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I've recently noticed something that I can't explain, a link between German and Sardinian. Two languages that, at least apparently for me, are not supposed to be that linked. Also English is included in this, which is more related to German than it is to Sardinian. Yet there's something I cannot understand.

Let's take the word "short". In German it's kurz. I might be way off, but it seems that they do have some connection, k- with sh-, -o- with -u- and -rt with -rz, although my knowledge is not that deep so, like I said, I might be wrong on it.

But the relation seems much closer between German-Sardinian than German-English. In Sardinian, note that I'm speaking about the variant present in the middle of the island which is included in the macro-variant Logudorese1, the word for "short" is "curzu" or "curza" according to the genre of the noun it refers to (e.g. un'istrada curza = a short street).

So, how could it be explained that we have "short/kurz" and "kurz/curzu"? Is there something I'm missing?

For what it's worth, in Italian we do have "corto", but I'm not sure what role it might have in this.


1: Although my dialect is included in it, they are slightly different. For the purpose of the question I think we can ignore this difference, unless the answerers have reasons to think differently in order to answer the question.

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Interesting, I've noticed a similar thing with ger:"Käse" and sard:"casu" vs. it:"formaggio", and ger:"Tomate" and sard:"tamata" (I think) vs. it:"pomodoro". In these cases English is closer than Italian to German/Sardinian, though. –  Aspinea Nov 15 '12 at 12:48
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Too few words to speculate about a link. –  kaleissin Nov 15 '12 at 14:43
    
@kaleissin What do you mean? Are you saying researches on single terms are not possible? That sounds weird... –  Alenanno Nov 15 '12 at 14:50
    
I'm saying it's not very useful. Fun exercise leading to a "just so"-story in a glossy coffee table book yes, but not very interesting science. Besides, claims that language X is linked and/or related to language Y because of a handul set of words Z too often heads towards Timecube country (see timecube.com, warning, turn off javascript before visiting!) –  kaleissin Nov 15 '12 at 21:46
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The explanation is very simple. German kurz, Italian corto, and Sardinian curzu/a all come from Latin curtus. –  Alex B. Nov 16 '12 at 1:00
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3 Answers

I suppose the short answer is that both German and Sardinian are Indo-European languages, so it's to be expected that they'll have some common word-forms. German is classed as Germanic and Sardinian is classed as a Romance language, but that doesn't mean that their development is completely separate: they shared a common ancestor. You can see the same if you compare French and German, for example. Words like "window" (fenêtre / Fenster) are obviously from the same root in French and German (i.e. Latin fenestra). Welsh has the same root for its word, ffenestr, although Welsh is categorised as a Celtic language. The English word is unusual here, as English didn't take window from Latin, but rather uses a native Germanic-derived form, from the words for wind and eye. (Although note that the word fenester was also in use in English until the 1500s).

The question of the relationship between German, Sardinian, and English falls into the trap of looking at the wrong data, I'm afraid. The English word that's comparable here is curt, not short. German kurz, Sardinian curzu/a and English curt all come from Latin curtus, as Alex B. pointed out in the comments. (The etymology of short is disputed, though it may also ultimately derive from curtus.) French court, Italian corto, Dutch kort, also all derive from the same root.

In summary, the fact that any two Indo-European languages have vocabulary in common should not come as a surprise. Much of this vocabulary comes, directly or indirectly, from Latin, and is not usually a sign of particular relatedness between the two languages unless it can be proven that Language A took a lot of its word forms from Language B as an intermediary, and not directly from Latin (or indeed from Language C, or Language D, etc.)

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Your "window" examples are borrowings, not cognates, so they don't say anything about whether the languages in question had a common ancestor. –  TKR Oct 12 '13 at 18:14
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There are several overlapping factors here: Firstly, many Indo-European languages share root words that go back long before Latin, and have been subject to a number of sound shifts, which is why they may not seem related at first (cf, the difference between the initial [sh] in 'short' and the [k] in 'Kurz' and 'curzu'). These are continually ongoing - for example, the ancestral German word probably ended in a '-t', but these were later shifted to a '-ts' sound.

Then, layered into this is the adoption of words from Latin, which was so prestigious in the past, and similarly the adoption of words from French and Italian (especially into English, but also into German) for similar reasons in the later medieval centuries. This has given English doubled pairs like 'short' and 'curt', by 're-'adopting cognate forms, and finding a space for them in the vocabulary. I don't know German anywhere near well enough to be aware of a similar example.

Finally, there is the tendency of some languages to maintain a separation from others. The reason that Italian uses 'pomodoro' instead of a cognate to 'Tomate' isn't because German and Italian are that different, it's just because the linguistic powers that be in Italy consciously avoided it. In a current context, many language communities prefer to create new technological words instead of using English terms.

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The OED's etymology of short is as follows:

Old English sc(e)ort = Old High German scurz < Germanic type *skurto- (comparative *skurtizon- , Old English scyrtra ), whence Dutch schorten , Old Norse skorta to lack; for other derivatives see shirt n., skirt n.

The Germanic adjective is commonly regarded as a popular Latin *excurtus ( < Latin ex- + curtus ). On this view it would be parallel in origin with the synonymous Old Frisian, Old Saxon kurt , Dutch kort , Old High German (Middle High German, modern German) kurz , a West Germanic adoption of Latin curtus . The Romanic languages, however, afford no evidence of a popular Latin *excurtus , and it is unlikely that such a form existed. It is possible that Germanic *skurto- may be an altered adoption of Latin curtus , with prefixed s either due to some Germanic analogy or attracted from the ending of a preceding word in some Latin context. Some scholars, however, regard *skurto- as a native Germanic word, < a root *skert- (supposed to be evidenced in Middle High German scherze , scherzel small piece) < pre-Germanic *skerd- , an extension of *sker- to cut (see shear v.).

That is: German kurz is a borrowing from Latin curtus (which gives the Romance forms court, corto, curzu, etc.). English short is either a borrowing from the same source with an added initial s- whose origin isn't understood, or else it's not from Latin at all, but from a PIE root *sker-. (If the latter, it would likely still be cognate with Latin curtus, which is from PIE *ker-; since many PIE roots appear in two forms, with and without an initial s-, the two roots would probably be ultimately the same.)

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