Do the words Wave(English) Welle(German) Vague(French) have the same Etymology as Val(Serbo-Croatian,Slovenian),Vlna(Czech,Slovakian),BолнаVolna.

All these words mean the same thing-Wave. but I found it surprising, given their relative similarity, that they have a different Proto-Indo-European root.

Wave/Welle comes from the Inde-European *wegh where Val/Vlna comes from *wel

Can anyone explain why these word that mean the same thing and are so alike still do not have the same etymology?


First note that German Welle and English wave aren't cognates. Grimm derive German Welle from a verb walen "to writhe, to wallow, to roll" that is traced to Indogermanic *vel (in their notation, identical to your *wel). There is another German word for "wave", Woge (< wage) that derives from Indogermanic *wegh and that is related to English wave. French vague is probably a loan from Germanic.

I don't know details about the etymology of val and vlna. Are they inherited from proto-Slavic or are they loan words from German?

  • 3
    The Slavic words are cognate with, not borrowed from, German Welle. French vague is not borrowed from (High) German, but from Old Norse, via the Vikings.
    – fdb
    Mar 13 '18 at 12:51

These sorts of coincidences happen quite often in comparative linguistics, just by random chance. For a famous example, German haben (~English "have") and Latin habēre mean the same thing, but come from totally separate roots; haben is instead cognate with Latin capere "seize", via Grimm's Law.

The main similarity between all these words is the initial /v/, which goes back to PIE. It might be a coincidence that *wegh and *wel started with the same phoneme, or it might not (if one affected the other), but all the later similarities can be traced back to this.

  • 2
    haben and habere are from separate roots, but is it really random chance that their uses correspond so closely? That would imply an experiment with no contact. Mar 13 '18 at 19:23
  • 1
    Draw the dividing line between way, valley, weave, vague, weigh -- is the wiggle a coincidence?
    – amI
    Mar 20 '18 at 23:53

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