My basic goal is to look up a Greek word and be able to find cognates in other languages that will help me to memorize its meaning. A technique that often works is to look up the Greek word on English wiktionary, and if the etymology points back to a PIE root that has a wiktionary entry, click through to that and look at words in other languages derived from that. However, sometimes the wiktionary entry lacks an etymology. In this case I can look up the Greek word in the etymological dictionary by Beekes (Etymological Dictionary of Greek), then if there is a known PIE root, look up that root somewhere else (e.g., I have an American Heritage dictionary from the 70's that has a short PIE dictionary as an appendix).

The problem I'm having is that when I try to correlate these different sources of information, I find that they're using different conventions and reconstructions. So for example, Beekes tells me that ἔλδωρ (a wish) is from h1ueld. Only with a bit of luck was I able to stumble across the PIE root gheldh here and find that they interpret it to mean "to desire, wish for," which makes me think it's the same root -- although many sources call it "to pay," which would not have clued me in.

Is there a finite number of conventions or reconstruction systems for PIE roots, or some effective way of translating (at least with decent probability) from one system to another? Googling has led me on interesting excursions into the laryngeal hypothesis and such, without getting me any closer to finding a workflow for my task. Does wiktionary's system have a name? Does Beekes's?

  • 1
    The two roots you mention are unrelated.
    – TKR
    Sep 27 at 23:38

The first thing you need to realise is that there is no unanimity about proto-IE. Robert Beekes is the patriarch of the “Leiden school”, which operates notably with the hypothesis that PIE had three laryngeals and that no PIE word begins with a vowel. The admirable “Leiden Indo-European Etymological Dictionary Series” applies these principles to various languages or groups of languages, including Beekes himself for Greek, de Vaan for Latin, and so forth. Mayrhofer’s Etymological Dictionary of Old-Indo-Aryan works with similar assumptions. But there are many specialists who operate with different parameters, for example with only one laryngeal, or as many as four.

I think that “translating from one system to another” is not very useful. There is an argument for taking the “Leiden” system as a working hypothesis and (since your own point of departure is Greek) specifically Beekes’s dictionary. But you need to keep an open mind.


I know I'm a little late, but I do a similar thing you do and would like to contribute. I'm not a professional *Proto-IndoEuropeanist, but am a philologist and I actually do the same thing you do of using etymology to memorize vocabulary.

To your specific question about definite reconstructions, user fdb is absolutely correct that there is no unanimity among professionals. The problem is of course, as you likely know, the shear dearth of archaic data to work from, so it's a lot of (educated) guesswork. And yes, "translating from one system to another"- if I understand what you mean by that- wouldn't be very helpful, e.g. to say "h1ueld" is interchangeable with "gheldh," because they are competing theories, not equivalencies. As far as I know, Wiktionary doesn't follow one particular paradigm, but I've noticed the person/people who compile it do try to look for consensus, or at least present as much data as possible. (See the entry on the PIE copula which introduces at least two hypotheses, if the page hasn't changed yet.)

Despite that though, there's still a lot you can accomplish on the basis of your own work. Certainly, keep looking up etymologies and cognates that other people offer, but you're going to have to start deciding for yourself if a particular train of thought makes sense or not. The example you present is a great and interesting case. You'll have to do more work to find a reasonable conclusion, looking into as much as possible about "ἔλδωρ," as well as "h1ueld" and "gheldh" individually to find any contradictions or not, or even determine if there is a deeper connection (which would be a brilliant discovery). I actually found your question because I was looking into "yield" which wiktionary told me was from "gheldh," so that word will likely have to factor into your research as well. As fdb says again, keep an open mind about it all. It's flexible, but for that reason is also fertile ground for your own investigation.

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