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Linguistic Charlatanisms

Reader comment on item: Islamophobia?

Submitted by A.F.D. (Saudi Arabia), Oct 25, 2005 at 15:19

Thank you for your comment regarding the origin of the word "adobe".

In fact, "adobe" is but one example of dozens and dozens - perhaps hundreds - of words found in European langauges supposedly of Arabic origin but which in reality have a different linguistic ancestry.

"Adobe" is one of these. Others include "wazeer" (minister), "diwan" (from whence English "divan" and Spanish "aduana"), al-Kimia (from whence English "alchemy" and "chemistry"), al-Khwarizmi (from whence English "algorithm") and so on.

In fact, "wazeer" and "diwan" are Persian in origin (and thereby Indo-European, as is English), "al-Kimia" is actually Greek in origin (and thereby also Indo-European) and "al-Khwarizmi", is the name of a town/district in central Asia (and thus Persian or Turkish.).
There is no doubt that Arabic was the vehicle by which many of these words entered European languages (mainly through Spain), but that doesn't make them of Arabic (Semitic) extraction.

In addition, the very wide-spread belief that modern Spanish is peppered with Arabic terminology due to the 700 years Arabic was spoken in Iberia is simply not true. As a native Spanish speaker, I know of no single verb, for example, that is extant in everyday, contemporary Spanish that came from Arabic. Nor a single preposition.....nor a single pronoun...nor a single adverb.....and only one adjective (mezquino). There are, to be sure, many nouns that are Arabic in origin, but these run into the "tens", not into the "hundreds" let alone the "thousands" as is so commonly believed.

Thus the idea that Arabic had a great impact on European languages is a preposterous and laughable myth.

In fact, the opposite is the case. Modern Arabic vocabulary is rife with Western, especially English, terminology, particularly in the scientific, technological fields. Just to take one example: modern Arabic has a "native" word for "telephone" ("hatef") and although it can be found in written Arabic (sometimes), anyone using it in everyday speech would be laughed out of the room. Everyone uses the term "al-telephone"...there is even a common Arabic verb for "to telephone" which is derived from the term "telephone". Ditto with "computer" and so on.

It goes on: modern journalistic (newspaper) Arabic has been greatly influenced by trends in European journalism, especially as to simplification. Modern Arabic literature uses standards of European modes of expression, such as the novel, free verse and so on.

To say (and to believe) that Arabic "influenced" English and other European languages is like saying that American Indian languages "influenced" English, especially American English.

Many of our states, rivers, mountains, cities and so on - in other words, place names - are indeed of American Indian derivation. Plus we have many Amerindian terms that have come into the language: wampum, squaw, teepee and so on.

But no one would dream of saying, with a straight face, that English was "influenced" by Amerindian languages. Ditto with Arabic. Actually, much less so with Arabic. If one insisted on taking this stance, he would have to conclude that English has been infinitely more influenced by Amerindian languages than it has by Arabic.


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