Every now and then, I'm reminded that λαλέω means "to say or speak", especially when reading the New Testament. It seems possible that λαλέω derives from the same PIE stem as λέγω through reduplication. Wiktionary, however suggests otherwise, claiming that λαλέω derives from *leh2- and λέγω from *leg-.

Is the similar meaning of the two words a coincidence? Or is there some genetic relation? Furthermore, are there any semantic nuances between the two, e.g. cases where one is appropriate but not the other? Is λαλέω common in the Attic dialect or only in Koine?

The Latin cognates are lallo and lego, and although we find a similar meaning between lallo and λαλέω, we do not see a semantic similarity between lego and λέγω. At least not in the sense of speaking. I wonder why this is.


1 Answer 1


The resemblance is accidental. For one thing, there's no way to relate PIE *leǵ- and *leh₂- (if the latter is really the root of λαλέω, which is doubtful). Second, the similarity in sense is secondary. The primary meaning of *leǵ-, and of λέγω, is "collect, pick out". In Greek, there was presumably a development in sense such as "pick out or enumerate (facts, events) > recount > say". In Latin, on the other hand, the development seems to have been "visually collect written characters > read".

λαλέω and lallo are pretty clearly onomatopoeic. As such, they could be independently coined verbs or could go back to PIE (in which case the form of the root might be *lal-, thus tentatively Beekes). The sense of λαλέω in Attic is often more specific than "speak", namely something like "prattle", though it does sometimes mean simply "talk", and becomes common in this sense in Hellenistic Greek and the Koine.

  • 2
    Cf. "la-la."
    – cmw
    Apr 15, 2017 at 16:40
  • Thanks! This answers all my questions. It was really interesting to learn how λέγω and lego may have gotten their meanings.
    – ktm5124
    Apr 15, 2017 at 17:26
  • @cmw Ah, that's so cool!
    – ktm5124
    Apr 15, 2017 at 17:27

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