Indo-European Language and Society

Chapter 6. Giving, Taking, and Receiving


1) Hittite, which attaches to the root *– the sense of “to take,” suggests that in Indo-European the notions “to give” and “to take” converged, as it were, in gesture (cf. English to take to).
2) Contrary to the traditional etymologies which find no difficulty in bringing together Lat. emo and Got. niman (Germ. nehmen), but firmly separate niman from Gr. némō, justifying both decisions by appeal to the sense, it can be shown that:
a) Got. niman and Gr. némō can be superimposed without difficulty on the basis of their original (technical) sense, which is preserved exactly in the Got. arbinumja and the Gr. klēronómos “heir.”
b) Lat. emo “take,” in its primitive gestural sense, has no etymological connection with Got. niman, which had originally a legal significance.


The expressions for “purchase” and “sale” are not separable from those for “give” and “take.” The root *– means “give” in all Indo-European languages. However, there is one language which fails to conform to this definition: in Hittite, – means “take” and pai– ‘give’. We cannot categorically affirm, given the inconsistent notation of Hittite consonants, that – really corresponds to the Indo-European *-; theoretically it could correspond to *dhē– ‘to place, put’, but this is not very likely. In general there is agreement in recognizing here— whatever the semantic evolution—the root *. The fact is that if we started from *dhē– to arrive at the sense “take” the semantic evolution would be even more obscure.
We simply have to take it as a fact that in Hittite – ‘take’ we have the contrary of the sense “give.” To explain this scholars have adduced as a parallel the form ā ‘take’ in Sanskrit. But here the preverb ā– is essential; it indicates movement towards the subject. With this preverb and the middle endings, the change to the sense “receive, take” is explicable within Sanskrit itself. Thus Sanskrit is of no direct help in explaining the sense of – in Hittite.
To explain it we may suppose that semantic shifts comparable to that undergone by the English word take in the expression to take to occurred within the ancient languages, but in different directions. This comparison may help us to discover the link between the two opposite meanings. Hittite and the other Indo-European languages have specialized in different ways the verb *-, which lent itself, according to the syntactical construction, to either sense. While Hittite – restricted the sense to “take,” the other languages constructed with the idea of a destination, which results in the sense “to give.” [1]
This is not an artificial construction. Indo-European has several expressions for “take,” each of which specifies the notion in a different way. If one accepts that the original sense is that preserved in Hittite, the evolution leading to the meaning “give,” attested in the rest of the Indo-European domain, becomes intelligible.
Equally archaic is Hittite pai– “give.” It is explicable as a compound of the preverb pe– with *ai– ‘attribute, allocate’, a root attested in the Tokharian ai– ‘give’ and by several derived nouns, such as Av. aēta– ‘part’ and Osc. aeteis (gen. sing.), which translates Lat. partis.
The notion of “give” and “take” are thus linked in prehistoric Indo-European. It may be useful to consider in this connection an etymological problem relating to an already specialized word, Lat. emo, which, as will be shown below, once meant “take.” In another language a root is encountered with the same sense, which differs from the Latin form by the initial n-: this is Germanic *nem-, Got. niman, German nehmen ‘take’. Here we have two verbs of the same sense, Lat. em-, Germanic nem-; is there an etymological connection between them? This has often been accepted; but how can it be morphologically justified? Recourse is had to two devices: nem– may be composed of *(e)n + em or derived from a reduced form of ni + em. But in order to practice economy in reconstructions, we must first consider what matters most, although the least attention has been paid to it so far, i.e. the meaning.
The most ancient Germanic forms appear in Gothic. They are very frequent and instructive. The form niman presupposes *nem-, and we are acquainted with such a root. It appears in Gr. némō (νέμω), but the connection is ruled out because of the meaning of némō, which is not “take.” For the time being we do no more than point this out and turn our attention to niman. We have the simple verb as well as several compounds with numerous preverbs in various applications. The Greek verbs to which it corresponds are lambánein, aírein ‘take’, déksasthai ‘to receive’ (very frequent, especially in the expression “to receive grace”); the compounds with and– translate dékhesthai (apo-, para-); those with ga– (cf. German angenehm ‘pleasant’) “to receive, conceive, welcome” and also mente accipere, matheîn ‘receive with the mind, learn’. There is a considerable preponderance of instances in which niman signifies not “take” but “receive.” In particular, a compound noun deserves attention because of its special technical meaning: arbi-numja ‘heir’. The first part, arbi, is an independent term which means “heritage,” Germ. Erbe, and which has considerable importance in the vocabulary of institutions. The form is clear: it is a neuter *orbhyom, which links up on the one hand with the Celtic terms of the same sense, e.g. Irl. orbe ‘heritage’, com-arbe ‘he who inherits’ (the connection is so close that here, as in many other cases, it is possible that this may be a borrowing by Germanic from Celtic). Another connection is with adjectival forms which may serve to throw light on the concept: Lat. orbus ‘bereft’, Arm. orb ‘orphan’, Gr. orpho-, orphanós. Outside Celtic the terms corresponding to arbi designate a person deprived of a parent, and also an orphan. The relationship between “heritage” and “orphan” may seem somewhat strange; but there is an exact parallel of meaning in another family of words. The Latin adjective hērēd– ‘heir’ has a certain correspondent in Greek in the agent noun khērōstḗs ‘collateral heir’ and also in the adjective khē̂ros ‘deprived of a parent’, fem. khḗra ‘widow’.
How can this etymological relationship be explained? In Homeric Greek, khērōstḗs is the member of the family who inherits in the absence of children, the relative who receives a property which has become “abandoned” (khē̂ros). Now in Gothic, arbi ‘heritage’, derived from the neuter form *orbhyom, means literally ‘what devolves on the orbus’, that is to say, the property which is legally bestowed on a person who has suffered the loss of an immediate relative. It is the same idea as in hērēs, khērōstḗs. According to Indo-European usage property is directly transmitted to the descendant, but he is not for this reason alone qualified as an “heir.” At that time, no need was felt for the legal precision which makes us qualify as “heir” the person who enters into possession of material wealth, whatever his degree of relationship with the deceased. In Indo-European, the son was not designated the “heir.” Heirs were only those who inherited in the absence of a son. This is the case with khērōstai, the collaterals who divided an inheritance where there was no direct heir.
Such is the relationship between the notion of “orphan, deprived of a relative” (son or father) and that of “inheritance.” It is illustrated by the definition given in a sentence from the Germania of Tacitus, Chapter 20: Heredesuccessoresque sui cuique liberi, et nullum testamentum, ‘everybody has as heirs and successors his own children, and there is no will and testament’; si liberi non sunt, proximus gradus in possessions fratres, patrui, avunculi, ‘if there are no children it is the next of kin who enter into possession, the degrees of succession being brothers, paternal uncles and maternal uncles’.
Such are the arbi-numja. The literal sense of arbi-numja is “he who receives (numja) the heritage (arbi). We may now ask which Greek term arbi-numja translates? It is klēronómos (κληρονόμος). There is also an analytical expression arbi niman ‘to inherit’ which translates the Gr. klēronomeîn (κληρονομεῖν).
The formation of the Greek compound is instructive. The second term links up with némō, nómos, nomós, a very rich family of words which has been the subject of a study by E. Laroche (Histoire de la racine nem- en grec ancien, 1949), in which its uses are examined in detail. This extremely important root has a rich variety of derivatives. The notion which is elicited is that of a legal division or sharing out, exclusively enjoined by law, custom, or by agreement, but not by arbitrary decision. Other verbs in Greek mean “divide”; an example is datéomai, but here the difference is this: némō is “to divide according to agreement or the law.” It is for this reason that pastureland which has been shared out according to customary law is called nomós. The meaning of nómos ‘the law’ goes back to “legal apportionment.” Thus némō is defined in Greek as “to divide legally” and also “to acquire legally by way of apportionment” (this being the sense of the active).
Is it an accident that the Gothic (arbi-)numja has the same formation as (klēro-)nómos, seeing that there would be no occasion to use the verb niman to translate kléronomeîn if it meant “to take” ?
We can now see how the correspondence in a technical sense is arrived at between némō and niman: it is because Gothic niman means “take” in the sense of “receive legally” (cf. the use in which it corresponds to the Greek dékhesthai); hence comes the sense “receive, receive one’s share, take.” We may consider this expression arbi niman and the compound arbi-numja ‘heir’ as one of those where the ancient meaning of niman survives, the same meaning which némō had in Greek and which led to the formation of the term klēronómos ‘heir’. The other usages are easily explicable. [2]
Thus the Germanic niman has nothing to do with emo. We must postulate a Germanic root nem– which, in the light of this interpretation of its sense, links up with the group of Indo-European forms from the root *nem-, which are also abundantly represented in Greek.
To what result do we come if we subject emo to like scrutiny? Correspondences with initial e– are found in Old Slavonic imǫ, and in Baltic in the Lith. imù, im̃ti “take.” Latin helps to delimit the meaning of emo, which is “to draw back, to take away.” Eximo is to “take out of,” while the meaning of eximius corresponds in sense to Gr. éxokhos ‘outstanding, preeminent’. Further, we have exemplum which, by a curious development, means “an object set apart, separated by its very marked characteristics,” hence “model, example”; prōmo means “draw from (a store)” and its verbal adjective promptus ‘taken out, drawn, ready to hand’. Per-imo (with the meaning of the preverb which we find in per-do) means “make disappear, annihilate”; sūmo (from *subs-emo) ‘take by lifting’.
All this shows that the Latin sense “take < draw, remove, seize” has no connection with “take < receive, welcome” of Germanic. These are quite different notions in origin, and they reveal their peculiarity if we succeed in grasping their first sense. Each of them has its own domain and history. It is only at the end point of their evolution and in the most watered-down sense that Germanic niman and Latin emo resemble each other.
We return to emo ‘buy’. The manner in which emo develops a restricted sense in Latin suggests that the meaning “buy” implies a quite different conception from that inherent in the terms belonging to the Greek family of pérnēmi, etc. It is clear that emo at first meant “take to oneself, draw to oneself.” The possession which it affirms is expressed by the gesture of the man who takes the object and draws it to himself. The sense of “buy” must first have evolved with reference to human beings whom one “takes” after having fixed a price. The notion of “purchase” had its origin in the gesture which concluded the purchase (emo) and not in the fact of paying a price, handing over the value of the object. [3]


[ back ] 1. Cf. our article “Don et échange dans le vocabulaire indo-européen,” already cited.
[ back ] 2. For the meaning of némō we may refer to our analysis of némesis in Noms d’agent et noms d’action en indo-européen, Paris, 1948, p. 79.
[ back ] 3. On Gr. pérnēmi and Lat. emo, see Book One, Chapter Ten.