Recently, a question was asked about the possibility of the words knee and generation being cognates. Unfortunately, that question is rather unclear, so I'm asking this as a separate post.

The words in question are commonly derived from the PIE words *ǵónu 'knee' and *ǵenh₁- 'to give birth, to beget', respectively. The obvious similarity between these two reconstructed forms would be easy to dismiss as a chance resemblance, especially given the lack of an obvious semantic connection. However, it reminded me of a curious parallel in Basque: belaun 'knee' and belaunaldi 'generation' (with -aldi meaning 'period').

It seems someone else has also noticed this interesting parallel (though their other blog posts look a bit dubious at first glance): https://oldeuropeanculture.blogspot.com/2015/11/from-knee-to-knee.html They also point out Finnish sukupolvi 'generation' from suku 'kin' + polvi 'knee'.

So there seems to be a connection between the concepts 'knee' and 'generation' in at least three unrelated language families. Has this been treated before in the scientific literature? Is there an obvious connection that I'm just missing (maybe via joint/changing directions/changing generations)? Is it based on a specific concept common to the prehistoric cultures of Europe that's since been forgotten? Or is the parallel formation based on calquing?

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    Hmm, that reminds me of a Korean word 슬하 seulha (膝下 - from two Chinese characters "knee" + "under") which means status of being someone's child or descendant. I think its' borrowed from Classical Chinese. – jick May 5 '19 at 16:25
  • Interesting. Russian "колено" is indeed used for "generation", albeit this usage feels a bit bookish/archaic. However, only after having read the linked article I realised that the standard modern Russian term "поколение" has the same root, I just never happened to think about this :) Back to "колено" for "generation" - one of the ideomatics is "колена Израилевы", "The Tribes of Israel", שבטי ישראל (taken from Wiki) from the Old Testament. Could anyone with the Hebrew knowledge tell if there is a link with a "knee" here? – tum_ May 6 '19 at 21:22
  • @tum_ Hebrew שֵׁבֶט 'tribe' also has the meaning 'staff, rod' but doesn't seem to be related to 'knee'. – Mark Beadles May 7 '19 at 15:28
  • @tum_ Nothing with שבט shivtei to my knowledge. Standard BH for "generation" is תולדה toldah, from ילד yalad "to bear (a child)". Also, I thought of בן ben "son" and בין beyn "between", giving new life to the metaphor, but no, the latter is from a different verbal root "to discern". For knees, there's a link between ברך berekh "knee" and ברך barakh "to kneel, to bless"... – Luke Sawczak May 7 '19 at 16:10
  • @tum_ Descendants are יֹצְאֵי יֶרֶךְ "those who come out of the thigh" (Exodus 1:5) – b a May 7 '19 at 18:06

I don't have anything to say about this particular correlation. However, it is not uncommon to find that there are many PIE "roots" that seem to be sprung themselves from a common "taproot" with semantic coherence.

I once ran across this in the set of English simplex words beginning with *st-, which includes

  • stave stab stiff stub stitch stem stand stair step still steep stool

These (and others) mostly sort out into Leg/Walk or One-Dimensional Vertical, semantically. This suggests that they might come from some PIE root. In fact, most do, but they don't come from the same one. There turn out to be a LOT of PIE roots with this particular meaning, viz (the example words are English cognates):

  • *stā- ‘To stand, with derivatives meaning “place or thing that is standing”’ (Pok sta- 1004):
    style, stand, steed, stud, stay, stage, stamen, stem, station, static, stable, stoic, store, steer

  • *steigh- ‘To stride, step, rise’ (Pok steigh- 1017): stile, stirrup, stickle, distich, acrostic

  • *steu- ‘To push, stick, knock, beat’ (Pok 2. steu- 1025) stub, stoop, stutter, stock, stoke, steep

  • *stel- ‘To put, stand; with derivatives referring to a standing object or place’ (Pok 3. stel- 1019):
    stolon, stalk, stele, stilt, pedestal, stolid, stall, stout

  • *ster- ‘Stiff’ (Pok 5. ster- 1029): stare, starch, stork, starve, stark, stern, strut, start, stark, startle

  • *stebh- ‘Post, stem; to support, place firmly on, fasten’ (Pok steb(h)- 1011):
    stoop, staff, staple, stump, stamp, stomp, stave

  • *steip- ‘To stick, compress’ (Pok steib(h)- 1015) stubble, stiff, stipple

  • *steg- ‘Pole, stick’ (Pok 2. (s)teg- 1014) stake, stack, stagger

  • *stegh- ‘To stick, prick; pointed’ (Pok stegh- 1014) stair, stick, sting, stigma, stimulate, stag

All this means, of course, is that PIE had predecessors and dialects, which is hardly a surprise. It's just that that's as far back as the comparative method can go.

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    ...but there doesn't seem to be any "semantic coherence" in this case. – TKR May 9 '19 at 1:14
  • I need to open a question to your commi, "organized into initial consonant clusters (technically, "Assonances") like kl- and st-, and vowel-plus-coda combinations ("Rimes"), like -ump and -ɪp.", but I didn't read the bibliography linked further down. A. Liberman blogged about sl- and sn-, recently, inconclusive. With PIE "knee" and "to produce", the initial consonant does not agree! Did Hbr. shivtí, shevat prompt you to answer, viz. stem? – vectory May 9 '19 at 3:40
  • @TRK egyptian, akkadian, hittite, Sanskrit, to name a few, and chinese or hebrew certainly are no exceptian to the rule, show a preference for poetic metaphors. And even today, what's the last leg of a race or of a journey understood to have as semant, if not an extremity. Spanish pata iirc shows that "knee" can be homophone with leg and foot step, foot print (viz *to step into someones f.s.). If a metaphor dissimilates, it might undergoe separate evolution, no? – vectory May 9 '19 at 4:16
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    This is English. Nothing to do with Hebrew or Spanish. And I was not commenting on knee, as I said. – jlawler May 9 '19 at 13:45
  • PIE *(s)teH- (or *sta), "stand", *(s)tel-, "still", comparing Ger. stellen, hinstellen, herstellen, "to place, put; to produce" might plausibly correlate with *deH, i.e. *deh1- "to do, put, place", similar to *deh3- "to give". But I find it absurdly difficult to exclude chance, and need to be careful to conflate other roots, e.g. *(s)ter-. "stretch, turn", *tar "there", etc.. Also, Ger. ausstellen "to exhibit, show, present" inspires thought of a prefix nature of the s-mobile, but aus (cog. En. out), from PIE *ud and Lat ex, from PIE *eks, etc., are not easy to explain. – vectory May 11 '19 at 10:57

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