This section of the Wikipedia article on laryngeal theory lists proposed IE-to-Uralic loanwords containing laryngeals. Several of these have quite basic meanings: "woman", "person", "do", "give", "go". Though not unheard of, it's unusual for languages to borrow such basic vocabulary, especially in large numbers.

Several questions:

  1. How well-accepted are these conjectured borrowings? Are there other examples of proposed IE-to-Uralic loans with similarly basic meanings?
  2. If these really are loanwords, under what kind of sociolinguistic scenario could such borrowing have taken place, and is such a scenario (presumably involving a high degree of prolonged contact and intermixture) plausible or supported by any evidence?
  3. Alternatively, of course, some believe that IE and Uralic are genetically related, in which case these words could be cognates rather than borrowings. The IE-Uralic relationship is an open question, but accepting the possibility for the sake of argument, is there anything about these words that would rule out their being cognates (e.g. relative chronology)?
  • note that the second question for sociolinguistic scenarios should really be one of anthropology and archaeology, to presuppose just any form of contact on which to base ones reasoning. Suppose that's something the question should supply.
    – vectory
    Dec 10, 2020 at 18:56

2 Answers 2


Although most linguists would agree that there is a considerable amount of vocabulary shared by Uralic and Indo-European languages, there is not really any consensus as to why this is the case.

The mainstream view is probably still that developed by Björn Collinder in his copious publications, which distinguishes various strata of IE borrowings into Uralic:

First: borrowings from proto-IE into proto-Uralic.

Second: borrowings from proto Indo-Iranian (the ancestor of the Indo-Aryan and Iranian languages) into proto-Fenno-Ugric (that is: the ancestor of all the Uralic languages other than Samoyedic).

Third: pre-modern borrowings from IE languages into individual Uralic languages, notably the borrowings from Alanic (the ancestor of Ossetic, an Iranian language) into Hungarian, or the borrowings from proto-Germanic into Finnish.

Fourth: borrowings in relatively modern times, e.g. those from Swedish into Finnish.

Very strangely, all of these seem to be borrowings in one direction only. The Uralic languages seem in each case to have been recipients only.

  • 2
    Does "basic" vocab of the kind I listed appear in all those layers, or only in the earliest one?
    – TKR
    Aug 11, 2014 at 22:39
  • 1
    On the whole the "basic" shared vocabulary is ascribed to the oldest stratum. But the borderlines between these strata are anything but certain.
    – fdb
    Aug 12, 2014 at 9:22

The IE-to-Uralic loanword transfer phenomenon is quite messy. There are those basic vocabulary terms that look alike, but it goes beyond that sometimes. The conjecture that the borrowings are borrowings is moderately well accepted, though people have been pointing out the exact same problems you just did: they are so fundamentally basic it's almost silly.

Besides "give", "do", "woman", "person", there's also "wet/water" (PIE * wed- and * woder- corresponding to PU * weti), "fish" (PIE * (s)kʷálo- (whence whale, squalus) corresponding to PU * kala), "to stab, push" (PIE * neiǵʰ- corresponding to PU * nikka) et cetera. Sure, these range from really basic to somewhat peripheral, but there are some words that look very related but are extremely unlikely to be borrowed, such as the first (PIE * me, * méne (acc. and gen.) and PU * mun, * minä (just nom.)) and second person pronouns (PIE * tū́ and PU * te, tun, * tinä/cinä(?)), the demonstrative pronouns (PIE * so-, * to- and PU * , * , * to), a couple of case endings (PIE * -m, * -od (accusative and ablative) and PU * -m, * -ta/tä (same cases)), as well as some conjecture relating to some other endings that might look related (PIE 1SG/PL and 2SG/PL endings * -m, * -me, * -s/tHa (active and perfect forms), * -te, corresponding to PU * -m, * -me, * -t and * -te)

It really looks like you'd have to strain to say all those were borrowed, though I admit that may be my opinion. Here in Europe, there's some small to moderate mainstream support for this Proto-Indo-Uralic thing: mainstream linguists such as Frederik Kortlandt and Robert Beekes say that it is possible that the two language families are related.

Now, I cannot answer your second question as it's not something I'm familiar with, but regarding the third one, I can say that it is extremely uncommon for basic vocabulary to be borrowed, core morphology even more so. There are a plethora of Indo-European borrowings in Uralic that entered the language(s) at various points in time, sure, but borrowings and loanwords can also stand side-by-side with cognates. (I think I'm going off on a tangent now, so I'll stop here; I hope the answer was good enough).

  • 1
    Where you take the PIE reconstructions from? Your words for water and for second person pronouns do not follow exactly what is actually reconstructed (the pronouns would be men- rather than mem-)
    – Anixx
    Aug 11, 2014 at 15:32
  • The "water" thing I took from the indo-european.eu website article on Indo-Uralic (which also lists correspondences in interrogative pronouns) which might be off (and apparently is, as it's *wódr̥), but the 2nd person pronoun *tū́ reflects well the situation in Balto-Slavic (lack of glottalisation in Balto-Slavic indicates lack of laryngeal which would've been present if the pronoun was instead originally *túH). As for *méme, I simply took that off the wiktionary page for *éǵh2, I don't know their source.
    – Darkgamma
    Aug 12, 2014 at 0:40
  • Even though commenting twice is a bit excessive, I've modified the answer to have "*méne" instead of "*méme" and to disambiguate meaning of roots I've listed under just "water".
    – Darkgamma
    Aug 12, 2014 at 0:47

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