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The Language Iceberg

Humans do not invent language – invent itself goes back to French inventer, a frequentative form of Latin invenire ‘to find’, from in ‘in; on’ and venire ‘come’; literally, ‘to come upon’. This observation is corroborated by various other languages, starting with Belarusian вынаходзіць [vynaxōdzits] ‘to invent’ – an extension of знаходзіць [znaxōdzits] 'to find', synonymous both with Ukrainian знаходити [znaxōdyty] and Russian находить [naxodít'] ‘to find’ (from на [na] ‘on’ and ходить [xodít'] ‘to walk’), – recreating the exact same act of chance discovery as in English come upon, supplemented by the Slavic 'explorative' prefix вы- [vy-] 'out'.

An analogous example is Czech vynalézt ‘to invent’, from nalézt ‘to find’ (itself from na ‘on’, lézt ‘to crawl’) and the explorative prefix vy- 'out' – literally, find out, – corroborated by Frisian útfine 'to invent', the disappearing [d] (assimilated in Swedish uppfinna 'to invent' by the preceding [n] sound) reappearing in Danish opfinde 'to invent'. German erfinden – which, too, means 'to invent' – sheds further light on the common find root. Hungarian – a Uralic language unrelated to Indo-European – mirrors Swedish uppfinna/ Danish opfinde 'to invent' in an instructively revealing way: feltalál ‘to invent’ is composed of fel ‘up’ and talál ‘to find’.

Russian изобретать [izobretát'] 'to invent' represents the imperfective (frequentative) form of изобрести [izobrestí], itself from обрести [obrestí] 'to acquire', a verb rooted in the now-lost Common Slavic rěsti 'to find'. Lithuanian – together with Latvian the only extant Baltic representative and the world’s most archaic Indo-European language – has preserved that root in the form of rasti 'to find', whence išrasti ‘to invent’. The exact same scenario reappears in Greek: εφευρίσκω [efeurísko] ‘to invent’ is derived from ευρίσκω [eurísko] ‘to find’, hence the historically famous Eureka!

Beyond Indo-European and Uralic, Semitic brandishes an equally striking analogy: Hebrew הִמְצִיא [himtsí] ‘to invent’ is itself rooted in מָצָא [matsá] ‘to find’. And that's a shred of the tip of the language iceberg!

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