This is again a memory refreshing question.

I am looking for a specific kinship term that is considered to be inherited into a Scandinavian dialect despite the fact that no other Germanic language has any attestation of it. Its closest cognates are found in the Indo-iranian languages (or more specifically, Iranian, if I remember right).

I remember having read about it and a longer argument was made in favour of its inheritance, but I have forgotten both the reference where I read about it and the term itself.

I'd like to know the term which can be a handle to find more information, naming a reference for it is a clear bonus.

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    Perhaps ON afi ‘grandfather’ < *h₂eu̯h₂(os)? I don’t have my Germanic etymological dictionary at hand, but I don’t think that etymon has any other Germanic cognates, though there are of course other closer cognates than Iranian (Latin avus, etc.). Commented Aug 10, 2022 at 9:08
  • This is in fact a good suggestion, but the term in my mind is different: The dialect is closer to present (19th or 20th century) and it was a kind of complicated term, probably involving in-laws. Commented Aug 10, 2022 at 9:17
  • You don't mean morbror and farbror, do you? They're textbook examples of a kinship distinction English doesn't have, between paternal and maternal uncles.
    – jlawler
    Commented Aug 10, 2022 at 18:57
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    @jlawler They’re not inherited, though: they’re transparent compounds coined within (proto-)Scandinavian. Commented Aug 10, 2022 at 20:34
  • What about Edda? (Edda can be the name of the poetic works, or it can mean great-grandmother. According to Norwegian Wikipedia, there is a theory that it's related to the Sanskrit word "Veda") Commented Aug 17, 2022 at 9:42

1 Answer 1


I have found the term that was in my mind, it is Old Norse svilar, and here is the quote from Hans Henrich Hock: Principles of historical linguistics, p. 836

For instance, there is just one Germanic language, Old Norse, which has the word svilar referring to ‘brothers-in-law whose wives are sisters of each other’. Occam’s Razor would prevent us from reconstructing this form for Proto-Germanic. If further reconstruction had to proceed from Proto-Germanic, without consideration of its individual daughter languages, we would miss the connection of svilar with the dialectal Greek aelioi, a word with the same meaning. We would therefore fail to reconstruct the PIE word *swelio- from which both the Norse and the dialectal Greek words can be derived. Such an approach, however, would be patently wrong, for the kinship term in question is of such highly specialized reference that the correspondence is not likely to reflect borrowing (or chance). And since Greek and Germanic otherwise are not closely related members of the Indo-European family, common innovation is unlikely. Under the circumstances, reconstruction seems to be the only acceptable solution.

It's other attestation is from Greek, not Iranian, and the dialectal part is on the Greek side, not the Germanic (Old Norse) side; this part of my memory was wrong.

  • 1
    Ah, I should have thought of that one – when I commented above, I was actually (in the final stages of) editing a book on Indo-European kinship terminology (link), and the connection between svilar and ἀέλιοι has a whole numbered section unto itself in the book! Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 18:02

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