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What is the Word for ...?

Jonathan Slocum

N.B. The Linguistics Research Center receives many queries of the following type, so this excerpt is generalized by removal of content identifying any date or language or word for which information is being requested.


Can someone tell me what the [language X] word is, for [English word] Y?


The LRC is a research center, not a dictionary lookup service. However, we offer extensive online materials that might help you; these pages come in two broad types: EIEOL and IE Lexicon.


The LRC has EIEOL lessons for a significant number of Indo-European languages: one or more representatives in every IE family but one (Balkan) -- and we expect to commence work on Albanian in the Fall of 2010. For each language there is a set of 3-10 lessons in which texts are glossed, and the words in these glosses are indexed alphabetically in three ways:

  1. language surface forms (words as they appear in documents);
  2. language base forms (words as they are listed in a dictionary); and
  3. the words in the English meanings.

You'd be most interested in #3 above. So, first, click the EIEOL link, and see if your language [X] is listed among or implied by the links in the left margin; if not, skip ahead to the IE Lexicon section, below.

If your language [X] is listed, it is possible that your English word [Y] may appear in the Meanings index: click on the language [X] link (you may choose among 3 script renderings) and scroll down as necessary until, in the Lesson Resources section on the left, the word Meanings appears; click on this link. This leads to the English Meaning Index page, where (important) English words appearing in glosses are listed alphabetically. Scroll down until you see the place where your English word [Y] ought to appear. (You may also wish to look for near synonyms [Z] of your word [Y].) If you run out of options, skip ahead to the IE Lexicon section, below.

The English word [Y, or synonym Z] is not necessarily "the" meaning of the word being glossed, whose base form appears between angle brackets ('<' & '>') before the gloss itself, but it is used to define that word. You will have to judge, for yourself, whether that word is likely to be what you seek based on the full English gloss to its right. If not, read on...

IE Lexicon

The LRC has a very large and growing IE Lexicon containing entries for many tens of thousands of words in Indo-European languages. These words are organized into sets of reflexes -- more modern cognates derived from ancient words in the ancestral tongue Proto-Indo-European (abbreviated PIE). These cognates derive from words that were semantically related in ancient times, though in more modern times the cognates' meanings may have diverged.

What you can do, then, is:

  1. click the IE Lexicon link;
  2. click the Language Index link on the left;
  3. scroll down to where [Modern] English appears as a link;
  4. click on the English link.

We index more than 10,00 English words, each being related as a close or distant cognate to other Indo-European words. Scroll down the alphabetic word list (possibly using the A-Z links to speed access) until you see the place where your English word [Y] ought to appear. (You may also wish to look for near synonyms [Z] of your word [Y].) If you run out of options, skip ahead to the Otherwise section, below.

If you see your English word [Y], or a near synonym [Z] thereof, click on the link to its right; this will lead to a page where you will find any [language X] cognates that we have entered to date. One of these might be the word you're looking for, but again you will have to judge for yourself based on its English gloss.

Warning: if, on the English Reflex Index page, there are multiple links to the right of your English word [Y, or Z], your intended word may (like English bear or lie) be homographic with but not closely akin to some other English word(s); in this case, you will first have to study the meanings of those English words -- glossed on each linked page in question -- to select the "right" page for your inquiry. Pop-up text associated with each such link may help, as it glosses the ancient PIE etymon underlying the reflexes on that page, but then again the derivations may be widely separated in time and meaning. In the worst case, you may be left with multiple candidates for the word you seek. Read on...


We're sorry, but we have no other online materials that are likely to be directly relevant to your request. You will have to look elsewhere online -- or, perhaps better, visit a good library and seek English-X dictionaries therein.