Thursday, 27 March 2008

be, future, physics

Old English "to be" was wesan, from Proto-Indo-European *h₂wes- "to live, dwell" and the source of was and were. The ODEE says "The orig. meaning is 'dwell, remain', and the use of this base is therefore appropriate to the imper[fect] (OE. wes, pl. wesaþ) and the [past]." Other forms of "to be" come from *h₁es-, which I've already written about.

PIE *bʰeuH- "to be, exist, grow" is the source of another Old English verb, bēon "to be", and which survives in be, been and being. *bʰeuH- is also the source of the Latin stem fu-, used in some conjugations of esse "to be", including the future participle futūrus - the source of future. In Greek, *bʰeuH- became φύω phuō "to bring forth, make grow", and physics.

The origin of are is uncertain; the ODEE says "of unkn. origin", and the AHD says it's from *h₁er- "to move, set in motion". Old English had eart in the second person singular present indicative, and earon, earun, earan and aron as plural forms; it seems likely that these are from *h₁er- and are the source of are.

Romance languages developed another verb for "to be" from Latin stāre "to stand" (from *steh₂- "to stand"). So Italian and Spanish have 2 verbs each: stare and estar (from Latin stāre), and essere and ser (from Latin esse from *h₁es-). In French it seems that the two verbs were conflated into one: étais is from stāre and est, sont, serai are from esse.


Jon Boy said...

I had assumed that "are" was essentially a version of "is" with rhotacism, much like the relationship between "was" and "were." But I don't know enough about the phonology of PIE and Proto-Germanic to know whether this really makes sense.

And I hadn't known about some French forms of être being from stare. I suppose that explains why French doesn't have that second "to be" verb like its sister languages do.

Glen Gordon said...

Actually, jon boy...

The paradigm of French être is also a hodgepodge brew of different verbs. Notice the 3ps il est which is from Latin est 'is' and also il fut.

goofy said...

Latin "esse" is a hodgepodge as well, which I sort of implied - the perfect is "fui, fuisti, fuit" etc. (from *bheuH-), and this is the source of "il fut" and Spanish and Italian "fui".

Jon Boy said...

Right. It was my understanding that in most Indo-European languages (or at least a fair number of them), the "to be" verbs are full of suppletive forms from at least two or three different stems. I just didn't know that there were any reflexes of stare in the French verb être.

So, Glen, do you have any opinions on the origin of are?

Glen Gordon said...

Jon Boy: "So, Glen, do you have any opinions on the origin of are?"

Actually, no, because I too assumed that it was the result of Rhotacization from earlier *es-. I would like to see a semantic diagram showing me how "to move" conceivably becomes "to be" and any examples of such a semantic shift in other languages.