ageláda (αγελάδα) & eglah (עֶגְלָה)

Apollodorus

Senior Member
English UK
ageláda (αγελάδα) & eglah (עֶגְלָה)

Greek ageláda (αγελάδα), “cow” seems to be from agélē (ἀγέλη), “herd”, “group” from ágō (ἄγω), “to lead”.

Hebrew eglah (עֶגְלָה), “(young) cow” seems to be from 'agal (עגל), “to go in circles” (?).

The two are strangely similar. Is there any connection between them?
 
  • Abaye

    Senior Member
    Hebrew
    Cognates of Hebrew עֵגֶל (calf), for example Arabic عِجْل (calf), Ethiopian እጕል (calf, young animal), maybe Akkadian 𒀲𒅇 (hinny), hint that the word is much older than Hebrew. Etymology like "rolling or circling about" was suggested in the past but doesn't seem established, and anyway doesn't specifically support relation to Greek ἄγω and therefore PIE *h₂eǵ- (to lead, drive). They share inherently only "g" (ADDED: unless we take PIE H2 as equivalent to Semitic Ayin, and then *ʕigl- and *h₂eǵ- share ayin and "g").

    Reconstruction:Proto-West Semitic/ʕigl- - Wiktionary
    Strong's Hebrew: 5695. עֵ֫גֶל (egel) -- a calf
     
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    Apollodorus

    Senior Member
    English UK
    ... maybe Akkadian 𒀲𒅇 (hinny), hint that the word is much older than Hebrew. Etymology like "rolling or circling about" was suggested in the past but doesn't seem established ...
    I agree. Considering that cows (domesticated cattle) have been around since about 8000 BC, there must have been a word for “cow” long before the emergence of historically attested languages like Hebrew.

    If wild cattle (aurochs) were first domesticated in Mesopotamia, which is close to the places of origin of both Indo-European and Semitic languages, there may have been a word for “cow” that was shared by both language groups. Hence Sumerian gu, “ox”, Proto-Indo-European (PIE) *gwou-, “ox, cow”, possibly imitative of a cow’s lowing, which sounds like a more plausible etymology than "rolling or circling about".

    Greek ageláda would then seem to be derived from agélē, “herd”, “group” in the sense of “ox/cow living in a herd” (Babiniotis, Etymological Dictionary of the Modern Greek Language):

    “… they sacrificed fat hogs and an ox/cow from the herd (boûn agelaíen, βοῦν ἀγελαίην)” (Homer, Odyssey 17.181).

    So, the g- connection may be with Proto-Hellenic *gʷous (cf. Mycenaean Greek qo-o) > Ancient Greek boûs (βοῦς), from PIE *gʷṓws - and indirectly with ageláda.
     

    Abaye

    Senior Member
    Hebrew
    In the first post you suggested a Greek origin that is derived from one PIE word, in the second post you suggested another PIE origin.

    In the first post you suggested one etymology for the Semitic word, in the second post you suggested another.

    This guesswork is confusing.
     

    Apollodorus

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Well, I don’t think suggesting two or more possibilities is necessarily “confusing”. The formula “word w may be from word/root x or y” is used by etymologists frequently enough.

    Besides, the suggestion in the OP wasn’t actually mine, it’s from Wiktionary:

    “αγελάδα (ageláda) a cow, from Ancient Greek ἀγελάς (agelás), from ἀγέλη (agélē).

    ἀγέλη (agélē) herd, from ἄγω (ágō, “to lead”).

    Likewise, the connection of eglah with “going around in circles”, “rolling”, “circling about” or “frisking about” is from Brown-Driver-Briggs and Strong’s Concordance, as referenced, again, by Wiktionary.

    As ageláda ultimately refers to an animal described by the more general term boûs (βοῦς) which according to Wiktionary is from Proto-Hellenic *gʷous, from Proto-Indo-European *gʷṓws and the latter according to Online Etymological Dictionary is “perhaps ultimately imitative of lowing”, I gave this as an example of more plausible etymology than the derivation of Hebrew eglah from “going around in circles”, etc.

    Otherwise said, deriving boûs/gʷous from the sound made by cattle seems more plausible than deriving eglah from “going around in circles”. Though, of course, anything is possible.

    In etymology, especially as regards ancient languages, there isn’t always hard evidence so, much of it boils down to hypothesis or "guesswork". That’s why you’ll find that etymological dictionaries are full of terms like “perhaps”, “may be”, “probably”, “doubtful”, “alternatively”, etc.

    Anyway, from what I see, both of us having rejected "rolling or circling about", we still haven't got an irrefutable etymology for eglah .... 🙂
     
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    Abaye

    Senior Member
    Hebrew
    Many Semitic domestic animal names have no known etymology in the sense of tracing back a triconsonantal root or a specific basic meaning. When these names belong to proto-Semitic thus were formed many millennia ago, finding an etymology may become mission impossible.

    The seemingly transparent PIE etymology of the Greek word we discuss makes it improbable to be a cognate of the proto-Semitic word.
     

    Apollodorus

    Senior Member
    English UK
    The way I see it, one problem with etymological dictionaries is that they claim that a word (probably/perhaps) is derived from an earlier word, but they provide no details as to how that conclusion was arrived at. Unless readers take the time to go through all the relevant literature, they tend to be left in the dark.

    For example, Modern Greek ageláda (αγελάδα), “cow”, is said to be from Ancient Greek agélē (ἀγέλη), “herd, group” and agélē from ágō (ἄγω), “to lead”. But while it may make sense for “cow” to come from “herd, group”, it is unclear how the noun “herd, group” is derived from the verb “to lead/drive”. Is “herd, group” defined as a gathering of animals that is being led/ driven, i.e. “a drove”? If so, this should be clearly stated and backed up by evidence. Unfortunately, sooner or later we come across the formulaic "perhaps", again.

    The same applies to Hebrew eglah (עֶגְלָה). It is said to be “from Proto-West Semitic *ʕigl-“. But *ʕigl- is (a) a reconstruction and (b) is said to be “perhaps of Proto-Semitic origin if related to Akkadian aggalu, “hinny””, etc. So, in addition to being a hypothetical reconstruction, it is further qualified by the adverb “perhaps” which indicates uncertainty and by the conjunction “if” which indicates a condition or supposition.

    In other words, this etymology can be nothing more than a hypothesis. The Wiktionary page itself states:

    “The term(s) in this entry are not directly attested, but are hypothesized to have existed based on comparative evidence.”

    Even if *ʕigl- is from Proto-Semitic, its ultimate derivation remains unclear. As with agélē < ágō it is this lack of clarity or certainty that invites further inquiry. I agree that it may prove to be a case of “mission impossible”, but one can never know. At any rate, if people were to rely exclusively on Wiktionary, there would be no need for language forums.

    BTW, the sound made by cattle seems to be gayyah (געִייה) in Hebrew. Assuming (a) that Proto-Hellenic *gʷous and Proto-Indo-European *gʷṓws (> Ancient Greek boûs, βοῦς) have an onomatopoeic origin (i.e. they are “imitative of lowing”) and (b) that wild cattle (aurochs) made the same or similar sound even before being domesticated, this may establish some kind of connection between Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Semitic. So, we “only” need to go as far back as Proto-Nostratic …. 🙂
     
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    Abaye

    Senior Member
    Hebrew
    So what you're suggesting is that since the etymology of both the IE word and the Semitic word is uncertain, and both contain "g", and "g" may be onomatopoeic for cow's voice, then these two words may be related and traced back to a mother language of PIE and proto Semitic? I'm no linguist, yet AFAIK this is not how linguistics works: without any tangible argument beyond the shared sound "g", a claim about a ten thousands years old relationship is as good or as bad as any other wild guess.
     

    Apollodorus

    Senior Member
    English UK
    From what I see, we’ve got Sumerian gu, Sanskrit gáus/gáuh, Chinese ngu, Proto-Indo-European *gʷṓws, etc. If all or some of these words have an onomatopoeic or imitative origin as has been suggested, then this would indicate a connection across an extensive geographic and linguistic area. After all, cultural interaction is often accompanied by linguistic exchange.

    In any case, if Hebrew words denoting “cow” or “cow’s voice” such as eglah (עֶגְלָה) and gayyah (געִייה) come from Proto-Semitic *ɡʕw, “to bellow”, which is in turn connected with PIE *gʷṓws, then at the very least there is a connection between Hebrew eglah/gayyah and Ancient Greek boûs (βοῦς) which is derived from PIE *gʷṓws.

    This is supported by other PIE-PS connections, for example:

    PIE *táwros, “wild bull, aurochs” – PS *ṯawr-, “buffalo”

    PIE *lāp-, “cattle” – PS *’alp-, “bull”

    PIE *ḱr̥h₂-nó-m, “horn” – PS *karnum “horn”, etc.

    According to the Wikipedia article on Proto-Semitic Languages,

    “The [Proto-Semitic] words *ṯawr- ‘buffalo’ and *ḳarn- ‘horn’ are suspected to be borrowings from Proto-Indo-European or vice versa.”

    See also John Huehnergard, “Proto-Semitic Language & Culture; Semitic Roots,” 2011.
     
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