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Q&A

What explains Arabic "Greater Etymology"?

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This article discusses "Greater Etymology" (الاشتقاق الكبير) in Arabic, which "recognizes the common meanings words with different base letters share," as opposed to "Lesser Etymology" (or morphology, as it is also referred to), which "works at the level of a set of base letters and [...] recognizes the common meanings that different words with the same root letters share."

Using examples (from my understanding of the article), Lesser Etymology would discuss the relation between a root word, ق و ل (q-w-l), and its derived forms, like the ones listed here, such as تَقَوَّلَ (taqawwala) and مَقَال (maqāl).

However, Greater Etymology goes a step further and finds the relations between several root words. One example given in the article is the related meanings of all the roots formed by permutations of the letters ق و ل (q w l), that is, the roots ق و ل (q-w-l), ق ل و (q-l-w), و ق ل (w-q-l), و ل ق (w-l-q), ل و ق (l-w-q), and ل ق و (l-q-w) all "give the abstract connotation of nimbleness and haste." There are other ways of connecting root words given in the article. One instead of comparing the permutations of the root letters, assesses the "occurrence of a specific letter in the same position of different bases."

The article sources the millenium-old book of Abu l-Fatḥ ʿUthmān b. Jinnī or ابن جني (Arabic Wikipedia), al-Khaṣā’iṣ or الخصائص, accessible on Arabic Wikisource.


Is this just coincidence? If not, what explains these relations between different roots? Or how did they come to be?

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7 comments

Not exactly what you're seeking, but Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (19th century Germany) wrote along the same lines about ancient Hebrew. msh210‭ 5 months ago

@msh210 Interesting, which of his works discusses this about Hebrew? user53100‭ 5 months ago

I know it's passim in his commentary on the Pentateuch. It may be elsewhere, too, but I don't know. If you choose to check out his Pentateuch commentary in English for this, then don't use Levy's translation, as it skips some of the grammatical notes. There's a newer translation that doesn't. (He wrote it in German, so, if you know that, all the better.) msh210‭ 5 months ago

@msh210 and user53100, Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew: Based on the Commentaries of Samson Raphael Hirsch could be an efficient entry-point into his ideas along these lines, though it's a secondary source. I haven't read it myself. Here's a Mi Yodeya answer that quotes from it, for a taste. Isaac Moses‭ 5 months ago

@‭user53100 - Re "I'm interested to know universal and applicable it is." - Are you asking whether a similar distinction between Greater and Lesser etymology would apply, apart from Classical Arabic, also to modern dialects of Arabic? Or within the Semitic family? Or across all language families? Or all of the above? Jirka Hanika‭ 3 months ago

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