Does the lexicon of Ancient Greek contain words believed to be of Sumerian origin? If so, can some estimate of their number be provided?



2 Answers 2


Yes, a few: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Category:Ancient_Greek_terms_derived_from_Sumerian

They were mostly borrowed via Akkadian, and into other major classical languages of the Eastern Mediterranean beside Ancient Greek - Aramaic, Armenian, Persian, Hebrew...

English cane would seem to share such an etymology.

Another wave of ultimately Sumerian words came to Southeastern Europe later via Ottoman Turkish, eg kireç. They are not found in literary Greek, but they are found in neighbouring South Slavic and Albanian, so surely they have been spoken in some Greek dialects.

  • This assumption regarding Akkadian, raises the question whether Greek borrowed directly from Akkadian/Sumerian or through an intermediate source e.g. an Anatolian language. For words like ἄγλῑς the loan might not have been direct and can have been borrowed into the substrate of Greek and from there to Greek. I find this paper below useful regarding this question. academia.edu/2604857/…
    – Midas
    Commented Mar 10, 2018 at 8:47
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    Yes, that's a separate question. If you look at the entries, most of them have a suggestion that it was not direct or that they were simply Wanderwörter. Commented Mar 10, 2018 at 9:26
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    κιρέτσι confirmed borrowed into Thracian and Constantinopolitan Greek: labweb5.duth.gr/erg_laog/arxeio/…, p. 133. Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 8:34

When I remember right, the word βοῦς "cow" is traced back to Sumerian (it is believed to be a Sumerian loan into Proto-Indogermanic, the reconstructed form is *gʷṓws).

However, such beasts are rare and I doubt that there are many more of them, because Ancient Greek and Sumerian weren't in direct contact (temporarily and geographically).

EDIT: Here's another candidate: κύανος ‘dark blue glaze; enamel’, from Hittite kuwannan- ‘copper ore; azurite’ (ultimately from Sumerian kù-an).

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    @GastonÜmlaut: Indo-European or Indo-Germanic are synonyms to me, and I am not particularly consistent in using one or the other. Commented May 23, 2016 at 12:28
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    Etymonline suggests that the similarity with Sumerian may be because of the word's imitative origin, implying no actual loaning. etymonline.com/index.php?term=cow Commented May 23, 2016 at 16:22
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    My understanding is Indogermanic was used before it was realised that Celtic is part of the family and before Tocharian was known... it's a pretty unusual term these days, surely? Commented May 24, 2016 at 10:05
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    It seems a bit unlikely that PIE would borrow Sumerian gu as *gʷṓws. Piotr Gąsiorowski has a neat native IE etymology for the word.
    – TKR
    Commented May 25, 2016 at 12:38
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    In German you say "Indogermanisch"; in English you say "Indo-European". This is established and conventional nomenclature.
    – fdb
    Commented Jul 9, 2016 at 19:10

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