When learning Thai, I was amazed how modern Thai word "fish" is similar to Slavic word "to swim"

Thai: ปลา [plaː] "fish"
Lao: ປາ [pa᷅ː]"fish"

Ukrainian: плавати [ˈpɫɑvɑtɪ] "to swim"
Slovenian: plávati
Slovakian: рlávаt᾽

First, I looked into dictionaries of Slavic languages. Many, including Vasmer's Dictionary of Russian Language, refer Ancient Greek πλεῖν, but no further references leading to PIE/Sanskrit.

Then I looked into Leiden Indo-European Etymological Dictionary and found that

Sanskrit: प्लवते [plavate] "to swim"

but again, no reference to "fish".

So, my question is, how to prove that Thai "fish" and Slavic "to swim" are related?

  • 3
    your first step is to find 25 other words that appear to be relatives.
    – user483
    Nov 6, 2012 at 17:36
  • Pokorny gives the PIE etymon *pleu- 'flee, fly, run, flow, swim'. Nov 6, 2012 at 20:19
  • 1
    Khmer, Burmese, and Vietnames words are often cognate to Thai and Lao words, though far less often than the latter two are cognate to each other. Anyway, it's one place to look for clues. Nov 12, 2012 at 9:42
  • @Marjeta, this question is not about Slovenian. Your desire to help tagging questions worth the best appreciation, but I have strong feeling that such tagging has been done without reading the question. Your yesterday's suggested edit has been rejected by community. Now you suggest the same edit again. Is there any reason why it can be approved on the second try? Jan 17, 2014 at 16:02
  • Sorry, it has Slovenian language specifically mentioned, so I added a tag. Today I first thought I skipped this question, so I tagged it again.
    – Marjeta
    Jan 17, 2014 at 16:40

3 Answers 3


"How to prove" something that probably isn't true, is rather difficult.

According to this site, the Thai word has a solid etymology pla.A in proto-Tai-Kadai. If this is true (and I have no idea how reliable the site is, but it looks plausible) then the word is not a loanword from Sanskrit, and has no connection with the PIE root (unless you subscribe to one of the controversial super-grouping theories).


Being Thai, I'm pretty sure that the resemblance is merely coincidental. The words for "fish", and "swim" in Thai are:

fish: ปลา [plaː]
swim: ว่าย [wâːi]

Thai has a word for "fish" that was borrowed from Pali/Sanskrit:

มัจฉา [mát-tɕʰǎː]

which doesn't sound very close to the mentioned Slavic word.

I'm more curious in how words like "elephant", "avatar", "immortal", which Thai borrowed from Pali/Sanskrit as เอราวัณ [eː-raː-wán] อวตาร [à-wá-taːn] อมตะ [à-má-tàʔ], sound like in Slavic. (NOTE: The more common word for elephants, which is not a borrowed word, in Thai is ช้าง [tɕʰáːŋ].)

  • 1
    All Slavic languages have /slon/ or /u̯slon/ for "elephant", this has nothing common with word at any neighbour language family. Old-styled etymology treats this as borrowed Turkish /aslan/ "lion", but another hypothesis is for Tibete-Burman */slan/ "elephant", modern /sən/ (could be brought by elephant drivers). "Immortal" is /besmertnɨ/, /nesmertelni/, etc. (transcription outline is shown, without details)
    – Netch
    Nov 10, 2012 at 14:12
  • 1
    PIE "nmrtnos" or the like (=> immortal, amata).
    – Anixx
    Nov 10, 2012 at 15:02
  • 1
    @bytebuster: I really went sidetrack, admittedly. My apology. I just hoped to find some links between the two languages, which are no clear relatives. If it's only just for the word "ปลา" then I believe it's just coincidental. Anyway, the word "ช้าง" (elephant) suggests that there might be some links between the two languages via Tibete-Burman, I would say. Nov 11, 2012 at 6:13
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    @ColinFine: I don't think anybody was arguing here that there's any relationship between Thai and Slavic. I read the question only as wanting to know about the connections via Sanskrit borrowings. Nov 12, 2012 at 9:52
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    @Hippietrail: Maybe. It all depends what bytebuster intended by the word relative: this word is not normally used in this context, and I interpreted as meaning (genetically) related.
    – Colin Fine
    Nov 14, 2012 at 1:46

Slavic plávati definitely related to English flow and float and derived from PIE pleu- (e.g. pleuti "swims").

Starling derives it from Eurasiatic ṗVlV "wash, flow". This does not support any theory because Thai languages do not belong neither to Eurasiatic not to a higher groupping of Nostratic.

Your idea would be much more probable if you found parallels between Russian and Greenlandic or Japanese.

You should note that there are many much more striking coincidences. For example, you would be surprised that English "strange" is not related to Russian "stranno" which means the same, and English "sport" is not related to Gothic "spords" which means "racing".

  • 3
    I get the feeling you might have missed that bytebuster expects them to be related via Sanksrit, whence many Thai words were borrowed. Nov 12, 2012 at 9:45

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