Friday, 14 April 2017

L is for Latifa...and...Language...and.. Loanwords



is for
Latifa, a Tunisian artiste, with her number Bel Arabi (In Arabic) 





Language


The history of spoken language, or when Man first developed the ability to organise sounds into words, will always remain obscure.  Historians guess that humans used spoken language a million years ago, albeit with a slower delivery, smaller vocabulary, and probably their grammar wasn't quite as dishy. 


In contrast, individual languages, which have descended from a common ‘ancestor’ language can be traced and their origins pinpointed with slightly greater precision. There are some 5000 languages spoken in the world today, linguists group them into roughly 20 families. 


The Semitic family of languages is a serious biggie in west Asia, waaay back then and now. It’s descended from the language of nomadic tribal groups of one place, yup, you guessed it, from Arabia. 


By about 3000 BCE these Semitic group of languages are spoken all through the desert tracts of Southern Arabia and in the Northern Levant. One of them – Aramaic becomes the lingua franca of the Middle East. And then Arabic develops, from Aramaic into Nabatean, and from Old Arabic, culminating finally into its present form in the 7th century.


Ancient spoken versions of Old Arabic can be traced back to at least the first millennium BCE, but probably were in use for centuries before then also. Old South Arabic has been traced to the 10th century BCE, while Old North Arabic can be dated at least as far back as 6th century BCE. 


As with the spoken language, the exact dates when the script developed are also blurry. Some scholars think the origins can be dated back to around 2500 BCE, others date it to 1800-1600 BCE.   What is clear though, is that this here lingo is seriously ancient. Arabic has some deep roots.


Loanwords


Now the Arabs clocked up some impressive mileages from antiquity due to trade.  And by the middle of the 8th century, within a century of the founding of Islam, the new faith had spread by conquest to include much of North Africa to the west, and right upto the borders of China towards the east.  Later, the empire went onto Spain and Sicily and brought them into its remit.

From Zarafa in Arabic to Giraffe in English. 


This took Arabic far from the lands where it originated, and it left its mark on those cultures. A whole bunch of loanwords got incorporated into all manner of languages – European (English, Spanish) African (Kiswahili, Hausa), Asian (Turkish, Persian, Indonesian) and South Asian (Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi, Bengali).


And because there were some incorrigibly nerdish types in those initial centuries of the Empire, researching, ferreting out stuff and expanding human knowledge in astronomy, mathematics, chemistry, botany, medicine, architecture…and by then Arabic was the language of scholarship, the nerds used it extensively, therefore, Arabic influenced scientific nomenclature in major ways. Many plant names, material names, mathematical and architectural terms have been adopted from Arabic into English via medieval Latin.


From Qat in Arabic to Cat in English.


Some examples of everyday words that have Arabic roots –


Alcove (al-Qobba) Aubergine (al-Badinjan) Cipher (Sifr) Gazelle (Ghazal) Albatross (al-Ghattas) Sugar (Sukkar) Cotton (Qutn) Syrup (Sharab)  Azure (al Lazaward) Caravan (Qairawan) … there are hundreds more.



Did you know that Spanish has Legions of Arabic loanwords, more than any other European language, because of the Long Muslim rule in Spain?  










Posted for the A-Z Challenge 2017 


41 comments:

  1. Not speaking a word of Arabic I am enlessly fascinated by how melodic it is. Some languages are, some aren't - but this definitely is.
    I am so very grateful to many nerds. Particularly language nerds.

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    1. Me too!

      This aspect of Arabic has struck me right from the first. Song lyrics nowadays are written mostly in one or other colloquial dialects, while the older songs, and most of the poetry is written in the literary form, that's not just melodic but also majestic. Just beautiful!

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  2. My daughter-in-law can speak fluent Spanish having lived in Spain since a child, I wonder if she knows about the Spanish/Arabic connection. Thought that most interesting.
    Great post for letter "L"
    Yvonne.

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    1. If she has studied the language she probably does :) it's quite fascinating to trace the journeys of individual words.

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  3. This took Arabic far from the lands where it originated, and it left its mark on those cultures. A whole bunch of loanwords got incorporated into all manner of languages

    Very true Nilan! A lot of our Malay language (akin to Indonesian) have Arabic origin. Not surprising as these words intermingle very much with underlying religious connotations. Very informative and a truly educational posting Ma'am.

    Hank

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    1. Bengali which is my mother tongue has been impacted the same way. But not just in terms of religious words, ordinary words have also got incorporated. Persian and Arabic both have had this huge impact on each other due to the Arab conquest of Persia, and then diffused to the rest of Asia and Middle East and even Europe.

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  4. I am always interested to learn of loan words and where they came from

    Absolutely Amazing Alliteration

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    1. Yes, I find etymologies fascinating too!

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  5. Fascinating post on the Arabic origins of language. And as you say, there are five thousand languages so that's pretty amazing.

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    1. And I remember reading somewhere - close to 90% of humans communicated using a tiny fraction of those languages. The rest are spoken by 10%, and because there are such small populations using them, those languages are dying or dead already. Amazing and disturbing at the same time.

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  6. Hi Nila - I need to come back to listen and read through your posts properly - this one I look forward to - love the way words and names filter their way around in our languages ... cheers Hilary

    http://positiveletters.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/l-is-for-legendary-beasts-of-britain.html

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    1. I find words totally mesmerising! But you know that already :)

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  7. wow - I use QAT a lot when I play Words with Friends - I had no idea it was cat. Our Links to Arabic Language no doubt run deep and we take so much for granted.

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    1. They are indeed deep. Nearly all the words beginning with 'al' such as alcohol, alchemy, algebra etc have roots in Arabic. Some words have wound their way into Turkish or Persian and then into Latin or more recent European languages before getting to English (like coffee - Arabic qahwa to Turkish kahve to Dutch koffie to coffee) Persian, Turkish, and Greek languages themselves have influenced Arabic in the cultural interchange. It's beyond fascinating!

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  8. Some would consider the origins of language to have started in the time when the tower of Babel was being constructed. I've always thought this to be an intriguing explanation of not only language, but peoples.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

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    1. According to the Book of Genesis the people of the time spoke one language, had 'common speech,' when they decided to build the tower. (Now the whole earth had one language and few words. ~ Genesis, 11:1 RSV)

      The Tower of Babel explains the diversity in languages (and peoples too, as you say). The first language had already been spoken before the tower was built, the origin lies at a time prior.

      And we now know that the city and tower was actually located in Mesopotamia in modern day southern Iraq. Also historians have found evidence that Man's first migration out of Africa was into the Arabian Peninsula so all in all it ties in very well.Thank you for your inputs to this topic, sparked off such an interesting train of ideas!

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  9. I knew about the "al" connection in English words. Being a follower of April the Giraffe (she's local to where I live) I loved knowing "giraffe" comes from Arabic. Visiting from A to Z again.

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  10. I used to do a constellation program for schools. To broaden my repertoire, I started studying constellations of cultures other than the Greek and Romans. It was interesting how some constellations transcended so many cultures. We have been trading with each other many ways for centuries.

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    1. True. And for far longer than we realise.

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  11. Wow! This is incredibly interesting, the very foundation of our interactions.
    Best wishes,
    Moon
    https://aslifehappens60.wordpress.com

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    1. History is so captivating, isn't it?

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  12. Well, isn't language fascinating? I've never delved into the subject, but I think the history of language can tell us so much of us and how history (well, you will expect such a thinking from a Tolkien fan, won't you? ;-) )

    My native language is Italian and there are many words coming from Arabic, word that we use everyday and we wouldn't even suspect. I learned some of them by mere chance.

    Hey, I like that song!!!!!

    @JazzFeathers
    The Old Shelter - 1940s Film Noir

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    1. I think the cultures all round the Med have influenced each other in myriad ways for as long as they have existed.

      I like Latifa too :) she makes even breaking up sound sexy!

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    1. It's a song about needing some space and she's basically telling the man to leave her alone. 'In Arabic' is used like you'd use 'in plain English.' Love the rhythms that Arabs use for most of their music, very catchy!

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  14. I didn't realize so many Latin words had Arabic roots.

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    1. Not just everyday words, but a lot of scientific nomenclature as well...

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  15. My language, Catalan (also a Romance language, close to French and Spanish) has even more words, and more recognisable words from Arabic than Spanish. Also a lot of names of places.

    There are a lot of Spanish words that people easily recognise, especially those that starts with al-, and others "hidden".

    -----
    Eva - Mail Adventures

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    1. I don't speak Spanish or Catalan :( so I can't recognise most of them. The only one I know is Alcazar which comes from 'Qasr' meaning 'palace' in Arabic.

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  16. I remember one line from a Spanish book that showed the Arabic influence, Ojala que se mejore pronto. Is how I remember it.

    Finding Eliza

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    1. I think I'll just take your word for it :) My knowledge of Spanish is less than a sentence.

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  17. A fascinating and well researched post. Your presentation is quite note worthy. Please continue the musical selections.

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    1. Thank you, Martin! Music is part of every post in my A-Z this time, thought it might be pleasant to listen to while y'all read my humongous posts :)

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  18. This entire series is so fascinating - I love coming here for my daily dose of delight and education. Language and loanwords is of great interest to me. I keep hoping that as people understand how much our languages share with each other, we find ways of extending that realization that we are all deeply connected in beautiful ways.

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    1. That is so true - we are indeed deeply connected, in more ways than we actually realise. You put it beautifully. Thank you.

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  19. Language is a fascinating topic and an excellent choice for L. I can't imagine how so many languages evolved in those million years. I wish they had left out some of the grammar and punctuation rules, however.

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    1. Agree. Too many rules. :) And Arabic is probably one of the most complex grammars, OMG...haven't the foggiest!

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  20. Ah, as a language nerd, I love this post!

    There are just so many words that have Arabic roots, and there were a few here that I wasn't aware of before. And I'm sure there are many more I've yet to discover!

    I love finding connections between words in different languages and weaving a web between them. And if you understand enough of the common roots, you can almost be fluent in any language!

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    1. Understanding the common roots certainly deepens one's enjoyment of the languages, both one's own and the one from which the borrowings come. I'm afraid I shall never be fluent in Arabic, no matter how much I prod the connects - fluency is best acquired in childhood I think, and even if a passable degree of it is acquired later in life, it's lost easily unless put to regular use. Sadly.

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  21. I've been fascinated by world languages and alphabets since age fourteen, and already taught myself the Russian alphabet at age thirteen. At age twenty, I finally had to suck it up and learn the cursive version, since my professor said no one prints in Russia. Now it's really strange to come across an old paper where I printed instead of using cursive. I've also learnt the Hebrew, Greek, Armenian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Bulgarian, and Serbian alphabets, and am trying to learn Georgian.

    I've studied something like 15-20 languages, most of them on my own. It's fascinating to see cognates, like all the German and Russian loanwords in Estonian, and to see how closely many languages are linked. I particularly love finding connections between Sanskrit and English, since they split off from Proto–Indo–European relatively early, before they had a chance to acquire a lot of new vocabulary and sounds.

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