I have been wondering about the following close parallel between German (I'm not aware of any other Germanic language for which this would hold) and Czech in particular:

  • postavit ~ stellen (to place something)
  • nastavit ~ einstellen (to adjust a setting)
  • odstavit ~ abstellen (to put out of operation)
  • stava ~ Ausstellung (exhibition)
  • představa ~ Vorstellung (image, vision)
  • představit ~ vorstellen (to introduce)

and a few others. In English these words don't have any part in common, as illustrated. The latter two examples show perhaps most strikingly that there must have been a direct influence in how these words formed. I checked some etymological sources but I have a very limited knowledge on where to find good ones, so I only found the obvious, decomposing the words into a prefix, root, and suffix, and explaining the origins of the root. The roots have departed already in their corresponding reconstructed Proto-Germanic (*stallijaną) and Proto-Balto-Slavic (*stāw) forms so my question is whether the clearly corresponding prefixes could have survived longer than that or whether this was a more recent influence.

If so, was it German taking these forms from Slavic languages or vice versa?

I'd be surprised at both: to my best knowledge Slavic languages were never excessively influential outside their own family (I might be very wrong in this point), but if it was them taking the pattern from German, it would have spread as far as into Russian (представление, выставка etc.)

  • 3
    1. Russian vy- and German aus- are cognates. 2. Why are you comparing Modern Czech or Russian with Modern German? Take a look at OHG or Old Church Slavonic. How old are these words? Did their meaning change?
    – Alex B.
    Nov 13, 2016 at 18:30
  • @AlexB. I don't know... that's why I ask. This is as far as I got with my layman's sources and knowledge.
    – The Vee
    Nov 14, 2016 at 1:16
  • I'm not criticizing, I'm trying to help you find the answer.
    – Alex B.
    Nov 14, 2016 at 3:30
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    Your examples are mostly calques from German into Slavic, often ultimately from Latin. The calques use translated elements, not necessarily cognate elements. staviti is cognate to stehen. Usually Latin ponere was calqued into German as stellen, sometimes drucken, but never with a cognate. Nov 14, 2016 at 7:46
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    Exactly, they are calques, originally from Latin: ponere, imponere, exponere, etc.
    – Eleshar
    Nov 14, 2016 at 21:28

6 Answers 6


Your compound examples are mostly calques, usually from German into Slavic but in fact often ultimately from Latin or French or Italian into both German and Slavic, in the middle ages.

The calques use translated elements, not necessarily cognate elements, although in some cases it was mixed, for example entreprendre become unternehmen, and interdire became untersagen. Usually Latin ponere was calqued into German as stellen, and into Slavic as staviti. (Czech stavit is in fact cognate to German stehen. It may be that stellen is also cognate with those, but in any case that was not a consideration at the time of calquing.)

We can see similarly haphazard interplay between German and Czech happening today with all the internationalisms and calques from English, like Schadesoftware and škodlivý software, and the occasional use of a cognate even when the meaning is confused, Seite and stránka (to mean page and site, even though both literally mean page), and other cases where Czech went its own way, for example the translations of download and upload.

In the past of course, German and Bohemian literate society were if anything more intertwined.

  • Well, it's a site but also a www page. Nov 15, 2016 at 11:46
  • @VladimirF True, updated for those who don't know. Nov 15, 2016 at 13:02
  • @AlexB. Russian isn't the only Slavic language. The Middle Ages are generally considered to have run from the 5th through the 15th century. That's also the time people started writing in these languages. The dates I have seen fall mostly in that range, but as I noted, the process has not stopped. Nov 15, 2016 at 16:49
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    @A.M.Bittlingmayer I learned about Sprachbund in undergrad when Wiki didn't even exist.
    – Alex B.
    Nov 15, 2016 at 19:00
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    The question is not about English. Nov 29, 2016 at 14:50

I agree with czypsu that the two roots are probably not identical (though there is a theory that Proto-Germanic *staljan is not cognate with Greek stellō, but derives from *st(e)h₂- with the suffix *-dhlo-, in which case the Germanic and Slavic roots would in fact be related). However this may be, the prefixed forms in Czech are evidently calqued on the corresponding prefixed verbs in German. This is a result of the widespread bilingualism in the Habsburg Kingdom of Bohemia.

  • Interesting! Did they find their way to Russian from there then? NB that the words given in my question become clearer in phonetic transcription: представление (RU) = [predstavlénije] (RU phonetic) = představení (CZ) [the act of introduction, but also theatre performance] or ~ představa (CZ) [vision], all being associable with Vorstellung (DE); similarly выставка (RU) = [výstavka] (RU phonetic) = výstava (CZ) [exhibition] = Ausstellung (DE).
    – The Vee
    Nov 13, 2016 at 14:40
  • nastaviti, vystaviti, otstaviti are known since Old Czech (14th or 15th century). Not necessarily in the exact same meaning as today, but they existed. Also, the German speaking colonisation started in Přemyslid times, long before any Habsburgs (please don't count the very short-lived Rudolf). Nov 14, 2016 at 14:52
  • @VladimirF. I definitely agree that each word needs to be analysed on its own merits. Mediaeval Latin installare “put a clergyman in place” is formed from Frankish *stal (Engl. stall). This Latin word is the source of the loanwords Fr. installer, Engl. install. German einstellen has two (in effect opposite) meanings “install” and “cause to cease”. Can you tell us whether nastavit has the same two meanings?
    – fdb
    Nov 14, 2016 at 15:47
  • It has the install meaning, see vokabular.ujc.cas.cz/hledani.aspx?hw=nastaviti Nov 14, 2016 at 15:54

The German -stell- forms and Slavic -stav- are neither related nor borrowed in one way or another.

The 'clearly corresponding prefixes' may very well be just a coincidence.

Slavic root * stāw- is a continues Proto-Indo-European root * steh₂- 'to stand, to stand up, to make sth stand' which is seen in such Paradebeispiel as Gk. ἵστημι, Skt. tíṣṭhati or Lat. sistō. It also has continuants in the Germanic branch, namely: Ger. stehen, Dutch staan Sw. stå or Goth. stōjan.

German -stell- forms ultimately come from Proto-Indo-European root * stel- 'to put, to locate'. This root was not as productive as the aforementioned one but still it shows it self (beside the German forms you mentioned) in Eng. stall, Gk. στέλλω, and maybe Lat. locus.

  • Great to know! I noticed the PIE roots differed in one letter but thought it was something trivial like definitive / indefinitive aspect. But I would stand firm with the prefixes corresponding. I could name 10+ words in either language where vy-/vý- (CZ) means ex- (LAT) and so does aus- (DE). Před (CZ) is even clearer because it works as a word in its own right and translates to vor (DE). The others work mostly by comparison of lists of other words which have the respective prefixes.
    – The Vee
    Nov 13, 2016 at 14:48
  • There are a lot of PIE roots beginning with *st- that have to do with standing. Here is a paper about them, among other things.
    – jlawler
    Jul 8, 2017 at 21:03

This is more like a longish comment than an answer.

Note that the the German word stellen is very vague specially in compounds. For the word in the example,

  • nastavit ~ einstellen (to adjust a setting) einstellen can mean besides that: to hire, to stop doing something (e.g., to smoke), to show up (sich einstellen). With the given technical meaning, the Czech word is probably a calque from German
  • odstavit ~ abstellen (to put out of operation) Also abstellen has other meanings; most common is to put down, to park (a car), to second someone (specially, soldiers). Again, with the given technical meaning, the Czech word is probably a calque from German
  • výstava ~ Ausstellung (exhibition) German Ausstellung is a calque from Latin expositio (probably brought up by Goethe). The Czech is probably either calqued directly from Latin or from German.
  • představit ~ vorstellen (to introduce) German vorstellen is a calque from Latin proponere, again the Czech word is probably a calque from German

Some information was taken from DWB (Deutsches Wörterbuch by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm):



I agree these are calques, but they found their way into seemingly all Slavic languages.

  • Bulgarian: пред-ста́вям "represent"
  • Russian: пред-ставлять "introduce, represent" + more meanings
  • Croatian/Serbian: pred-stavljati "introduce, represent"

But notice that some Croatian/Serbian verbs with this root deviate from the expected meaning:

  • na-stavljati "continue", not "adjust" (the German verb einstellen has also the meaning "stop", which is directly opposite)

And some simply don't exist:

  • od-stavljati = not found

This can't be a result of "widespread bilingualism", since there was no widespread German-native bilingualism in Bulgaria and Russia. These words were probably introduced via translation and schools, and some could be direct calques from Latin.

Each word should be separately investigated.


VI-IX century Illyrian root cluster {s'T(a,o,u)} > [st:] It's the semantics of symbol T, which alone means 'ground': Something standing, something to stand upon, upon which the acquired s, (the launchpad of its seme) forms the initial cluster st*.

Very productive, because it's a logismus it can be used to describe everything from standing, firm, immovable, stuck, static, to stacking upon, setting on etc etc etc.

therefore it can produce lots of words with minor modificators from the top of my head stay; stand; stop; stub; staple; stock; stuck; stack; static; station; state; stupid; stub;... you name it.

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    This is nonsense. Writing system is an arbitrary analysis of linguistic forms (which are also largely arbitrary and independent on the meaning). The *steh<sub>2</sub>- verb stem from which this is derived comes from PIE, predating any form of syllabary, let alone alphabet by thousands of years.
    – Eleshar
    Nov 29, 2016 at 18:32
  • @Eleshar leshko, that's your invalid personal opinion. And it's absolutely contradicting the the history of the writing evolution and archaeology findings- of which you seen to know absolutely nothing. Nov 30, 2016 at 9:23

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