Thursday, 21 October 2010


Once when I was walking on the street coming home from work, it happened that I heard somebody who was speaking Gipsy (Romani, AKA Ghajary) language. It was fascinating. He didn't demonstrate his knowledge on Romani language, but he used it. It never happened to me like this in Hungary before, and I was impressed.

So I decided to look it up, what is to know about this language and I found that there are even efforts to standardize it. Moreover, a kind of reform arouse, which includes the tendency to replace loan-words with Hindi ones.

One of these neologisms caught my eyes.

Misal मिसाल, which means "example".

This was necessary because the majority of Romani dialects uses loan-words from the local language that surrounds it, as it can be clearly seen in case of primer (in Slavic areas), bajšpilo (German), and példa (Hungarian).

But as for the misal, it was so striking for me because I understood it immediately, as it is an Arabic word. So this praiseworthy endeavour, to unite Romani language using Hindi words, failed a little here, considering that even Hindi loaned this word. Hence, it blocked keeping things original, because this Hindi word itself is not more original than those to be replaced.

Arabic however generously presented its words to other languages. This word was also adopted by several other languages. Not to go too far, right here it is the Turkish misal, the not-really-surprising Urdu مثال (misal), which can be interpreted as a Persian word as well, and we can find its tracks in the Indonesian misalnya too. As for the Urdu and Persian words they even reserved the original spelling.

The original word مثال (mithál, with the th-sound, as in "both") derives from the Semitic root مثل mathala, which means: to be similar, to resemble. The languages above not only adopted its derivative meaning "example", but also several other forms like amsila, masal, misl, tamsil, those meaning reflects resemblance as well as the "example", "specimen", "model" all resembles to, similar to something.

One of the very useful features of Arabic language is revealed here. This is the radical-system and the pattern driven word forming derives from it. The root letters were emphasized here in order to make easy to realize what kind of patterns are drawn in the specific words, while the order of the root letters never changes.

Moreover, this word is one of those not too rare Semitic words, which share not only similar meaning but also similar pronunciation. Likewise it is in Hebrew mashal (parable/to support with examples), and Amharic msale, msalet (example).

musafir, safari

Once an Arab has told me that Arabic and Romanian are of the same kind of languages. I couldn't hide my opposition. Seeing this, he immediately revealed his argument:

- It's because Romanian when asks how are you doing, what does it say? Ce faci? Right? And likewise the Arabic says: Chefach!

It was an excellent example of a hasty conclusion based on weak knowledge.

Indeed, Romanian says Ce faci, but it literally means: what are you doing? It wouldn't be hard to find the parallels of these words in any Romance languages. Even if he mentions the Slovak čo (a word for "what"), could come closer to the truth than thinking of Arabic.

The Arabic however doesn't say che fach, but it says chef-ach. And it says like this only in some closely distinct dialects in Syria and Jordan. Otherwise it says Kayf (how?) and the 2nd person singular suffix: kayf-ak, كيفك. Therefore it literally says: How are you?

Nevertheless, it really exists something between the two languages, what caught the eyes of their speaker. And this relation is the prominent number of Arabic loan-words in Romanian. As far as I know, this feature didn't get more emphasis in Romanian education than in the Hungarian one.

Such loan-words are the musafir and the world-famous safari as well. Why these two together? I tell you soon. Musafir means guest in Romanian, and according to the Etymological Dictionary of the Romanian language (DEX) it derives directly from the Turkish word misafir. The first written form of this word was müsafir which also means guest. Interesting feature, that Romanian ignored the ü/i version, and accepted the u-version, or in some dialects the currently also widely used o-based transcription: mosafir (cp. Mohamed), which is closer to the original as well. Maybe this tendency can be seen in case of the transcription of the Hungarian word Csík into Ciuc, although the original sound in this word is different.

Noteworthy, that the word musafir can be found in modern Greek as well in the form μουσαφίρης (~musafiris).

The original word was the Arabic musáfir - مسافر, which literally means traveller, who was traditionally received too. This itself derives from the root سفر safara, with the general meaning: to travel.

Here comes safari into focus, which also derives from this root, and in its original meaning it means journey, travel as well. This word travelled through the whole world and appeared in English in 1858 as safar and in 1860 as safari in the meaning: journey, expedition, taken from Swahili directly.

taraf, tarifa

The Romanian word taraf derives from Turkish. In Romanian it means ensemble, small orchestra, band. In Turkish however it means side, facet. Turkish itself loans this word from Arabic (طرف), where it means extremity. It derives from the root tarafa, which means to blink, to twinkle. How it comes from wink to extremity and from extremity to ensemble is obscure for me.

Nevertheless, this has nothing to do with the world famous word tariff (Hungarian tarifa), which also derives from Arabic, but from a different word ta3reef (تعريف), information, announcement, notification, list of fees to be paid. This was adopted by Latin, Italian and English as well. Its root is 3arafa (عرف), to know, to recognize.