For instance, I wonder whether roots *gʷʰér- "burn, heat" and *wer- "burn, heat" are related, as well as *gʷer- "mountain, height" and *wers- "mountain, height".

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    There are a disconcertingly large number of such pairs/series, where roots that look suspiciously alike have suspiciously related meanings, but defy attempts to reconstruct regular correspondences or relationships. I don’t think anyone would claim that it’s all just coincidence and nothing more; but as far as I know, we also haven’t yet found any way to make proper sense of them beyond vague notions of ‘extensions’ to and ‘expressive variants’ of root consonants. So yes, I’d say it’s perfectly possible, even likely, that they’re related, but we don’t know how. Commented Feb 6, 2021 at 0:50
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    There is additionally the possibility that two roots that were originally distinct in form but semantically similar became more similar in form over time by blending via folk etymology. However, as Draconis' answer states, we are very unlikely to progress beyond speculation.
    – jogloran
    Commented Feb 7, 2021 at 3:34

2 Answers 2


As Janus Bahs Jacquet mentions in the comments, there are a lot of instances within PIE where similar-looking roots have similar-looking meanings. But as Arnaud Fournet mentions, there's been no real success finding regular correspondences between these—for example, it doesn't seem that *gʰ- was any sort of regular prefix.

My view is, PIE certainly evolved from something, we just haven't been able to reconstruct that something with any certainty. And in many of the daughter languages, there are similar strange "coincidences" that make no sense until you have comparative evidence to work with. (For example, the alternation in vowels between Ancient Greek légō "speak" and lógos "word" doesn't follow any regular or productive pattern within Ancient Greek itself, but makes complete sense once you have enough information to reconstruct PIE ablaut grades.)

So I would speculate that many of these "coincidences" within PIE likely reflect remnants of some earlier pre-PIE system that we simply don't have enough information to reconstruct. And others actually are just pure coincidences. But unless we find a solid connection between Indo-European and some other documented language, there's no real way to know for sure; I've never seen an analysis that makes sense of these "coincidences" based purely on PIE itself.

  • Aha. Also, linguistics.stackexchange.com/questions/12628/…
    – Anixx
    Commented Feb 6, 2021 at 18:47
  • @Anixx What does that question have to do with it?
    – Draconis
    Commented Feb 6, 2021 at 18:54
  • A possible regular correspondence between t and h2, as it tewtos-h2ewh2os
    – Anixx
    Commented Feb 6, 2021 at 18:59
  • @Anixx As mentioned in the comments and answers on that question, there are some pretty serious issues with the correspondence proposed there.
    – Draconis
    Commented Feb 6, 2021 at 19:14
  • The lego~logos example, while it is well interesting, distracts from the answer. If you suggest that *le'g-, -go effectively had the same affix, you'd have to go a long way, and its certainly not an ideal example because the root is poorly attested with naturally uncertain Albanian and Tocharian comparands (the Tocharian explicitly so and with dissimilar meaning, the Albanian however with what looks like ablaut in its aorist), Italic without evidence of ablaut (as far as I can see) and a synonym *les-, which was in question before, in possibly more archaic branches.
    – vectory
    Commented Feb 6, 2021 at 19:43

Please note that *ghwer- "hot, heat" and *wer- "to burn" do not have exactly the same meaning.
That being said, assuming that *ghwer- and *wer- are more or less the "same" root would mean that *gh- is a prefix.
But it would seem that PIE did not have any prefix, so the most acceptable conclusion is that such pairs of roots are a chance coincidence.

  • "But it would seem that PIE did not have any prefix" PIE has a huge number of compound phrases. *g(h)e- is one of at least six particles, and it does reflect in constructions (see there). Whether the particle became fossilized in daughter branches individually from a common phrase or was already univerbated in PIE may be formally indistinguishable and the identity of the element thus undecidable, which is a kind of question that is difficult to answer even synchronically for living languages (wrt. clitics eg.), yea?
    – vectory
    Commented Feb 6, 2021 at 19:18

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