The Germanic roots of wine, street, cheese, and many other words were loaned into Proto-Germanic from Latin during the ‘zero period’.

Can the fact that these were loaned from Germanic into Latin be taken as evidence that the Germanic peoples learned e.g. wine fermentation, road-building, cheese-making from the Romans, or at least that wine and roads and cheese were unknown to them before they experienced them through trading with the Romans?

  • 1
    Interesting question! Could you explain what this 'zero period' is? I couldn't find it on Wikipaedia.// Cheese seems unlikely to me, but it may be about a specific type of cheese-making. At any rate, there can be other reasons why one languages borrows a word from another...
    – Cerberus
    Aug 2, 2017 at 13:43
  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latin_influence_in_English (refers to pre-migration influence on Germanic which became English)
    – user6726
    Aug 2, 2017 at 14:57

2 Answers 2


Linguistic evidence can be combined with other historical and archaeological evidence to form hypotheses, but the existence of loans alone cannot be used to prove this, because:

  • Loans can exist happily alongside native words. The absence of a native word would be much more telling, but in a case like street, Germanic also had the ancestors of words like road, lane, highway, Gasse, Bahn and so on.

  • Loans can exist because of substrate not superstrate. Germanic languages had not yet expanded to their present area at the time in question, it could be simply that people in, say, the Alps had streets, wine and cheese when they were speaking Celtic, Romance or Slavic languages.

  • Loans observe network effects. Latin was a lingua franca for a time, like English is today. We all understand that just because many cultures took a word like shorts, boxing, canyon, clan or cybersex from English does not imply that the cultures had no such concept before, or that the concept was originally invented by the English.

  • Loans can also be in either direction, see https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Category:Latin_terms_derived_from_Proto-Germanic. The Latin word for shirt is from Latin, but the Germanic tribes did not bring shirt technology to the Romans.

So, although there is a correlation between loaning words and loaning technologies, in the case of a specific technology like wine it is better to read ancient reports, find evidence of grapes actually being grown north of the Alps and so on - ie out of the scope of this sub.

  • A word seems to be missing before the link in the penultimate paragraph.
    – TKR
    Aug 5, 2017 at 2:46

“Wine” is a prehistoric wander word occurring not only in Indo-European, but also in Semitic (Arabic wayn, Hebrew yayin etc.) and Kartvelian. It is possible that Germanic had it from Latin, but that is far from certain.

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