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This Proto-Slavic entry contains reconstructed words and roots. As such, the term(s) in this entry are not directly attested, but are hypothesized to have existed based on comparative evidence.



Generally agreed to derive from Old High German Karl, name of the Frankish ruler Charlemagne (742-814) who ruled the western areas of Slavdom.

Extended derivation:

  • Old High German Karl > Early Proto-Slavic *kȁrlju (substantivized possessive adjective) > *kȁrlji (umlaut *u > *i) > *karlji̍ (Dybo's law) > *korlji̍ (change of *a to *o) > *korljь̍ (change of *i > *ь) > *korl'ь̍ (iotation of *lj > *l') > *kõrl'ь (neoacute due to Ivšić's law).

The shift from hard o-stem to the soft jo-stem, as outlined in the chronology above, has several theories of origin:

  • Holzer explains the j-suffix as originating from a substantivized possessive adjective
  • Schenker suggests analogical replacement after agent nouns ending in *-teljь or other words denoting leaders such as *cěsarjь and *kъnędzь
  • Pronk-Tiethoff suggests the final *-ljь is due to the fact that Proto-Slavs likely perceived the Old High German final consonant as soft, similarly as in the loanword *grędeljь.

The word has been described as "without doubt the most famous Germanic loanword in Slavic" (Pronk-Tiethoff 2013) due to the fact that it's the only loanword in Slavic that can actually be dated, thus giving clues to the absolute dating of Proto-Slavic phonological developments. The fact that it regularly underwent historical Proto-Slavic sound laws, and that it's reflected in all three branches, is one of the chief indications to date Late Proto-Slavic (Common Slavic) to the ninth century.

However, this is comparatively late (only a century before Old Church Slavonic manuscripts were written), so other etymologies have been suggested:

  • Holzer derives it from the name of the Frankish ruler Charles Martel (688-741). The issue with this theory is that Charles Martel was not particularly important to the contemporary Slavs.
  • Stender-Petersen derives it from Proto-Germanic *kar(i)laz (free man) (Old High German karl (man)) with a semantic shift explained as "very ordinary".

These theories are generally thought of as less convincing than from Karl "Charlemagne", who was an actual king of (some) Slavs.


*kõrljь m

  1. king


Derived terms



  • Vasmer, Max (1964–1973), “король”, in Etimologičeskij slovarʹ russkovo jazyka [Etymological Dictionary of the Russian Language] (in Russian), translated from German and supplemented by Trubačev O. N., Moscow: Progress
  • Trubačev O. N., editor (1984), “*korl'ь”, in Etimologičeskij slovarʹ slavjanskix jazykov [Etymological dictionary of Slavic languages] (in Russian), volume 11, Moscow: Nauka, page 82ff
  • Saskia Pronk-Tiethoff (2013), The Germanic loanwords in Proto-Slavic, Rodopi: Amsterdam/New York, page 111ff