Lameen Souag at Jabal al-Lughat posts infrequently, but it’s always worth reading. Last month I meant to blog his post comparing the traditional (but probably erroneous) etymology of Istanbul < Greek εις την Πόλιν, pronounced /istimbóli(n)/ and meaning 'to the City,' with

‘usquuf, “bishop” in Arabic, which apparently derives from a Coptic reinterpretation of Greek episkopos “bishop” as e-pi-skopos “to the skopos“, due to which skopos was reanalyzed as meaning “bishop”.

I am unqualified to judge the validity of the latter etymology, but it’s certainly interesting.
And this month he has a post about one of the easternmost outposts of Berber, El-Fogaha (الفقهة) in central Libya, where some archaic Berber words are retained and there are some interesting phonological developments.

On Istanbul, the more commonly accepted explanation these days is that it’s derived directly from the Greek name Konstantinopolis, but as Pospelov says, there’s no actual evidence, and the forms are too divergent to allow us to simply assume the change. (The artificial Turkish form Islambol ‘filled with Islam’ is simply a folk etymology.)


  1. I don’t know about this particular case, but the proposed reanalysis is quite plausible. A neat example of the type is the Coptic reanalysis of Greek thalassa “ocean”, with an aspirated [t], as -hallassa, which is the stem that underlies Coptic thalassa “the ocean”, uhalassa “an ocean”, etc. (In Coptic /t/ is the feminine singular definite article, /p/ the masculine singular.)
    The coolest example, in my opinion, is the Coptic reanalysis of the NATIVE word for “king”, which I have discussed at
    This example, like “bishop”, involves the reinterpretation of the /p/ of a stem as the masculine singular definite article.

  2. Hello, I am Julia from HK. You look like an expert on language. Do you know anything about Allomorps? I have a question I would like to ask. I hope you can help.
    from Julia

  3. Pls read the question in my blog.
    from Julia

  4. Julia: That’s a difficult and perhaps not very well phrased question:
    “Consider the bold italicized words in the following sentences carefully and describe the factor that conditions the distribution of the allomorphs of these words with reference to morphophonology.”
    I think what they’re talking about is the allomorphs of the plural morpheme (not “of these words”); for instance, in the first:
    a) The fisherman caught a lot of trout.
    the plural morpheme has the zero allomorph, which is common with names of fish and animals.
    I don’t normally answer people’s homework questions, but this was such a tough one I thought I’d give you a little help. Good luck!

  5. Here, you can get back at your teacher with this question, which I’m pretty sure he or she won’t know the answer to: what is the plural of “vas deferens”? You can look it up in your dictionary beforehand.
    Hint to other readers who want to take a guess: each part of the phrase has its own weird Latin plural!

  6. Quibble on the “plural morpheme has the zero allomorph, which is common with names of fish and animals” – that is one explanantion, but sometimes they show up as mass nouns.
    People say both
    “There’s a lot of bear up there”
    There are lots of bear up there.”
    They only say
    “The salmon are running.”
    *”The salmon is running.”
    (Although here they would rarely ever just say ‘salmon’ but would use the name of whatever species it happened to be.)
    Why would animal names get this special treatment? Because they refer to food, and therefore a mass noun works? But then why don’t we ever do that with clams and oysters?

  7. I would never have guessed the plural of “vas”.

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