Wednesday, 26 March 2008

queen and banshee

Proto-Indo-European *gʷen- "woman" in the suffixed form *gʷen-ā- (*gʷen-eh₂?) became Proto-Germanic *kwēnōn "woman, wife, queen", then Old English cwēn "queen, wife of a king", then Modern English queen. The respelling of cw to qu happened under the influence of Old French - other words respelled this way include quick and quiver.

*gʷen- became Old Irish ben "woman", and this combined with sídhe "fairy" (from Old Irish síd "fairy mound" from PIE *sed- "to sit") to form Irish Gaelic bean sídhe "woman of the fairies", anglicized as banshee.

6 comments :

Linca said...

One thing I've always been curious about - is this etymologically related to gaia, ie the greek name for Earth ?

goofy said...

Apparently not. The AHD says gaia is a "Greek noun of unknown origin".

goofy said...

The Greek descendent of *gʷen- is gunē "woman" as in gynecology.

Linca said...

thanks !

Glen Gordon said...

Another Pokornyism! What fun! :)

There's a conundrum hidden in the reconstruction *gʷéneh₂ since Proto-Indo-European doesn't have feminine gender, therefore this form cannot be attributed to PIE. We can't get around this if we wish to properly account for the Anatolian branch and its complete lack of a grammatical feminine.

However, the root may be ancient. It has been postulated that the true Proto-Indo-European form should be *gʷōns. (For reasons I can't understand, the author in this link doesn't lengthen the root vowel in the nominative as IEists normally expect).

goofy said...

I think Watkins would disagree. In The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots, he gives an example of reconstruction: *snusos, with feminine gender. He also says that the ordinary feminine ending is *ā (on page xv). (I assume this should be *eh₂.)