Indo-european words in Old Chinese

So it seems like there’s quite a bit of words in Old Chinese that could have origins in an Indo-European language. There are many more examples, I just listed a couple. Ones I didn’t list, such as 社 and 祇 (earth god, OC *[g.d]e) might be related to gaia, are pretty interesting too.

Hanji OC MC Taigi PIE OE English Comment
*p(r)uk pjuwk pak *bhelgh buc belly, bucket
*kˤ<r>ep keap kiap *ghrebh græpsan grasp
*[kʰ]ˤut khwot khut *kutą cot cot
歿 *mˤut mwot bu̍t *mer mort mort
*Nə.p[u][t]-s pj+jH hut *bhreu- broþ broth liquid that’s boiled
*C.[ŋ]ˤrar-s ngaenH gān *ghans gos goose
*Cə-[N]-traŋ drjang tn̂g *dlonghos lang long
*[d]ˤun dwon tun *dhu-no- tun town
*tro trju tsu *drew-o- treo tree
*[g](r)[u] gjuw kiû *gleu- cliewen clew
*[C.g]ˤaw haw *gal- call Old Norse: kalla. Also 吼、哮、嘷
*[g]ˤaj ha *kwo- hwæt what also why
*mˤaj ma buâ *mele- mylen mill
*Cə.pə[r] pj+j pue *pleu- fleoge fly
*m.b(r)u bjuw phû *pleu- flowan flow
*sˤər sen sing *sen- Meaning old. Root for senator, senior.
*[s]ˤu[n] swon sun *su(e)-nu- son son
*tˤek-s tejH *deiwos tig deity OE name of a god. *deiwos also evolved to be Zues, Jupiter
*mˤraʔ maeX *márkos meare mare Old Norse: merr
*C.q(r)a kjo tshia *krsos carre car Anglo-French
*pәk pjuwk hok *spei- spaca spoke PIE meaning sharp point, i.e. spike
*praj pje phî *bher- bera bear OC meaning brown bear, PIE meaning brown. Bears seems to be sacred to IE speakers, and Huangdi is supernaturally related to bears. One of his tribal names is 有熊
*lˤok duwk to̍k *dek- doc Also 劄. As in document, doctrine, doctor. OC meaning instruction, official announcement. PIE meaning instruction, teach.

Are these mere coincidences? Or could Old-Chinese be a creole with a Burmese-Tibetan substrate and an Indo-European superstrate?


I dunno, man…looking at some of these it feels like a reach.

I want to believe!

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So did Fox Mulder!

I think some of them are definitely the case, such as 車 and many other chariot related words that I didn’t list. The horse one might be the case as well, as domestication of the horse, invention of the chariot and wheel were all likely of Indo-European invention. It was clear historically that these things were introduced to China from the steppes.

From my perspective, others that really seem to be the case would be 號, 長, 何, 先, 孫 and 羆. Some of them have no real reason of being that way in Chinese, such as using 羆 to refer to brown bears, while it makes perfect sense in Indo-European, as *bher- means brown, and there’s a cultural phenomenon of not calling bears by its real name, *rtko.

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The word for tea in Dutch is thee, which is pronounced tée in Taiwanese.

That’s well known as a case where we got the word from Chinese. The Indo-Europeans didn’t have tea :slight_smile:


Tea-tea-tea is a song … cha-cha-cha!

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Is this your area of research? I studied linguistics alongside my major because I always had an interest in this sort of thing, but got too preoccupied with other classes to dig much deeper.

The Chinese word for “horse” (ma; Old Chinese mraʔ) and the English word “mare” (which can be traced through Old English mearh through Germanic marhijo- to old Gaulish marh/mark) may have a common central Asian origin. The Mongolian word is mori.

EDIT: I see that’s in your list.

What about honey?

蜜 mi, OC mit; PIE medhu-, English mead


蜜is an interesting Chinese word which is believed to have been adopted via Proto-Tocharian (the Tocharians lived in modern day Xinjiang) from the Proto-Indo-European word médʰu. The Mandarin pronunciation is mi. In Russian we call honey мед myed. French miel. And then there’s English mead. And there are more examples in other European languages I know

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If you want to connect Chinese to inIndo-European it makes more sense to find similar words to Indian or Iranian languages. China was almost mythical to Europeans as there were almost no contact before Marco Polo. China doesn’t even exist on most old maps.
Edit: Even Marco Polo’s writings are closer to myth than reality.

Great minds think alike :slight_smile: I thought of honey 蜜at the same time

While that’s true, and there are plenty of Indic/Iranian loan words in Chinese through Buddhism, those linguistic exchange didn’t take place until Middle Chinese. Most of them are also easy to spot.

During and before the period when Old Chinese was used, Chinese had more contact with the Tocharians. Well, there were also contacts with the Scythians, who spoke Eastern Iranian, during the Han dynasty.

no, I’m just a historical linguistics hobbyist.

I think the word 駒 *[k]ˤ(r)ok-s is a cognate with the Indo-European *ḱr̥sós

Hanji OC MC Taigi PIE OE English Comment
*[k]ˤ(r)ok-s kuwH ku *ḱr̥sos hors horse
*mit mjit bi̍t *médʰu medu mead honey

As per suggestion, updated the ekhwos and medhu cognates.

Other possible cognates:

犬 and canine
軒 and car
卒 (*[ts]ut) and die (*dheu-), as in tod in German
軲轆(*gukluk) and wheel (*kʷékʷlos)
輪 and run

3 posts were merged into an existing topic: Origin of Taiwanese place names

Relevant and related to the Big China complex:

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