From Ancient Languages to Modern Languages: Words Covering Distances and Time

Franciscus a Mesgnien Meninski, Thesaurus Linguarum Orientalium, 1680, Austrian National Library. Public Domain Mark 1.0.

by Dorian Pastor

In memory of Alexander Vovin (1961–2022)

Part 2: Heritage

When tracing the origin of a word, a linguist encounters two possibilities: the word is either inherited, meaning it can be traced back to an earlier stage of the same language, or it is borrowed, meaning it comes from a foreign language and has been incorporated into the vocabulary. This blog entry will present some interesting, unexpected or lesser-known stories that illustrate these two phenomena.

Etymological doublets

Sometimes words in the same language have a shared origin but have evolved differently in terms of their sound and definition, resulting in two separate words with different meanings. We call these words “etymological doublets”.

We can distinguish two types of etymological doublets:

  1. Doublets that result from an inherited word evolving in two different ways, leading to two different forms.
  2. Doublets that result from a word being inherited alongside a borrowed word.
  3. Lexical borrowings and reborrowings, as discussed in the previous entry.

In both cases, the two forms coexist without the speakers suspecting that they are etymologically the same word. The two forms have a different but similar meaning:

English hotel and hospital

You might enjoy staying at a hotel or at a hostel during your travels but are probably less enthusiastic about the idea of staying in a hospital. Yet, these three terms are historically the same. The French word hôtel, which gave English hotel and hostel (same word borrowed in two different periods), comes from Latin hospitāle, a neuter* form of hospitālis, which also yielded the word hospital, borrowed first into French and from there into English. In mediaeval Latin, hospitālis was commonly used to designate a “room intended to accommodate guests” in convents. The derivatives of this word are numerous and easily identifiable: hotelier, hospitality, host, hostess, hospitable, hospitalization, etc. It is interesting to note that in Occitan, a Romance language spoken in the south of France, ostal has only one meaning, that of “house” (see ref. [1] [2] 324-325).

Turkish kadın and hatun

In Turkey, a married woman is called kadın (as opposed to kız, which means “girl”). We also find the word hatun, which in everyday language designates an attractive young woman, but which the literati use rather with the archaic meaning of “noble woman.” The striking similarity between kadın and hatun is no coincidence. Both words have the same origin: Old Turkic xatun, which was a title given to the wife of the Khan. However, the phonological and semantic difference between the two words is explained by the fact that one is directly inherited while the other is a reborrowing. The word hatun entered Persian as xātun meaning “lady” or “noble woman” before arriving in Turkish. It shows a very slight phonological difference but, above all, a meaning parallel to Persian. As for the form kadın, it is the naturally inherited form in Turkish, attested alongside xatun (spelled chatun) in the Thesaurus Linguarum Orientalium in the forms kadün and kadyn.

Thesaurus Linguarum Orientalium (Meninski, 1680).

Words and suffixes

While examples of strictly lexical etymological doublets, as mentioned earlier, are commonly known among language enthusiasts, there is a less well-known phenomenon where words evolve into suffixes while continuing to coexist with their original form or a similar variation.

French mental and -ment

In the French adjective mental “mental”, we easily recognize the adjectival suffix -al (which we find in national “national”, brutal “brutal” etc.), but the base *ment does not exist since the word mental was inherited as is from Latin mentalis. The latter in turn is derived from the Latin word mēns “soul, spirit, thought”. Moreover, the adverbial suffix -ment (which functions like the English suffix -ly) found in words such as rapidement “quickly” (from rapide “quick”), doucement “gently” (from doux / douce “gentle”) goes back to the Latin word mente which is none other than the ablative form of this same mēns. The phenomenon by which a lexical form changes into a grammatical form is called “grammaticalization”. This is what happened in some Romance languages, including French, with the suffix -ment. At the time, mente competed with modo “fashion” and guise “manner, way”. Who then knew that when in French you say mentalment “mentally”, you use two forms that go back to the same word? (see ref. [1], [2], 402; [7], 141).

Turkish yürü- and -(I)yor

The verb yürümek “walk” is regularly used in Turkish, with a stem yürü- that goes back to Old Turkic yorï- of the same meaning. An even more common verb form used in Turkish conversations is the present progressive suffix -(I)yor, which attaches to verbs and marks the present progressive tense, for example, gid-iyor-um [go-PRS.PROG-1SG] “I am leaving”. Similar to the French suffix -ment, the Turkish suffix -(I)yor is the result of the grammaticalization of an older form of yürü- “walk”. In Turkish, it is no longer transparent, and speakers might be surprised to learn that yürü-yor-um “I am walking” contains two forms that go back to the same historical form. However, some Turkic languages use the verb “to walk” as an auxiliary to mark the progressive tense in a more transparent manner. For example, Kyrgyz oqup žür-öt [read-PROG.walk-3SG] “he/she is reading”. This usage of “walk” with this function is also present in many other Turkic languages, such as Turkmen, Kazakh, Karakalpak, etc. The initial I in the suffix is historically a gerundive suffix*, which was primarily used to link the main verb to its auxiliary. A conjugated form like gid-iyor “he is leaving” can be traced back to *ket-e yorï-r. (see ref. [8] 315-316, [9] 518, 525).

These examples, although limited, illustrate a far from rare phenomenon. Many parallels can be observed in different languages of the world, whether in terms of lexical doublets or the development of suffixes.


neutera grammatical gender category that different from masculine and feminine
ablativegrammatical case indicating the origin or starting point of an action
gerundivespecial verb form that behaves like an adverb, e.g. English (while) speaking

Dorian Pastor, PhD student at ENS – PSL, teacher of Orkhon Turkic

Since 2021, Dorian Pastor is writing a dissertation at Université PSL – Paris Sciences et Lettres, as part of ED540 – Doctoral School of Literature, Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, in partnership with AOROC – Archeology and Philology of East and West and ENS – École Normale Supérieure. His dissertation is entitled “The Persian of the 21st Century: Studies of the Vernacular Language”. His research topics include the linguistics of Iranian ​​and Turkic languages. In 2021-2022, he taught the course “Orkhon Turkic: study of runiform inscriptions from the 8th century” at ILARA.

For further information

Video by Dorian Pastor focussing on Orkhon Turkic, as part of the Introductions series of ILARA Online.


[1] =

Trésor linguistique de la langue française. CNRTL (Centre National des Ressources Textuelles et Lexicales).

[2] =

Bloch, Oscar & Wartburg, von Walther (2018). Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue française. Paris: Quadrige / PUF (1ère édition, 1932, Paris: PUF).

[3] =

Vovin, Alexander (2007). “Once Again on the Etymology of the Title qaγan“. Studia Etymologica Cracoviensia. 12/1. 177-187.

[4] =

Tietze, Andreas (2009). Tarihi ve Etimolojik Türkiye Türkçesi Lugatı İkinci Cilt F-J. Vienne: OAW.

[5] =

Clauson, Gerard (1972). An Etymological Dictionary of Pre-13th Century Turkish. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

[6] =

Meninski, Franciscus (1680). Thesaurus Linguarum Orientalium, Turcicae, Arabicae, Persicae.

[7] =

Hopper, Paul & Traugott, Elizabeth Closs (1993). Grammaticalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[8] =

Johanson, Lars (1995). “On Turkic Converb Clauses”. Converbs in Cross-Linguistic Perspective. Structure and Meaning of Adverbial Verb Forms – Adverbial Participles, Gerunds. M. Haspelmath & E. König (eds). Empirical Approaches to Language Typology [EALT] 13. 313-348.

[9] =

Kasapoğlu Çengel, Hülya (2012). “Kırgız Türkçesi”. Türk Lehçeleri Grameri. A. Ercilasun (éd). Ankara: Akçağ Yayınları.

Cite this blog post
ILARA (2023, April 25). From Ancient Languages to Modern Languages: Words Covering Distances and Time. ILARA, the Institute for Linguistic Heritage and Diversity. Retrieved February 29, 2024, from

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