ARABIC ETYMOLOGY III.

I have previously (I, II) lamented the absence of an Arabic etymological dictionary, and Andras Rajki very kindly wrote to inform me that he had put what he modestly describes as a “modest” one online. It may not be comprehensive, but it’s quite good enough for my needs, and I’m very glad indeed to have it available. (I am a complete amateur when it comes to Semitic etymology, but if anyone is an expert and finds gaps or errors, I’m sure Andras will be glad to hear about it.) The dictionary is a simple text file, with each headword followed by an English gloss, an etymology in square brackets, and a list of words borrowed from it into other languages, for example:
asad : lion [Sem ’-sh-d, Akk shedu (demon), Heb shed, Syr sheda, JNA shedha] Ind asad, Per asad borrowed from Ar
The list of sources and language abbreviations is at the end. Bravo, Andras, and thanks! (Oh, and for you Esperantists, he’s also got an Etymological Dictionary of the Esperanto Language.)

Comments

  1. Yes, that contribution from Andras Rajki looks really useful, at a first run through. (Layout could be better: some sort of introduction, and a key at the start, not at the end, would be good.) I intend to study this one closely.
    I still wish there were a dictionary or similar work that presented lucidly the way vowels and triliteral roots interact to yield the meanings they do – without the accumulated apparatus of semitic scholarship. Presumably such a thing is possible, and it would be a great help to non-specialists.

  2. the way vowels and triliteral roots interact to yield the meanings they do
    Do you mean word formation, Noetica?

  3. That is indeed what I mean, Bulbul. But I put it the way I did because it seems that way captures the essence of Arabic word formation. Am I right?

  4. Noetica — Arabic textbooks cover that, at least to the extent needed for ordinary conjugation, declension, etc. Is there a university near you that offers Arabic courses? If so, try dropping by the university bookstore and taking a look at the course textbooks.

  5. Thanks for the explanation. To be honest, I am not sure whether it is possible to come up with any meaningful list of patterns which wouldn’t include too many exceptions. I have a grammar of Classical Arabic right here and I count 50-odd patterns for nouns and adjectives. Some of them are associated with particular semantic groups (plus there’s nominca loci, temporis and instrumenti), but most of them are not. Not to mention that it is difficult to make a distinction between nouns and adjectives.

  6. Ran:
    I can assure you that I have examined many such works. The point I want to make is that there is a very specific and idiosyncratic way of presenting all this in the grammars and the dictionaries. I have yet to find one that sweeps all that aside and presents the essence of the interaction between roots and vowels in a fresh, clear, and uncluttered way. That would be handy for non-specialists.
    Bulbul:
    I fully understand that there will be many exceptions and variations. But I’m certain that there is a core of uniformity to be extracted, even if it is a merely notional core, to which there are exceptions, and from which there are variations.

  7. But I’m certain that there is a core of uniformity to be extracted
    Truth is, I am not. Even in such simple matters as verbal forms there is very little uniformity. Second verbal form (verbal stem), for example, is supposed to be causative, yet in many cases this is not so. The correlation between form and meaning is often vague.

  8. Bulbul, I understand that too. But I’m sure something more definite could be arranged for the enlightenment of non-specialists. Suppose we were to take the same line with French, and say things like this:
    O, nouns are formed in several ways from verbs in French; and there are plurals formed in different ways, with exceptions upon exception. Nothing is clear or certain. These things are just vague in French. Go read a standard grammar, anyway.
    This would never do! Rather, broad principles like the following would be extremely useful to those not wanting to immerse themselves in a standard grammar:
    · To a characteristic verb stem, add various suffixes to form various kinds of noun. Now, all nouns and adjectives in French are either masculine or feminine. For one kind of noun, add “eur” to make the masculine form, or “euse” to make the feminine form. This gives a noun that means “someone or something that does the action of the verb”. Examples: “imprim-”, “imprimeur” (printer); “couvr-”, “couvreuse” (someone or something that covers). Forms with “eur” or “euse” are also used as adjectives. Some verb stems can’t be treated this way, and there are many other ways nouns with different semantic relations to verbs are formed from verb stems; but you get the idea.
    · Nearly all plural nouns (and adjectives) in French are formed by adding “s” to singular nouns. If there’s already an “s” or an “x” at the end of the singular, the plural is the same as the singular. Some singulars, like those ending in “eau”, or (with some exceptions) “ou”, have an “x” added instead.
    Now that wasn’t so hard, was it? I want to see a comprehensive, structured, and annotated series of generalisations like that, for Arabic (and Hebrew, for that matter). I suspect that only tradition and inertia prevent such series from emerging. It might be objected that I have used technical grammatical apparatus in setting up the French examples. Sure: but that apparatus is minimal. I don’t see attempts to minimise use of Semitic grammatical apparatus, to make things transparent to outsiders. I’d like to see that!

  9. There’s a diachronic dimension as well, in that a given form for a given root may start out as (say) a causative but change gradually in meaning over time.

  10. I think I get what Noetica’s saying, and it wouldn’t necessarily be impossible, depending on just how accessible to outsiders it’s supposed to be. It would definitely be more complicated than for French, though, since Arabic derivational morphology is.

  11. I’ll never learn Mongol (which is agglutinative), but I’ve spent many happy hours looking at my Mongol dictionary and its backwards dictionary. (In a backwards dictionary, for example, “gni” would find all the gerunds for you.)
    What I found is that while a large number of individual syllables have fairly definite meanings in combination, you’re luck if a given combination of finals appears more than 2 or 3 times.
    Agglutination produces deverbal nouns from verbs and denominal verbs from nouns, and this process can be piled up, with the deverbal noun denominalized with another suffix syllable.

  12. Noetica,
    I understand. And I’m sure I don’t have to remind you that Arabic isn’t French. To use your examples:
    - You can relatively easily derive a meaningful verb from a particular root (there are basically three patterns – CaCaCa, CaCiCa and CaCuCa). In this way, Arabic is much more simple and predictable than, say, French. There are, however, NO rules by which you can derive a meaningful simple noun from a given root.
    - In Arabic, nouns as well as some adjectives form two types of plural – the sane one (by adding suffixes) and the broken one. There are cca. 20 patterns for the formation of the broken plural which (so Fischer in his “Grammatik des klassischen Arabisch”) cannot be derived from the singular morpheme.
    - As for the derivation of verbs, in French, this is mostly using using prefixes (de-, re-, pre-…) where the meaning of the derived verb can be determined from the prefix. Not so in Arabic, where in most cases the meaning of a particular root in, say, the 5th form is quite far from the 1st form.
    - Granted, in most Arabic verbal forms (except for the first one), nouns are formed in a predictable matter (2nd form verb: darrasa = to teach, participle: mudarris = teacher, gerund: tadriis = teaching, instruction).
    I want to see a comprehensive, structured, and annotated series of generalisations like that, for Arabic
    Not to be snarky, but what stops you from creating a list of such generalisations? All you need is a decent grammar (I nominate either Wright or – the classic – Brockelmann) and off you go.
    Oh and by the way:
    and there are plurals formed in different ways, with exceptions upon exception
    As shown above, is not true for French in the same way it is true for Arabic.

  13. Many thanks for the Esperanto link :)

  14. There’s a diachronic dimension as well, in that a given form for a given root may start out as (say) a causative but change gradually in meaning over time.
    True dat. How about we define MSA as the starting point and go from there?

  15. That’s for taking the time to clarify the situation, Bulbul. All very useful information.
    Why don’t I do it myself? Well, I don’t know any Arabic! But strangely enough I was thinking that this qualifies me for the job admirably. Seems to me it’s often like that. My objection has been that “insiders” work exclusively to a time-honoured high-priestly code of practice, meaning that you really have to swallow the content whole, with of all its arcane terminological side dishes, before you can really have sufficient sense of Semitic grammar. So a brave pioneering outsider skilled at analysis and presentation ought to do a better job, yes? There would be two conditions:
    1. The outsider has the time and inclination.
    2. The outsider can remain sufficiently an outsider after the high-priestly initiation that would be necessary in order to achieve mastery of the grammar.
    Now, I’m confident that I could satisfy condition 2. Condition 1 is the problem. I’m not that inclined toward this task; so I cannot bring myself to make the time. I suppose I just want someone else to do it.
    O well! Who knows? My priorities might change one day. Or someone else’s might.

  16. How does vowel length indication work in Rajki’s dictionary?
    Japanese is the most inspiring recent example of how language learning materials can quickly get more abundant and better when there are enough fans willing to work on it. Arabic certainly needs it, and I’m surprised there hasn’t been even more progress lately given how topical it is.

  17. German plurals, by contrast, are completely logical once you understand the system.

  18. Thanks Andras – this will be a helpful resource.
    And as I wrote in my comment to post II – Stahl’s Arabic Etymological Dictionary in Hebrew, while containing only 7000 entries, is pretty good.

  19. How about we define MSA as the starting point and go from there?
    I think it would probably be easier to start from an earlier stage where the derivations are at least a little more regular. That probably wouldn’t be as useful, though.

  20. I think it would probably be easier to start from an earlier stage where the derivations are at least a little more regular.
    Am I missing something or are you saying in Modern Standard Arabic they’re not?

  21. My objection has been that “insiders” work exclusively to a time-honoured high-priestly code of practice
    No, we don’t. At least not any more that other insiders.
    meaning that you really have to swallow the content whole
    Well, yes, but that’s true of any language. I’m sorry to say, there is no easy way in.

  22. Am I missing something or are you saying in Modern Standard Arabic they’re not?
    Well, they mostly are, but quite a few have been lexicalized to the extent that (e.g.) a Form IV verb isn’t transparently the causative of the corresponding Form I verb. I haven’t really checked this out, but I would think that in earlier stages of Arabic many of these derivations were still transparent.

  23. Noetica, I have some posts on that over at my blog, under the etymology section.
    with regards: ‘I still wish there were a dictionary or similar work that presented lucidly the way vowels and triliteral roots interact to yield the meanings they do’ – then mu’jam maqayees al-lughah by Ibn Faaris may be what you are looking for, if I understood you correctly.

  24. I just re-read what you were looking for, and there is a work in Arabic called al-Huqool al-Dilaaliyyah al-Sarfiyyah lil-Af’3aal al-’Arabiyyah, by Sulayman Fayyaad, published by Dar al-Mareekh in Riyadh. It deals with what you mentioned, but exclusively for verbs.
    There is also Mu’jam al-Awzan al-Sarfiyah which is very user-friendly and uncluttered. It is by Imeel Bad’ee Ya’qood and published by ‘Alam al-Kutub in Beirut.

  25. Thanks very much, Arabicgems. I’ll look through that material and report what I make of it, a little later.

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