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Thread: Etymology of Arabic ʿankabūt عنكبوت (spider) and some loans

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    Etymology of Arabic ʿankabūt عنكبوت (spider) and some loans

    What do you think of عنكبوت ʿankabūt (spider) being derived from the Greek oktopod (eight-footed)? The Arabic version looks like an exact transliteration of its Greek counterpart, except for the shift from /-kt-/ to /-nk-/. I find it quite logical, but sort of problematic, for the word seems to be well-integrated into Classical Arabic, hence it appears in the Quran.

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    Re: Etymology of Arabic ʿankabūt (spider) and some loans

    In Biblical Hebrew (Isaiah, Job, and also in modern Hebrew) the word is akkabish, in Aramaic it's akkabit or akkubit. All start with letter Ayin. Therefore my guess is Semitic (pre-Greek) origin, even if originally taken from a non-Semitic language. Some say the Arabic word is borrowed from Aramaic, for example: http://biblesuite.com/hebrew/5908.htm, while the Hebrew / Aramaic word is "of uncertain origin". Being the name of the 29th sura, the word indeed must have been strongly established in the Quran time.
    Last edited by origumi; 28th December 2012 at 9:54 AM.

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    Re: Etymology of Arabic ʿankabūt (spider) and some loans

    Quote Originally Posted by origumi View Post
    In Biblical Hebrew (Isaiah, Job, and also in modern Hebrew) the word is akkabish, in Aramaic it's akkabit or akkubit. All start with letter Ayin. Therefore my guess is Semitic (pre-Greek) origin, even if originally taken from a non-Semitic language. Some say the Arabic word is borrowed from Aramaic, for example: http://biblesuite.com/hebrew/5908.htm, while the Hebrew / Aramaic word is "of uncertain origin". Being the name of the 29th sura, the word indeed must have been strongly established in the Quran time.
    It's an interesting word to consider because the Hebrew shin / Aramaic taw, would suggest the last letter would've originally been tha, and should still be in Arabic. This would suggest Arabic borrowing from Aramaic. However, due to the noon in Arabic, it seems like either a) Arabic did not borrow it from Aramaic, or b) Arabic borrowed it a very long time ago before Aramaic began to assimilate the noon saakin (noon with a stop on it).

    Something also to keep in mind is that the Arabic plural عناكب suggests the final letter is not actually part of the word but some kind of an appendage (of what kind I'm not sure).

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    Re: Etymology of Arabic ʿankabūt (spider) and some loans

    Quote Originally Posted by Abu Rashid View Post
    It's an interesting word to consider because the Hebrew shin / Aramaic taw, would suggest the last letter would've originally been tha, and should still be in Arabic.
    I assumed so too (even wrote it) but then saw an alternative spelling with "th" (so erased).
    http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/...?Strongs=H5908

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    Re: Etymology of Arabic ʿankabūt (spider) and some loans

    The spelling with ث in the English translation of Gesenius (first ed.) is wrong. Outside of Arabic, this word is attested in Hebrew as ʻakkābīš and in Targumic Aramaic as ʻkbytʼ and ʻkwbytʼ, as has been noted by Origumi. Arabic ʻankabūt seems to be borrowed from an (unattested) Aramaic form with the typical Babylonian Aramaic dissimilation of –kk- to –nk-, and with the feminine ending –ūtā instead of -ītā.

    To Abu Rashid’s astute note I would add that, as a general rule, Arabic nouns with more than 4 consonants form broken plurals from the first 4 consonants only. E.g., the Iranian loanword fihrist has the plural fahāris.

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    Re: Etymology of Arabic ʿankabūt (spider) and some loans

    Thank you for your replies.
    I do not think that listing other Semitic cognates of a this word can prove otherwise, because 1) of its significant resemblance to the Greek origin; 2) there are several cognates for عنكبوت ʿankabūt within the Arabic language itself (عنكب ʿankab, عنكبة ʿankabaʾ, عنكباة ʿankabāh, عنكباء ʿankabāʾ, عنكبوّة ʿankabūwa). The loss of one consonat in the plural is nothing special and is being observed with nearly all multiconsonantal words whose plurals just need to fit a certain plural pattern (عناكب ʿanākib, عناكيب ʿanākīb, عنكبوتات ʿankabūtāt, عناكبيت ʿanākabīt, عِكاب ʿikāb, عُكُب ʿukub, أعْكُب ʾaʿkub, أعْكَب ʾaʿkab). See Lane's dictionary.

    As for the loanwords mentioned in the title of this thread, I will open a new thread soon.

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    Re: Etymology of Arabic ʿankabūt (spider) and some loans

    If I may add, as a native Greek speaker, the problem with your hypothesis is that Greeks have never associated the name octopod/octapous with spider; yes, it's true the arthropod critter is eight-legged but it has always been called «ἀράχνη» ă'răxnē, [a'raxni] in MG pronunciation (cf. arachnoid, arachnophobia etc) and never octapous (the ancients even constructed a myth -the myth of the weaver Arachne- trying to explain why spiders weave webs)
    Les Grecs sont étonnants dans l'adversité - François Pouqueville

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    Re: Etymology of Arabic ʿankabūt (spider) and some loans

    The Semitic parallels show one thing at least: ـنـ is not merely an inner-Arabic scribal error for ـتـ , as you seem to suggest in the original query. There is no –t- in the other Semitic forms.

    The second problem with your hypothesis is the proposed representation of Greek –d by Arabic –t. I think you will have trouble finding any parallel for this.

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    Re: Etymology of Arabic ʿankabūt (spider) and some loans

    Some nations have always been quite inventive when it comes to creating new vocabulary out of a language they do not have command of, but which is omnipresent around them for cultural or political reasons. For instance, have a look at the German word for "mobile phone": "das Handy" (looks like an English word, but is made up out of the German word for "hand" - die Hand, in analogy to the English adjective "handy". Also, there is the Turkish word for "school": okul, which was constructed through the stem of the Turkish verb "oku-mak" (to read, learn, study) + /-L/ in resemblance to the French word for "school" (école). As for the Arabs, they do have the word فكرلوجيا (fikrulūǧīya) in addition to إيديولوجيا (īdiyūlūǧīya). Or look at all the modern (e.g. homophobia) medical terms (e.g. tyrosine-kinase inhibitor) that are nearly invariably Latin and/or Greek and were never uttered by ancient tongues, not even borrowed from them, but simply invented by western individuals who think that these terms have to be in Latin/Greek.

    Having all this in mind, I am pretty sure, that there is likeliness to find more than one word in the entire Arabic language that was invented by the Arabs themselves in a similar fashion.

    For Greek /t/ to Arabic /d/: إراديون ʾirādiyūn from ιερατειον (sanctuary)
    For /d/ to /t/ + /t/ to /d/: متريدس matrīdis from ἀρχιμανδρίτης archimandrites (archimandrite)
    For /d/ to /t/, /ṯ/, and /ṭ/: أكاتستون ʾakātistūn, أكاتسطون ʾakātisṭūn, أكاثستون ʾakāṯistūn, أكاطستون ʾakāṭistūn from αχάδιστος (Akathist Hymn)
    For /d/ to /ṯ/: أناثيما ʾanaṯīma from ανάδεμα

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    Re: Etymology of Arabic ʿankabūt (spider) and some loans

    Interesting, but I am not convinced. These words all belong to specialised Melchite-Christian technical vocabulary, whereas ʻankabūt is real living Arabic? Or am I wrong? And the last one is actually ἀνάθεμα, is it not?

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    Re: Etymology of Arabic ʿankabūt (spider) and some loans

    I am aware, that this cannot be considered as totally convincing material at all.
    The last one should probably be spelled ἀνάθεμα, you're right.
    But the book that I cited from, spelled it ανάδεμα.
    Feel free to download the book from my own website:
    arabicum.net/ar-kirchentermini-1.pdf
    arabicum.net/ar-kirchentermini-2.pdf

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    Re: Etymology of Arabic ʿankabūt (spider) and some loans

    No, Graf spells it correctly (with ϑ not δ).

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    Re: Etymology of Arabic ʿankabūt (spider) and some loans

    Quote Originally Posted by Daybreaker View Post
    I do not think that listing other Semitic cognates of a this word can prove otherwise
    The existence of these cognates in other Semitic languages show us that the term existed prior to the Greek cultural influence on the region. Also the fact that the regular assimilation of the 'n' with a stop on it in Hebrew & Aramaic, whilst being retained in Arabic seems to exist in the word, suggests it's been in use in these languages for quite a long time.

    Quote Originally Posted by Daybreaker View Post
    1) of its significant resemblance to the Greek origin;
    This is the point I find the strangest in your arguments. The two words do not resemble one another at all.

    This is how the Greek letters usually correspond to Arabic:

    ο = ع
    κ = ك
    τ = ت
    ώ = و
    π = ف
    ό = ع
    δ = د

    Quote Originally Posted by Daybreaker View Post
    2) there are several cognates for عنكبوت ʿankabūt within the Arabic language itself (عنكب ʿankab, عنكبة ʿankabaʾ, عنكباة ʿankabāh, عنكباء ʿankabāʾ, عنكبوّة ʿankabūwa).
    And still none of them resemble your Greek claim.

    There is a certain tendency towards a very Euro-Centric position when it comes to claiming loanwords in Semitic languages, and in Arabic in particular. Some of them are plausible, others like this are about as valid as the kinds of etymologies we find from Edenics enthusiasts. Just because something looks somewhat similar to you does not indicate a borrowing.

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    Re: Etymology of Arabic ʿankabūt (spider) and some loans

    Quote Originally Posted by Daybreaker View Post
    Some nations have always been quite inventive when it comes to creating new vocabulary out of a language they do not have command of, but which is omnipresent around them for cultural or political reasons.

    Having all this in mind, I am pretty sure, that there is likeliness to find more than one word in the entire Arabic language that was invented by the Arabs themselves in a similar fashion.
    If this word were coined during the Abbasid period, this might hold. As Arab scientists were coining many words based on their extensive understanding of Greek language and culture. But this word clearly existed in various Semitic languages 1500+ years prior to this period. At that time, Arabs, and other Semites would've had very little understanding of Greek. They may have picked up a word in common currency amongst Greek speakers themselves, but it's highly unlikely they would've been coining new Greek words, especially to name something like a spider.

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    Re: Etymology of Arabic ʿankabūt (spider) and some loans

    Thanks a lot, Abu Rashid. I am really keen on posts like yours.

    You are definitely right in saying that resemblance/similarity alone is not a proof for borrowing or genetic relationship. Those are called false friends, I know. But in terms of historical facts, that's where I must admit some lack of knowledge. Btw, I'm afraid I don't get your chart right. No prob.

    On the other hand, even as-Suyūṭi in المزهر في علوم اللغة العربية al-Muzhir fī ʿulūm al-luġa al-ʿarabīya stated:
    "(The tribes) Taġlab and al-Yaman were neighbors to the Greeks on the (Arabian Pen)insula."
    وتغلب واليمن كانوا بالجزيرة مجاورين لليونان

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    Re: Etymology of Arabic ʿankabūt (spider) and some loans

    Quote Originally Posted by fdb View Post
    No, Graf spells it correctly (with ϑ not δ).
    It may be that I mixed up the two Greek letters.

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    Re: Etymology of Arabic ʿankabūt (spider) and some loans

    Quote Originally Posted by Daybreaker View Post
    Thanks a lot, Abu Rashid. I am really keen on posts like yours.
    The insistence of some that such and such an Arabic word _must_ have a Greek or Latin origin becomes tiresome after a while. What you are experiencing here is my impatience with such positions. If you don't like that, then exert a little more effort in the path of trying to understand the way words develop historically, instead of insisting it must be so, simply because to your eye they look similar.

    Quote Originally Posted by Daybreaker View Post
    Btw, I'm afraid I don't get your chart right. No prob.
    The point of the chart is to demonstrate that the only letter which matches up properly is the first one. The rest are a stretch to try and make them match up. When you need to stretch all but one letter to try and make them match up, then the resemblance is really not all that convincing is it? That's my point.

    Quote Originally Posted by Daybreaker View Post
    On the other hand, even as-Suyūṭi in المزهر في علوم اللغة العربية al-Muzhir fī ʿulūm al-luġa al-ʿarabīya stated:
    "(The tribes) Taġlab and al-Yaman were neighbors to the Greeks on the (Arabian Pen)insula."
    وتغلب واليمن كانوا بالجزيرة مجاورين لليونان
    Being neighbours is one thing. Coining new words in their language then borrowing them into your language is another. I agree this kind of thing potentially could've occurred during the Abbasid period, due to the massive absorption of Greek terminology, and the scholarly level of those introducing these terms.

    Also as already mentioned the word seems to have come into Arabic via Aramaic. It also seems to have existed in Hebrew & Aramaic at a time before they had merged the phoneme /θ/, which in Aramaic became /t/ and in Hebrew became /ʃ/, but in Arabic remained as /θ/ (which is why it's most likely Arabic borrowed it from Aramaic). This would explain the phonology of the word in all 3 Semitic languages perfectly. Which indicates it probably came into Hebrew & Aramaic sometime around 750 B.C or before, and then was borrowed from Aramaic into Arabic around 250 B.C or any time from then up until the Islamic period, at which time we find it in its current form.

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    Re: Etymology of Arabic ʿankabūt (spider) and some loans

    Quote Originally Posted by Daybreaker View Post
    On the other hand, even as-Suyūṭi in المزهر في علوم اللغة العربية al-Muzhir fī ʿulūm al-luġa al-ʿarabīya stated:
    "(The tribes) Taġlab and al-Yaman were neighbors to the Greeks on the (Arabian Pen)insula."
    وتغلب واليمن كانوا بالجزيرة مجاورين لليونان
    An interesting quotation, but I think it shows only that as-Suyūṭī had no idea of historical geography. You will not find al-Hamdānī claiming that Yemen is next door to Greece.

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    Re: Etymology of Arabic ʿankabūt (spider) and some loans

    Quote Originally Posted by fdb View Post
    An interesting quotation, but I think it shows only that as-Suyūṭī had no idea of historical geography. You will not find al-Hamdānī claiming that Yemen is next door to Greece.
    You seemingly overreact here. He just meant the two tribes that used to have their dwellings close to Greeks, not the region called "Yemen".

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    Re: Etymology of Arabic ʿankabūt (spider) and some loans

    Quote Originally Posted by fdb View Post
    An interesting quotation, but I think it shows only that as-Suyūṭī had no idea of historical geography. You will not find al-Hamdānī claiming that Yemen is next door to Greece.
    Greeks and ancient Yemenis did live side by side, and influence on one another's languages is well established.

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