Are the English surname "Douglas" and the Old Slavonic word глас (glas) "voice" cognates?

, taking into consideration, that glais means “stream” and that "voice" is also a speech stream.


(I’m not sure this is really about English as such, given that one is a Celtic word and the other a Slavic word – but Douglas is an English name, so let’s give it the benefit of the doubt.)



These two words are not cognates, no.

  • In the Slavic word, the reference to the voice as a stream of words is secondary: the primary meaning is the sound itself.
  • In the Celtic word, the reference to streams of water is also secondary: the primary meaning is the blue-greenish colour of bodies of water.

In other words, they belong to two completely separate groups of words whose meanings happen to have been extended in such a way that they overlap somewhat.


Slavic глас

The Wiktionary article on Proto-Slavic *golsъ (the direct ancestor of the Old Church Slavonic word) derives the word from the Proto-Indo-European root *gels- meaning ‘call’, but this is not a commonly accepted root – I’m not sure where it was taken from here. A root *gelH- (or perhaps *gleH-) has been suggested by at least Peter Schrijver, but it is not included in LIV².

What is certain, however, is that there is a cluster of words relating to voice, calling, noise, etc., which have a structure that points back to a PIE consonant skeleton of *gl(H)(s); the Wiktionary article on call gives a good selection of cognates.

Importantly, none of these words refer to streams or anything like that – they all refer to vocal sounds. Some, like Latin gallus ‘rooster’, would be quite far-fetched if the original meaning of the root had been ‘stream [of words]’.


Goidelic glas

As you mention, Douglas comes from Scottish dubhghlas ‘blackstream’, which also exists in Irish and Manx, the other two languages in the Goidelic branch of the Celtic languages. In this word, the second part, glas, does indeed mean a stream, but that does not appear to be the original meaning – the original (and to this day more common) meaning of the word is ‘blue-green’ (can refer to either blue or green, depending on context). Cognates from continental Celtic languages like Gaulish show that this word comes from Proto-Celtic *glasto- with the same meaning: in Goidelic, *st became ss (reduced to s when word-initial or word-final), but the attested Gaulish form is glastum with the t intact, a derived noun that refers to woad.

Ranko Matasović’s Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic takes PC *glasto- as being from PIE *ĝʰlh3-stó-, a derivation from the PIE root *ĝʰelh3- ‘gleam, glow; green, yellow’. This root underlies a whole slew of words related to green-, yellow- or shininess, from Greek χλωρός (whence chlorine, from its colour) to English yellow.

The meaning of the root changed a bit in Celtic: where in PIE, it referred to the part of the colour spectrum ranging from yellowish to greenish, in Celtic it had shifted to the part ranging from greenish to bluish. This includes the colour of various bodies of water which then metonymically became ‘the blue-green ones’ (cf. how phrases like ‘out of the blue’ refer to air as being blue, even though it’s not). Even in Modern Irish (perhaps Scottish too, I’m not sure), the ocean can still be called glasmhuir (‘blue-green sea’).

So Dubhghlas means ‘dark stream’, yes, but really it means ‘the dark blue-green one’.

  • Not far fetched at all, comparing Kehle "throat", [Luft-]Röhre* "larynx", Rohr, Röhre "tube", röhren "roar, shout". Diminutiv -Kehlchen appears as part of bird names and can be compared to nighting-gale. Words like Schlund "mouth" on the other hand are figurativel for parts of water ways (or originally, if YMMV). Stream would be an abstraction, maybe, sure, but perhaps a rather potent one. – vectory May 20 at 20:15
  • @vectory Well, it’s quite common, cross-linguistically, for rivers to have mouths; it’s a very obvious metaphor which is, unsurprisingly, commonly employed. German Rohr/Röhre and röhren aren’t related, though – that’s just another case of two somewhat similar words developing meanings that partly overlap. Their similarity has probably helped the overlap, but they are ultimately separate words with separate meanings (‘reed’ and ‘bellow’). – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 20 at 20:30
  • Oh that may just show how old and entangled these roots are. Reed has IMHO a certain sygnificance to writing, so not all that old, but pretty old, and potentially spread from one source. – vectory May 20 at 21:44
  • @vectory They’re not really entangled, though, except in Modern German. Both are only attested in Germanic languages, but their oldest attestations and comparative evidence point to PG forms like *rairija- for the shouty verb and *rauza- for the plant noun. There’s no reason to believe those two words are in any way related; all they have in common is an initial r followed by a diphthong. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 20 at 21:56
  • Sounds like you looked it up. I have no idea which plant noun? Is it Strohalm "straw"? The roots are suffixed according to PoS, the vocalism can be ignored; R (the second one in rair-) would be deleted before z, I guess, at least it, "-aurz-", would feel intuitively complicated to me, and the noun root surely reminds of raunzen, ranzen, raunen "roar, rant, scold"; I wonder what comparanda your sources chose. Röhre indeed can be translated as a loud, sonorant voice. – vectory May 21 at 4:16

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