As shown in the Wiktionary:


From Middle English plege, from Anglo-Norman plege, from Old French plege (Modern French pleige) from Medieval Latin plevium, plebium, from Medieval Latin plebire "to pledge", from Frankish *plegan (“to pledge, support, guarantee”), from Proto-Germanic *plegō (“responsibility, habit”), from Proto-Indo-European *dlegh-.

Akin to Old High German pflegan (“to take care of, be accustomed to”), Old Saxon plegan (“to vouch for”), Old English plēon (“to risk, endanger”). More at plight.

But I can't find the clue to this sound change on Wikipedia, which concludes that only PIE *b will become PGmc. p-.

PS: AHD contains the same etymon dlegh

  • I haven't found anywhere online other than Wiktionary that attempts to trace it back beyond plegan so this may be somebody's off-the-wall theory (I wish Wiktionary put an emphasis on sources, as Wikipedia does). Pokorny does not have the word in any of its indices, but it does have a root dhlgh (with *dh not d) with the right meaning: most of the cognates quoted are Celtic, but there is Gothic dulgs and a couple of Slavic examples. Nothing with p- though.
    – Colin Fine
    May 17, 2013 at 16:49
  • @ColinFine Hi! In fact American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Root contains the same etymon, see the edited source please~
    – archenoo
    May 20, 2013 at 5:49
  • FWIW, the AHD of IE Roots (your link) says "Germanic *plegan, probably altered (by dissimilation) from *tlegan."
    – Alex B.
    May 20, 2013 at 21:18
  • @AlexB. Oh, please forgive my humble attention of the context in my link. So the answer is that it's not a regular sound change?
    – archenoo
    May 21, 2013 at 11:45
  • I don't really know. So it would seem, at least based on the AHD.
    – Alex B.
    May 22, 2013 at 14:46

1 Answer 1


To beging with, English word pledge is a loanword from Old French (attested in English since 14th c.), see here.

However, the French word is itself a Germanic loanword, coming from a West Germanic *plegan, see here.

The natural outcome of this West Germanic root in English is play, see here (this semantic change is less surprising if you remember that when you make a pledge you effectively get in the game). The connection of this West Germanic stem to the IE root *dhl̥gh- ‘debt’ (e.g. here) is only an ad hoc hypothesis going against the general correspondences (German /p/ goes back to IE /b/, not /dh/).

Pokorny's IE Etymological Dictionary does not mention any German continuant of this root (see here). And even within the Germanic group it seems limited to the West subgroup, see here.

Therefore, the etymon of English pledge must be considered unknown (cf. Orel's Handbook of Germanic Etymology, p. 292).

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