|Most of the languages
of the Afro-Asiatic (Chadic, ancient Egyptian, Phoenician, Canaanite/Ugaritic,
Hebrew/Aramaic, Coptic, and Arabic, etc.) group
were originally visibly related to each other. Some more than others and
their similarities were greater the further back we go in time. Holger
Pedersen (1867-1953), a Danish linguist who made significant contributions
to language science once wrote in his famous 1931's book "The Discovery
of Language" about the so-called "Semitic languages". According to him
(and linguists in general), the Hebrew, Aramaic, Assyrian, Babylonian,
and Akkadian languages had all undergone significant linguistic degeneration.
Arabic, due to its relative isolation in the Arabian peninsula, remained
closer to the old stratum of the "Semitic" form of the proto-language and
therefore was closer to the Phoenician, Canaanite/Ugaritic, than Akkadian,
Assyrian, Babylonian, Hebrew, and/or Aramaic.
living in the Persian Empire adopted Aramaic, and quickly enough Hebrew
fell into disuse as Aramaic became the vernacular language. By the time
the Old Testament, including the Pentateuch (the first five books of the
Bible), was written down (perhaps as late as 500 BC), the language had
considerably deteriorated. The vocabulary of the Hebrew language had changed
so much that there was no similarity to the original.
Perhaps the following
example in the case of Aramaic/Hebrew "Charash" in the Old Testament offers
to an Arabic speaking audience, such as this group, the dramatic degree
of this linguistic deterioration.
in the Old Testament conveyed the following three contradictory and irreconcilable
A- to Plough,
B- to scratch, C- to be silent and/or to become mute.
|The Arabic equivalent
of (A) is Harath ; to plough [initial Ha' and final
tha'], (B) is Kharash; to scratch [initial kha'
and final shiyn] and to (C) is Kharas; to become mute [initial
kha' and final siyn]. Because of the smaller Hebrew/Aramaic alphabetic
inventory ( Hebrew lacks Kha' and tha' letters)
in relation to Arabic and Ugaritic languages, many individual words have
been erroneously lumped together as if they had developed from a single
The above dramatization
was merely an introduction to my next investigation of the etymology
of "Misr" in Ancient Egyptian, Ugaratic, Hebrew/Aramaic and Old Arabic
TO THE SEMITIC ETYMOLOGISTS
MEANS DOUBLE DISTRESS!
The third step of
this investigation leads us to the Old Testament where Egypt is referred
to as "Mitsariym" in dual plural form of the Hebrew term "M'tsurah"
(Metsoo-raw) referring to a mound, a rampart (for protection) or perhaps
a fenced city, (M'tsowr has also the sense of a limit). Moreover, the Old
Testament gives an odd source for Egypt's etymology from the term: "Matsur/
Metsar" which means: trouble distress and pain! (see plate below).
False etymology attributed to Biblical
ETYMOLOGY OF MISR
Our first clue lies
in Ancient Egyptian language where the terms "MTCHR" referred to
a "walled district of a town". (Note: the allophone _TCH_ is an
equivalent for the Arabic emphatic letter sad).
The second clue comes
from the archaeological site of Ras Shamrah which is situated a few kilometers
east of the Mediterranean coast of Syria and constitutes the remains of
the ancient city of Ugarit. There, many Clay tablets found written in Ugaritic
provided the first evidence of the use of the term _MiSR_.
Within the mythology of the Ancient Near East, the Ugaritic deities are
said to dwell in encampments .. these "encampments" are referred to as
territories or strongholds. Hence, the deities were said to possess their
own dwelling and their own territory which they called [msr).
Letters 49KTU 1.3:V.7ff. Note that the encampment in this passage is [mSr).
J.C. de Moor, Contributions to the Ugaritic Lexicon (1979)
What is of interest
to our investigation, is that the Ugaritic language, as a member
of the Semitic languages, has a unique and remarkable script which is purely
alphabetic. It is in correspondence with the Arabic system, apart from
the fact that it usually runs from left to right. So, even if this is a
gross anachronism, we may write an unvowelized Arabic text using the Ugaritic
script without losing any expressive power, such is the close affinity
between these two languages.
|Our final clue is
from the Old Arabic and Classical Arabic where originally _MSR_ meant a
limit, or boundary between two lands. It also referred to a city or a town.
(see plate below)
As we review our clues from the different cultures discussed above we can
conclude that there is an agreement as to the original meaning referring
to a territory or a city. The term appear to have a Semitic origin in the
Old Canaanite/ Ugaritic language. The concordance in meanings, as well
as the exact spelling which survived unchanged into Arabic attest to unbroken
continuity. While in the case of the Hebrew/Aramaic term apparently equally
survived though its etymology was obviously confused in the same manner
as in the case of "CHARASH".
aware of this deficiency in the Hebrew/Aramaic languages, have always referred
to Classical Arabic to explain the various Semitic roots and their etymologies.
1996, 2003, 2007