In Proto-Germanic, the word for four is *fedwor. But, in Proto-Indo-European, it was *kwetwores. In pre-Grimm Germanic times, it was pronounced *petwor. Hmm. When was this word a petwor, and why did the kw change to p?

This is from Wiktionary.


1 Answer 1


The "kw to p" sound change is fairly common throughout languages, for instance: romanian apă from Latin AQVA. It happens because the plosive was labialized in a way that its articulation point became bilabial. It also happened, for example:

• in the Italic branch ("*wĺ̥kʷos" > lupus (via Osco-Umbrian));

• and the Hellenic branch ("*h₁éḱwos" > ῐ̔́ππος (híppos)).

In the case of proto-germanic, it happened, as you said, of course, before Grimm's law took place, other wise the word for "four" would look more like "* hwedwor" or something like that.

What I can say for sure is that it happened in a pre-proto-germanic stage much before the Grimm's Law take place.

Edit: as Draconis said and reminded me below, the celtic languages are a great example of that. There us even a division between the p-celtic and the q-celtic languages.

  • 3
    It also happened in many of the Celtic languages, so one hypothesis is that the *p in the PrePGmc word is a Celtic influence (like how Latin ended up with lupus instead of *lucus). But without written records we can't do much more than speculate.
    – Draconis
    Commented Mar 8, 2020 at 18:42
  • Yes! I also missed the most famous case of all! Hahaha. Celtic p and q languages! Commented Mar 8, 2020 at 18:51
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    Yes. I understand this lingustix fact now: the kw changed to p before Grimm's law. Commented Mar 8, 2020 at 20:29
  • As far as I know, the only other example of /kw/ to /p/ in Germanic is the second consonant in 'penkwe' ('5'), again before Grimm's law.It's suggested somewhere that grouping 'kwetwores' and 'penkwe' together somehow triggered this anomalous change in Germanic. Italic and Celtic also have an anomalous consonant in these words: in this case the initial in 'penkwe' going to /kw/; though an alternative explanation for this has been advanced, that in these two groups /p/ -> /kw/ before another /kw/. (IIRC the other examples adduced for this are Latin 'coquo' < 'pequo', and 'quercus' < 'perkwos'.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Apr 2, 2020 at 23:22

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