ARABIC ETYMOLOGY.

Frequent commenter Tatyana sent me a link to a Russian blog where there was a discussion of the Arabic word SiraaT ‘path’ (famously used in the first sura of the Qur’an, the Fatiha: Ihdina al-sirata al-mustaqima ‘Show us the straight path’), mentioning that it was from Latin stratum ‘path.’ Not having any way to determine whether this was true, I wrote to an Arabic scholar about it, asking also where one could go to look such things up. He confirmed the derivation and added “There is no Arabic etymological dictionary.” I found this shocking, and am hard put to explain it. I can understand why the cultural emphasis on the Arabic of the Qur’an as the perfected form of the language might have made native speakers less likely to look beyond it and work on its Semitic connections, but how could the avid European Orientalists of the Victorian era have omitted to produce such a thing? In an age obsessed with philology, when Edward William Lane was producing his monumental Arabic-English Lexicon and men like Theodor Nöldeke and Carl Brockelmann were doing groundbreaking work on Semitic, how could no one have done an etymological dictionary? And how could no one have done one since? Get cracking, people!

Comments

  1. Peter T Daniels (a Semiticiste and regular at sci.lang), he say:

    “Etymological dictionary for Arabic” doesn’t make much sense, since the Arabic lexicon is so much vaster than that of any other Semitic language, since lexicography has been going on for over a thousand years, and etymological dictionaries of all the other Semitic languages mine the native Arab lexica for more or less plausible candidates for cognacy.
    That said, the best etymological dictionary of a Semitic language (largely, if not entirely, supplanting Brockelmann’s Lexicon Syriacum
    ed. 2 of 1928) is Wolf Leslau’s three-volume etymological dictionary of Gurage. His dictionary of Ge`ez, which came out a few years later, is
    less detailed.

  2. Michael Farris says:

    “Peter T Daniels (a Semiticiste and regular at sci.lang), he say:”
    He do, do he?

  3. It’s a joke, son.
    “‘Etymological dictionary for Arabic’ doesn’t make much sense” doesn’t make much sense, if you ask me. English has a huge vocabulary, too; so what? If I want to find out where “dog” comes from, I don’t want to pore through dictionaries of every related language looking for it — and it wouldn’t do me any good, either. One of the points of an etym dict is to tell you what words have no known etymology. In other words: excuses, excuses! Get cracking!

  4. Michael Farris says:

    Verb agreement aside, I agree that the redoubtable Mr. Daniel’s position seems completely indefensible for the same reasons language hat stated.

  5. Good to hear. I kind of thought that sounded funny. No offense meant to the Count von B.

  6. All jokes aside, the question is most interesting. Massignon speaks, for example, of the ‘étymologisme radical de l’arabe’ in an essay on ‘La structure primitive de l’analyse grammaticale en Arabe’.
    The absence of an Arabic etymological disctionary is perhaps a reflection of the survival of the ancient conflict between the sarfiyyûm, khattatûn and lugawiyyûn…

  7. *all ears*

  8. My guess is that an ancient, self-conscious and scriptural language is a trickier to produce a good etymological dictionary for than most, because it will tend to zealously erase its tracks more often, to aggressively “correct” old or dialect texts while copying them, and generally to impose uniformity wherever possible.
    All of which, of course, is just one more reason to get cracking.

  9. I know the basics of Classical Arabic and Biblical Hebrew and am often frustrated by not knowing precisely how to connect the two. I think surely there must be some basic historical work on Proto-Semitic that I need to find second-hand and buy. A philologist acquaintance who studies these directly assures me there is no such thing. This conforms with the fact that I’ve never come across it in my browsing. Too much Semitic scholarship is nineteenth-century, and for example uses the Tiberian pronunciation of Hebrew, which is historically unhelpful. We need some W. Sidney Allen equivalent to set it all out clearly.
    I don’t think Arab Arabists do erase their tracks: Quranic Arabic is extremely precisely notated, with a small number of phonetic irregularities. They preserve and explain every variation. The story is that the disparate dialect texts of the Quran were collated on the orders of an early caliph, and this fits exactly the slight irregularities that are in the text. It looks very well preserved, not erased.

  10. What would be the primary sources for such a dictionary? There’s the Qur`an, there’s comparison with classical Hebrew (and the tiny remnants of Hebrew’s contemporary near relatives). What else is there? Are there any relics of classical Arabic besides the Qur`an? I’m worried that 75% of the entries in such a dictionary will look like this:
    rahiimi “Merciful”, -a-ii-i “adjective of quality” + RHM “mercy”. Q, 1:2.
    (This is probably wrong in every particular. I’m not an Arabist, but I hope you understand my concern.)

  11. Hebrew is not that close a relative. To start with, there are the South Arabian languages and the Ethiopian languages, and then of course the rest of the Semitic languages (Wikipedia). So just as in an English etym dict you get first other Germanic forms, then related forms from other IE branches and a reconstructed PIE root, in an Arabic one you’d get Ethiopian and Arabian forms, then other Semitic forms, and finally the more distant Afroasiatic forms and a reconstruction (if such is possible).

  12. Mujahid Umrani says:

    I have something you may be looking for. I also have a great deal of understanding in arabic ethmology.

  13. Ah, this has been broached again. It is pleasing to note that Mujahid has something we may all be looking for, and that he is blessed with prowess in “ethmology”.
    I am not an Arabist or any sort of semiticist myself, but I long for a dictionary or handbook that will exhibit pellucidly the ways roots and patterns intersect to produce a good deal of the lexicon. And I want it to do so without centuries of accreted and arcane jargon. From the outside, it really does seem that a review of terminology and of exegetic practice is in order.
    ACW writes:
    I’m worried that 75% of the entries in such a dictionary will look like this:
    rahiimi “Merciful”, -a-ii-i “adjective of quality” + RHM “mercy”. Q, 1:2.
    But that’s close to the sort of thing I’d want.
    LH:
    Are you completely happy with “I found this shocking, and am hard put to explain it”? Forgive my pedantry (and my recent slip when I wrote “égy” for “egy”, at which I was mortified), but the classic idiom is “hard put to it [to do X]“. I note that many diverge from this nowadays, possibly influenced by “hard pressed [to do X]“. Myself, I avoid the turn altogether.
    Closely related is this one: “there is no question that…”, which people now say instead of “there is no question but that…”. I counsel people to avoid both forms just because a meaning opposite to the one intended might be understood.
    Similar things could be said about “next Thursday”, which at least in Australia can mean either “the Thursday we next have” or “the Thursday in next week”.

  14. Mujahid Umrani says:

    Yes,I see your concerns. What I have is plain as my writing you see.Of what good would knowdlge or wisdom be with no overstanding. I warn you my dear seekers of this book, you must be a good independent seeker of truth. You must have a gymnastic mind to grasp.My teacher has been teaching this since the 70′s.The information is so valuable to us all.The authors filed a copywrite,but published only on paper copies.You see currency is not the issue. Sincer minds to continue the education of humanity. Why? Knowdlge evolves. The intellect can produce greater righteous expressions, for etymology is phenomenal.

  15. Noetica: I fear you are right; investigation convinces me the historic idiom is hard put to it to… It seems I am, all unwittingly, part of the unthinking tide of linguistic change.
    Mujahid: I have not the faintest idea what you’re talking about, but welcome to the site!

  16. Well confessed, LH. I now rest easier about my own myriad peccadillos, known and unknown.

  17. Mujahid Umrani says:

    Thanks for your greeting.Revising of last comment: I have the individual meaning to each arabic letter and how to apply it.I have the ancient numerical value for each letter.Quranic arabic is different from speaking arabic.(example)You can’t say coca cola or telephone in Quranic arabic.

  18. ??????????????????????????

  19. Richard Durkan says:

    I have long given up trying to find an etymological dictionary of Classical Arabic but I have not yet given up trying to find etymological dictionaries for the Arabic dialects (I am very interested, for example. in Turkish and Albanian influence on Egyptian Arabic and Turkish influence on Iraqi Arabic). I have not had much success to date but if anyone can suggest any suitable works, I would welcome details. I share fully the sentiments of the contributor who said “I long for a dictionary or handbook that will exhibit pellucidly the way roots and patterns intersect to produce a good deal of the lexicon”. Has anyone ever found anything?

  20. I am a Turkish speaker with no knowledge of Arabic. But Turkish has a slew of Arabic loan words; and so far I have not able to figure out any systematic behind either the formal or semantic changes that Araic word undergo as they are taken over by Turkish (or Ottoman if you prefer). But that is really beside the point.
    Currently I am working (and teaching) on epics or rather more generally narratives. One of the Turkish words for “story” is “hikaye” which is I am sure of Arabic origin. A related word, which gone into disuse to a large extent is “thakiye” which means “narration”. Now my question is twofold- 1) do any of these words ring a bell among Arabich scholars or speakers? 2) What is/are the standard words in Arabic for “story” and “narration” (and “history” for that matter)?

  21. Yes, hikaya is the Arabic word for ‘story.’ I think you must have mistyped the other, because as far as I know there are no words in Turkish starting with th-. ‘History’ in Arabic is tarikh.

  22. Phil Proper says:

    There is no doubt that an Arabic etymolgical dictionary is sorely lacking, even if only as a basis for further research.
    In a recent study of numbers, I came acros the oft repeated statement that the Arabic SIFR ‘comes from’ Sanskrit ‘sunya’ “void”. This does not make sense to me, since I do not see the linguistic connection. More sense, perhaps, would be a link to Hebrew SFR (which is the root for ‘to count’ as well as ‘book’). Does anyone have any thoughts here?

  23. Huh. I hadn’t heard that one, but you’re right, it seems to be frequently repeated; here‘s a representative quote:
    Since the earliest form of the Hindu symbol was commonly used in inscriptions and manuscripts in order to mark a blank, it was called sunya, meaning “void” or “empty.” This word passed over into the Arabic as sifr, meaning “vacant.” This was transliterated in about 1200 into Latin with the sound but not the sense being kept, resulting in zephirum or zephyrum. Various progressive changes of these forms, including zeuero, zepiro, zero, cifra, and cifre, led to the development of our words “zero” and “cipher.”
    Now, obviously the word sifr does not come from sunya, so what I think has happened is that somebody trying to convey the idea that the Arabs got the idea from the Indians expressed themselves poorly and one or more readers understood them to say that the word itself was borrowed, and a nugget of misinformation was born.
    Apparently, however, the root is only Arabic.

  24. Phil Proper says:

    Thank you for that Arabic root url, which is, unfortunately, unclear as to the etymology of SFR. And there seems to be no reason to buy the Indian option, apart from the fact that the numbers system had its origins in an Indian counting system. As you suggest, the origin is Semitic, the question being whether it is common to both Arabic and Hebrew, or whther it was a loan word from Hebrew.

  25. The etymology isn’t unclear, it says the root is found only in Arabic (and by implication has no Hebrew cognate and cannot be traced back further); it certainly is not a loan from Hebrew.

  26. Phil Proper says:

    If it is an Arabic root, then it should be possible to trace it back to a Semitic root, one that is common to Hebrew as well.

  27. Not at all. It’s very possible that it’s from a Semitic root (though of course words came into proto-Arabic after it separated from common Semitic), but whatever cognates it had have presumably vanished. It’s been several thousand years, you know. There are lots of words like that in Indo-European: words that occur only in one or two branches but don’t look like borrowings. One must always keep in mind that we’re left with scraps of evidence from a much richer past.

  28. Phil Proper says:

    My research so far , albeit in its first stages, has shown a definite Semitic root: SFR in Ugaritic, and earlier in Akkadian ‘saparu’, ‘sipru’, the meanings being “write”, “message”, also in Aramaic, with the meaning of “count” or number”, in Hebrew, in the Torah on a number of occasions.
    What baffles me is the use of Arabic SIFR to mean ‘void’, ‘nothing’. While it seems reasonable that the idea of ‘nothing’ was taken from the Indians, there is a missing link between a possible different, earlier meaning and its later use.
    I am wondering if you know whether words meaning ‘count’ (or connected expressons) based on the root SFR are used in the Koran.

  29. Sorry, I don’t.

  30. When ever you brothers are ready I have answers.

  31. Phil Proper says:

    Yes, definitely ready.

  32. To Phil Proper: I’ve read a few things on the internet about the subject of the Arabic language. I don’t know all the particulars, but my suggestion is this: try finding lexicons of the Sumerian, Accadian, and Aramaic languages. A scholar by the name of Cyrus Gordon wrote that some Arabic words came from these languages. Arabic might be linked to one or more languages spoken in ancient Egypt. Comparing vocabulary words of Arabic to those of the above mentioned might help. I hope this helps. I hope this doesn’t take your studies in any wrong direction.

  33. Numquid potest caecus caecum ducere?

  34. I have an AED (Arabic Etymological Dictionary).
    If you would like to see the file, I am ready to send it.
    Best regards:
    Drago

  35. Please, Drago… lest we all fall into the ditch.

  36. The word ‘Siraat’can be found in one of the oldest languages known today, if not the oldest. It means in that language ( trace-able Light in the horizon ) which could in literature be taken as path.
    there is a lot of interaction between that language and the arabic language. infact some historical linguists are now reconsidering the classical classification of languages.
    The etymology of the word in that language is as following:
    Si-ra-ad.
    Si- come to surface, Appear, Shine
    ra- placed in high position
    ad- stationary. not in motion,
    Hope this will answer your question.

  37. I join those who think that sirat, like English street from a Western Germanic *strat-, is a borrowing from Late Latin (via) strata “paved (way)”
    Drago

  38. SiraaT suggests the Arabic root morpheme SrT, with two so-called emphatic consonants (S and T) and the vowel pattern i-aa. However, Arabic native roots never contain more than one emphatic consonant. That rules out that this is even an original Semitic word (cf. Greenberg, Patterning of Semitic root morphemes).
    The obvious link is with Latin, where a similar word [via] STRATA with a similar meaning exists.
    In support of this etymology one can bring to bear the fact that Arabic borrowed all the other words for the key concepts of empire from the Romans:
    [via] STRATA > SiraaT (= street in English) “military road”
    EXERCITUS > caskar (c=`ayn) “expeditionary army”
    CASTRUM > qaSr (= chester, caster, castle) “fortified camp”
    All these borrowings show a preference for heavy consonants (qaaf, Saad, cayn).
    t

  39. Thanks, that’s very convincing.

  40. Railway sleeper is falanka in Arabic. This sounds suspiciously non-Semitic. Any idea where this can come from?

  41. Arabic falanka from Turkish felenk. This from Greek. (Ref: http://www.karalahana.com/makaleler/makale3/felek_felenk.html)

  42. I working on Turkish words in Arabic .Can some of you help me just get some of Arabic words that are Turkish ? Actually I need at least a list of tweenty words, but no matter how many you can tell it is ok
    best,
    sabri

  43. Some Turkish words: balta, bamya, baqlawa, basama, budza, burghi, dunum, jazma, saljam, sanja, sanjaq, shanta, shiras, shish, tawuq, tabur, tamgha, yaqa

  44. i dont know about that ‘siraat’ coming from strata. and since the word was used in the quran before the arabs had any real interaction with the romans. the word was not strange to arabs, so one can assume that the word was in common use, and the only contact was through merchants to the syria/lebanon regions. unlike the above notion of the ‘empire’ ideas taken from the romans.
    street/road in arabic is “tareeq”

  45. also may want to mention in regards to qasr being from castrum then why would spanish, a latin language, take the word al-qasr from arabic into the spanish language as ‘alcazar’.

  46. Because that’s what was available at the time. During the Moorish period Spaniards were saturated with Arabic and borrowed what they heard around them. English borrowed war from French even though it’s originally Germanic.

  47. Bergstraesser in his Introduction to Semitic Languages in a footnote to his analysis of the Arabic of the opening chapter of the Koran mentions the origin of SiraaT as STRATA.
    In his work “The patterning of Semitic Root Morphemes” , Greenberg observes that no more than one emphatic consonant can occur in a native Semitic root. SiraaT has two: Sad and Tah.
    Etymologies like French abricot via Spanish albaricoque from Arabic al-barquq from Latin praecoquium (praecox, coquo) show that Spanish also borrows from Arabic, even when the Arabic words are Latin borrowings.
    The Arab lands were well within the Roman domain. See Bowersock, Roman Arabia or the recent dissertation about the Eastern limes of the Roman empire “Roms orientalische Steppengrenze” by Michael Sommer, in which Hatra in Central Iraq is identified as a Aramaic-Arabic entity in the second century CE. By the time Islam emerges, the Romans had already receded.

  48. Regarding the word “thakiye”, this is a typo indeed. The correct Turkish word is “tahkiye”. I’m sure this was a typo.
    Both Turkish hikaye (Hikaaye) story and turkish tahkiye (taHkiya) “narration” are associated with the same old Arabic root [Hke]: the reference verb /Hakaa/ means “to tell a story” ([e] stands for the morphophonological alternation between /y/ and /aa/).
    The model for this borrowing, the Arabic word /taHkiye/, has no currency in Modern Arabic, hence the erroneous assumption on this list that it should have been /ta’riix/ (which comes from a totally different root ['rx]).
    This confusion may serve to illustrate that Turkish words that appear to be Arabic borrowings are in fact PERSIAN borrowings. Persian, of course, in turn borrowed these words from Arabic. However, the time of these borrowings is well over a millenium ago and the place of course the location of the Turks at that time: Central Asia, no where near Arabs. Such borrowings preserve an earlier phase of the source language Arabic: vocabulary,meaning, usage and sound differ slightly, and sometimes even considerably. On top of that, all the sounds have been distorted by (or, rather, rounded off to the nearest match in) Persian.
    Similar to Turkish tahkiye, with no connection with Modern Arabic, is the widespread term for “thanks”: te?ekkür (teshekkur) in Turkish and Persian. Modern Arabic uses shukra-n in such instances. In spite of the vicinity of Turkey to the Arab countries and in spite of its centuries long domination over them, hardly a word of Arabic was absorbed directly from the Arabs. In no Turkish area will one hear the casual use of a term like “?ükren ” (which is the form it would have taken – the learned term ?ükran being derived from shukraan not shukra-n).
    It took me quite a while to realize that there are no recent borrowings from actual spoken Arabic in Turkish. I know both languages reasonably well, and came to the conclusion that regarding Arabic-Turkish, the relations are a unidirectional affair.
    Some more Turkish words in Arabic: zangiil (from zengin) “rich”, shaawirma (from çevirme) “shoarma”, finjaal (from fincan) “glass cup”, kuubrii (from köprü) “bridge”, shawush (from çavu?) “sergeant”, etc. etc.
    NB – a language list would do well to enable Unicode: it proved impossible to post correct Turkish, let alone Arabic!

  49. Wow, that’s fascinating. I’m glad you keep coming by with these nuggets. But I’m not sure why you’re having a hard time posting Unicode characters, which are indeed enabled.
    العربية
    Çevirme işleminin sağlıklı bir şekilde yapılabilmesi için öncelikle çevrilmesini istediğiniz takvim türünü seçmelisiniz.
    See?

  50. Sitirange.
    In the edit box the ??????? looks OK, but once posted it’s all rubbish:
    Çevirme i?leminin sa?l?kl? bir ?ekilde yap?labilmesi için öncelikle çevrilmesini istedi?iniz takvim türünü seçmelisiniz.
    t

  51. Very strange. Can you see my Arabic and Turkish in the comment before yours?

  52. Yes I could. I justed pasted your text back in using Safari. In the edit or “Comments” box it looks all right.

  53. In his work “The patterning of Semitic Root Morphemes” , Greenberg observes that no more than one emphatic consonant can occur in a native Semitic root. SiraaT has two: Sad and Tah.
    thats interesting , and if that is true, then there are hundreds of words taken from other languages. these words are not new either.

  54. While looking for something entirely different on eBay, I found a link to http://www.laneslexicon.co.uk/, where you can download scans of (a Lebanese printing of) Lane’s Lexicon as eight huge PDF files. An OCR was done, so English word search kinda works. Obviously the interface is not as nice as the CD-ROM and pictures take five times as much space, but the price is right. Apparently one can also get it on DVD for USD5 or maybe free.
    The same site also has the Qur’an indexed by roots. I did not see how one could download this in bulk, yet.
    Of course, I never found all this when I actually went looking for it online some time ago.

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