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Semitic s-y-f & Xiphos

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages and Linguistics (EHL)' started by Abu Rashid, Sep 3, 2012.

  1. Abu Rashid

    Abu Rashid Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Australian English
    The wikipedia article on scimitars states that the Arabic word sayf (sword) is actually a loan from Greek xiphos.

    As the word appears in several Semitic languages including Arabic, Aramaic, Ge'ez and other Ethiopic languages this seems unlikely (as Leslau points out in his Comparative dictionary of Ge'ez), does anyone know what the basis of the claim for a Greek origin is?
     
  2. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    That's not what they say. The claim is that ξίφος and سيف are cognate, not that the Arabic word is a loan from Greek. Here are references to two older learned opinions (Of Proto-Semitic origin or a Sea People/Libyan word). The Wikipedia article concludes is is a "Wanderwort of the eastern Mediterranean, of unknown ultimate origin".
     
  3. Abu Rashid

    Abu Rashid Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Australian English
    Thanks berndf,

    There are two conflicting claims in the article.

    1) "but the Arabic term saif is a loan from Greek xiphos"

    2) "
    The Arabic word is ultimately cognate with the ancient Greek xiphos, but it is not necessarily a direct loan from the Greek"

    If the word exists in 3 different Semitic languages, and yet only in one IE language, wouldn't that tend to suggest the IE language borrowed it from one of the Semitic languages? Also in the Ethiopic languages, there seems to be a verbal root usage of 'sayafa' meaning to cut, which suggests an origin in these languages.
     
  4. eamp Junior Member

    Vienna
    German (Austria)
    There exists an Mycenaean attestation of this word apparently as qi-si-pe-e /kwsiphehe/ dual "two swords".
    This word is unlikely to be Indo-European, but a direct loan from Semitic seems impossible, where would the initial labiovelar be from? Also, less importantly, I wonder why it is an s-stem in Greek? If these words are related there must be at least one other unknown language involved, either as ultimate origin or transmitting from Semitic to Greek, changing the word significantly in the process.
     
  5. apmoy70 Senior Member

    Greek
    Hesychius claims that the earliest attested name for it in Greek, was «σκίφος» 'skiphos. If that is a given, then is the Mycenaean labiovelar [q] in the Mycenaean *qi-si-pe-e explicable, since the clusters [sk] & [sx] were not represented in Linear B? (e.g. «σχοῖνος» (cord, rope) is written as *ko-no)
     
  6. Perseas Senior Member

    Athen
    Griechisch
    Just like to add that the Mycenaean qi-si-pe-e (mentioned in the former posts) is likely to be a cognate with the Osset. äxsirf (=scythe/sickle), which belongs to the Iranian family and probably comes from the IE *qsibh-ro-.
     
  7. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    I suggest you correct this then.:) The first claim is clearly not tenable. It is much to bold.
    Possible. But this would also be compatible with the other theory I quoted above (Sea People/Libyan). Source.
     
  8. arbelyoni Senior Member

    Hebrew
    Also in Hebrew: סַיִף (sayif)
     
  9. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    But this is most certainly a loan (should be from Arabic) as we don't find it in Biblical Hebrew.
     
  10. arbelyoni Senior Member

    Hebrew
    You're right... It is probably a loanword from Aramaic (not Arabic, as it is found in Mishnaic Hebrew).
     
  11. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    Do you have a reference for Mishnaic Hebrew? ... Or for Aramaic, for that matter?
     
  12. arbelyoni Senior Member

    Hebrew
    Yes, it is actually quite prevalent in the Talmud.
     
  13. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    The earliest Aramaic attestation is saypā in the Syriac translation of the Old Testament. Then it occurs in Jewish Babylonian Aramaic and in Mandaic (it is in the standard dictionaries by Brockelmann, Sokoloff and Macuch/Driver). Arabic sayf is probably borrowed from Aramaic (Fraenkel said this a long time ago), and the Ge’ez and other Ethiopic forms are presumably borrowed from Arabic.

    Beekes, in his Greek Etymological Dictionary, calls ξίφος “Pre-Greek”, that is to say: one of a large number of Greek words inherited from the non-Indo-European language spoken in the Aegean basin before the arrival of the Hellenes, and he adduces weighty arguments based on the Mycenaean form. I think there is no compelling reason to reject the possibility that the Aramaic word is borrowed from the Greek, though I would stop short of calling it a certainty. The cited Egyptian form could possibly be the source of the Pre-Greek word.
     
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2012
  14. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    æхсырф is isolated in Iranian and has no other cognate in IE. The similarity with the Greek word is probably fortuitous.
     
  15. Abu Rashid

    Abu Rashid Senior Member

    Melbourne, Australia
    Australian English
    Given the verb sayafa (to cut) in the Ethiopic languages, it seems more likely it would have run the other way. It's not unheard of for a nominal verb to derived from a loaned noun, but in this case it seems more likely the borrowing went south to north.
     
  16. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    Thank you for the exhaustive answer. It seems that the description in the Wikipedia article
    The Arabic word is ultimately cognate with the ancient Greek xiphos, but it is not necessarily a direct loan from the Greek, it may have entered Arabic from another source, as both saif and xiphos go back to an old (Bronze Age) Wanderwort of the eastern Mediterranean, of unknown ultimate origin.
    summarizes the situation quite accurately.

    Concerning the relation between the Aramaic/Mishnaic Hebrew and Arabic versions of the word, it might be important to note that the word occurs quite late in Aramaic/Mishnaic Hebrew. If I haven't missed anything, all occurrences in the Talmud provided by arbelyoni are not from the Mishna but from the Gemara which is several centuries younger. In those days (3rd to 5th centuries AD) while Aramaic was still the lingua franca of the region, large parts (modern Jordan, parts of Modern Iraq and Syria) where already inhabited by Arabic speaking tribes. Co-occurrence of the word in Aramaic and Arabic does not necessarily mean that the Arabic word was borrowed from Aramaic, it could equally well be the other way round.
     
  17. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    If the verbal root exists only in Ethiopic languages and no other Semitic languages then it seems much more likely that the verb developed out of the noun and not the other way round.
     
  18. sotos Senior Member

    Greek
    The "sea people" were probably from the Aegean or Crete. The word is not isolated in Greek, as some fella posted, but is related to root ξυ- (scratch, raze) from which > ξυρόν (razor, blade) with many derivatives. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper...habetic+letter=*c:entry+group=9:entry=curo/n1

    If it was a loan from a semitic sa- or sy- etc, the Greeks wouldn't add a "k" in the beginning, because the "s" as initial in Gr. is most common, while the "ks/x" is rather unusual.
     
  19. Dhira Simha Senior Member

    UK
    Russian
    From the Slavonic perspective I would also mention šíр "needle, thorn, arrow" which also does not have a reliable etymology and could be related here. And the Skr (Rig-Vedic) kṣip "to strike or hit (with a weapon)" which, is interesting because it exactly conveyes the action of a sword.
     
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2012
  20. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    If you want to propose an etymology you need to explain all the letters, not just one. ξίφος and ξυρόν have exactly one letter in common.
     
  21. apmoy70 Senior Member

    Greek
    ...please also consider that the earlieast form of the word is skiphos > ksiphos
     
  22. Perseas Senior Member

    Athen
    Griechisch
  23. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    Gaisford's dictionary is from 1848, a time when virtually nothing was known about Indo-European languages. If you are going to look in a dictionary look in a modern one. We are a little bit wiser now than 150 years ago.
     
  24. Perseas Senior Member

    Athen
    Griechisch
    In principle that's a wrong approach. You could confute his proposals providing specific proofs against them which are absent.
     
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2012
  25. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    Anyway, your links are not to Gaisford, but to Liddel and Scott, who make it clear that ξύφος was in fact invented ("coined") by Gaisford.
     
  26. sotos Senior Member

    Greek
    If skifos is attested in Hesychius, it is a fringe/"hellenobarbaric" dialectal word and not anything close to the original. L-S also characterises it as "dialectal form of xiphos".
    The etymology from ξυω is found in many old dictionaries. From ξυω>ξυρόν, which I mentioned in the 1st page. The difference between ι and υ is of minor importance for an ancient pre-alphabet word. For the -r- in the place of -ph- compare to L. sapor (juice) - Gr. σηρός. - serum.
    I propose that the knife could be cognate to ksiphos. The first is probably cognate to the Gr. kna- (scrape) http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper...habetic+letter=*k:entry+group=131:entry=kna/w
    For "kn" corresponding to "x" compare with pugna - πυξ, magn-/max-, rex/regn-, and even for "gm-chm" to "x" see αυξ-/augm- (increase), αυχμηρός - ξηρός (dry),
     
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2012
  27. origumi Senior Member

    Hebrew
    סיף s-y-f does appear in the Mishnah, therefore 2nd century or earlier.

    See for example Sanhedrin 7:3 מצות הנהרגין: היו מתיזין את ראשו בסיף, כדרך שהמלכות עושה or Shabbat 6:4 לא ייצא האיש לא בסיף, ולא בקשת, ולא בתריס, ולא באלה, ולא ברומח.
     
  28. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    This does not actually affect our question in any way. The fact remains that s-y-p "sword" is not attested in Semitic before the Roman period.
     
  29. mataripis Senior Member

    Qi si pe e of Mycanean is closer to Kampit(knife) and sundang(sword) of Tagalog.
     
  30. origumi Senior Member

    Hebrew
    It is certainly relevant to the following (by berndf): Co-occurrence of the word in Aramaic and Arabic does not necessarily mean that the Arabic word was borrowed from Aramaic, it could equally well be the other way round.

    The discussion is in part about the direction of borrowing inside the Semitic language family - Aramaic to Arabic or Arabic to Aramaic (no question that Hebrew took it from Aramaic). If we could show that it comes from Arabic, and much earlier than 2nd century AD, it's less likely to be of Greek origin. The fact that s-y-f appears in 1nd-2nd century Hebrew supports Aramaic rather than Arabic.
     
  31. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    I do not disagree with any of this. My point is only that the common noun s-y-p is not attested in Semitic before the Roman period and that a borrowing from Greek to Aramaic (and then to Arabic) is not intrinsically implausible. (The oldest strata of the Mishna are probably not older, or not significantly older, than the Pshitta of the Pentateuch, mentioned in no. 13.) If we really want to trace the word far back into the pre-Christian era, then we ought to look more closely at the Egyptian evidence.
     
  32. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    And neither is Greek->Arabic->Aramaic. This was my point on which Origumi elaborated.
    The Mishna is several centuries older than the Gemara. The Mishna was written in Roman occupied Judea and the Gemara in somewhere in Mesopotamia (called "Babylon" in Jewish tradition of the time) under Sassanid rule.
    This matters for the plausibility of the direction Arabic->Aramaic.
     
    Last edited: Sep 6, 2012

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