I always assumed that the English word "Garden" was similar to the German "Garten" due to the Germanic roots of English. But according to Wikipedia, "Garden" in English is related to the French "Jardin" through the Norman "Gardin".

If this is the case, why are the English word and German word so similar?

up vote 11 down vote accepted

First of all, a warning: all these etymologies are to some extent hypothetical. Especially when it gets back to Proto-Germanic and Proto-Indo-European, there's no actual proof of how the language worked; it's all reconstructed by linguists. But these reconstructions are generally quite informative, even if we can never be 100% sure they're right. Reconstructed words are marked with a star.

Short version: the English and French words are related more closely than the English and German words, though they all go back to the same place.

Long version:

Proto-Indo-European

Back in Proto-Indo-European, the oldest reconstructible ancestor of English, there was a root *gʰ-rdʰ- meaning "enclose". One form of this word was *gʰ-ó-rdʰ-os "enclosure". This led to a great number of words across Eurasia, such as Russian górod "town", Latin hortus "garden", and Welsh garth "hill". But we're only interested in one specific descendant from this stage.

Proto-Germanic

In the branch of Proto-Indo-European from which English and German and Icelandic (and several other languages) descend, this eventually became *garđô, still meaning "enclosure".

Here, the line of descent splits!

Old High German

German wasn't affected much by Frankish or the Romance languages, compared to English and French. The Proto-Germanic *garđô led to Old High German garto, Middle High German garte, and finally Modern German Garten.

Old English

In Old English, *garđô became ġeard, which led to Middle English yeard, and thus Modern English yard. So yard is actually the "purest" English cognate to German Garten!

Old Frankish

One of the other languages descended from Proto-Germanic is called Frankish. It's now died out, but it was spoken in what is now France. In this language, *garđô became *gardō.

Vulgar Latin

The Vulgar Latin spoken at the time borrowed the Frankish word as an adjective gardinus "pertaining to gardens". This definitely came from *gardō, but the -in- might be a Vulgar Latin diminutive or adjective-forming suffix, or might be from a different form of the Frankish word: without more information on Frankish we can't really be sure.

And the line of descent splits again.

Old French

In Old French the Vulgar Latin word evolved into jardin "garden" quite regularly. This stayed the same all the way to Modern French.

Anglo-Norman

Another branch of what we now call French ended up coming to England with the Norman conquest. In this branch, the word stayed gardin, without the first consonant changing. This became Modern English garden.

  • And probably there is some confusion from English preferring -en over -in. – A. M. Bittlingmayer Aug 9 at 5:39
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    @A.M.Bittlingmayer. The shift from -ine to -eine is already in Anglo-Norman gardein, gardeyne, alongside gardine, – fdb Aug 9 at 11:18
  • @fdb But look at all the nouns borrowed from Anglo-Norman that evolved to have that ending in modern English. – A. M. Bittlingmayer Aug 9 at 11:39
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    Old Frankish (Franconian) lives on in Dutch and German both. Dutch still has "gaard(e)" in words like "boomgaard" (orchard) etc. – Henno Brandsma Aug 11 at 21:12

I always assumed that the English word Garden was similar to the German Garten due to the Germanic roots of English.

If it looks like a duck, and it walks like a duck, then it's obviously a duck ... right ?

Let us take a look at the following English-German list, and see if we notice something :

  • day - Tag,
  • eye - Auge,
  • honey - Honig,
  • yester(day) - gestern,

Now, if we were to take the German word Garten, and a list of English synonyms for garden, could we find there a word that relates to it in the same way as above ?


If this is the case, why are the English word and German word so similar ?

Similarity is irrelevant !


1 See :

  • Stephen Anderson, Languages: A Very Short Introduction, page 36.

  • R. M. W. Dixon, Searching for Aboriginal Languages: Memoirs of a Field Worker, pages 107 and 129.

2 The Romanian iubi comes from the Slavic ljubin, which is related to the German lieben, itself a cognate of the English love. (Why is love connected to lieben ? For the same reason that live relates to leben, and starve to sterben, etc.)

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    I believe the English /j/ only corresponds to German /g/ when the consonant was next to an Old English front vowel. Where does your reconstruction of a "Proto-Germanic gy" come from? – b a Aug 10 at 8:59
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    It's not a false friend though, it's not even a true false cognate. It's a en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doublet_(linguistics). – A. M. Bittlingmayer Aug 10 at 9:27
  • @ba: I never said otherwise, but I did not want to add unnecessary complexity to the answer. Basically, the first sentence should have been inverted (but, if inverted, it sounds counter-intuitive, since the average reader might ask himself: Why is this guy all of a sudden talking about the English y ? What on earth has gotten into him ?), and then completed (but, again, this only serves to over-complicate the answer). As for your second question, I assume (but am not sure) that the road from g to y went through an intermediary gy. – Lucian Aug 10 at 10:59
  • @A.M.Bittlingmayer: You're right, I did indeed mean false cognate, rather than false friend, the main idea being that if it's possible even for two completely unrelated languages to independently arrive at identical words for the same concept, then the similarity between the German Garten and the English garden should pale by comparison. (At any rate, I do agree with you and ba that the answer, in its current form, should be rewritten). – Lucian Aug 10 at 11:25
  • @ba The a in *gard was fronted first, then the /g/ to /j/ change happened. In words like "churn", "church" and others the vowel was non-fronted first and fronted in Old English (and Old Frisian). "yarn" (WFris jern) compared to German and Dutch "garen" is another example. – Henno Brandsma Aug 11 at 21:15

First of all I am not a native speaker so forgive me any spelling and grammar mistakes.

Allow me to approach this question from a comparative etymological point of view which is sadly often seen as more speculative than scientific. I use it to gain more understanding when the usual methods fail to give more insight.

All words Garden, Garten, Gaard, Gardin and Jardin stem from the same source. The source is the description of what a Garden is in the context of a piece of land. It is locked, guarded, surrounded. In comparative etymology you could compare these words with words expressing the same idea but in a different context like ‘curtain’ and ‘karton’ (cardboard in Dutch) but also ‘guardian’, ‘tracheas’, ‘cigarette’ and even the Mesopotamian Ziggurat. The easiest way to explain the roots forming ‘garden’ is comparitive: ‘cheri’ the transliteration of the Greek word for ‘hand’ is cognate to the ‘gr-‘ root in words like ‘grip’, ‘grab’, ‘greifen’. One of the functions of the hand is to ‘enclose’ which shows the comparative similarity between garden and hand (grab/grip). The ‘-den’ ending seems a root cognate to the Dutch word ‘tuin’ meaning ‘garden’ and English ‘town’ meaning an ’enclosed settlement’ leading back to an earlier form meaning ‘rising’ or go up/build up, Maybe initially ‘laid down’ or settles down. This is still seen in the similar spelling of the near homophone ‘down’ by which the vertical meaning was preserved, unlike in the word town. So all garden translations mentioned express a descriptive idea: ‘enclosed piece of land’ which can be specified as ‘enclosed settlement’ if there are buildings involved (town) or merely the garden enclosed by a fence, hedges, stone or mud walls either for defensive purposes against humans and animals and/or as a markation of possession before map making. Conventional etymology will not take this approach though, probably linking it to PIE as can be seen here: https://en.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/Reconstruction:Proto-Indo-European/ǵʰórtos But language is culture and aGRiculture is too. Gardens contain agriculture (agri-cul-ture roots meaning ‘hand-sky-earth’ which must be interpreted as ‘sown grown down’. It is no coincidence that these three words end with ‘-own’; a root found in ‘un’-der, ‘no’ and ‘dawn’ (the low (down) position of the sun.

One more thing about the famous Garden of Eden. Eden means ‘time’ as Garden of Eden means the enclosure of time. Adam (earth) and Eve (sky) show a transition from the hunter gatherer style of living to agriculture as Cain (the farmer!) kills Abel (the shepherd).

The word ‘garden’ can be traced back to the very metaphorical root of civilization. And since agriculture was invented in the Levant, it is no wonder that such a powerful invention as agriculture created the gardened society we live in today. The Anglo-Saxons (originally Germans) kept the German spelling but adopted the softer French ‘d’ probably in the period where English royalty spoke French as a status symbol. American English adapted Yard (meaning garden) from French Jardin.

My apologies this answer got so long. But it is one of my favorite words and a comparative jewel in Pandora’s etymology box.

  • This is interesting. Thanks. – Alex Kinman Aug 9 at 6:09
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    Unfortunately, there are too many inconsistencies and even wrongs in this fancy exposition guardian is not related to garden at all, ziggurat isn't either, nor is cigarette. Also Latin ager (High German Acker) has nothing to do with garden and your hypotheses about agricuture are just fantasies and not backed in any way by historical linguistics. – jknappen Aug 9 at 13:12
  • If you are only looking at it from historical evidence you are absolutely right. How much written evidence is there anyway? As a species we only write a couple of millennia. I am approaching the question from a comparative point of view with different methods than just historical evidence. Akker/acker a wild piece of wilderness or structured by agriculture (by hand)? Those relations are not fantasies. They can be backed by many examples, and methods you are obviously unaware of. I am here to help out. If you have better answers, come forward with them please. – Ajagar Aug 13 at 6:31
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    @Ajagar The problem is, we often do have written evidence for the historical etymologies. For example agriculture comes from Latin agricultūra from agr- meaning "field" and cultūra meaning "cultivation" < colō "to till". All of these parts are amply attested in Latin documents and inscriptions. – Draconis Aug 14 at 4:43
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    @Ajagar If you'd like to ask a new question about this, or move to a chat room, we could discuss further; the idea of humans associating certain meanings intrinsically with certain sounds isn't at all an unscientific one. But in this case, and in many others, I find the historical evidence much more compelling. – Draconis Aug 14 at 4:49

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