǵenh₁- with jáni "birth" < *gʷenh₂-?


  3. Ollie Sayeed said,

    August 10, 2023 @ 7:29 am

    (oops, those two etyma in my last comment are the wrong way round)

  4. J.W. Brewer said,

    August 10, 2023 @ 9:03 am

    Side note, but "gender" is an etymological doublet of "genre," which retains the "kind" sense. Both were loanwords into English from French, but a number of centuries apart, and French had itself evolved in the meantime.

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