Semitic & Indo-European: Loaves & Labials

Abstract: 

Several languages among the Semitic and Indo-European language families use similar phonemes in their words for bread and / or loaf. Observe the following: Classical Arabic < خبز > [ Xubz ], Classical Hebrew < לחם > [ lεħεm ], Old English < hlaf > [ hlaf ], and Russian < хлеб > [ xljεp ]. Each of these words includes a guttural fricative (produced with the tongue root or larynx (except Russian, which has a velar fricative) and a labial sound, while most include a lateral liquid. Such similarities are unexpected because these languages stem from two different linguistic family trees. The purpose of this investigation is to find out why these languages share the aforesaid likenesses. In order to bridge this gap, I investigate two hypotheses: (1) The relationship that binds these words is the result of trade, as implied by historical documents. (2) These words were taken from Semitic and added into Indo-European before written history. Saul Levin (2002) proposed the second hypothesis, which is grounded on his observations about corresponding consonants (particularly the labials) between Semitic and Indo-European tongues. Thus far, the research has led me to concur with Levin’s suggestion that there was indeed prehistoric contact and linguistic borrowing between the speakers of Semitic and Indo-European.

 

Table of Contents: 

    This research investigates why the words for bread (loaf) in several Semitic and Indo-European languages share guttural fricatives [ X, x, ħ, h ], labials [ m, b, p, f ], and lateral liquids [ l ]. Two hypotheses are investigated: (1) The relationship that binds these words is the result of trade, as implied by historical documents. (2) These words were borrowed from Semitic languages by Indo-European languages before written history. Hypothesis 2 is based on the work of Saul Levin (2002), who records many finds about corresponding consonants (particularly the labials) between Semitic and Indo-European tongues. I have thus far come to the same conclusion as did Levin, that linguistic borrowing occurred between the speakers of the aforementioned language families before written history.

    This paper makes use of many linguistic symbols and conventions. Angular brackets < word > denote spelling, an asterisk *[ word ] signifies a phonetic reconstruction, while square brackets [ word ] represent phonetic transcriptions after the manner of the international phonetic alphabet (internationalphoneticassociation.org).  Other symbols in this text are taken straight from my sources, and are hence unaltered. Second, to avoid confusion, we need to understand the historical relationship between the modern English words “bread” and “loaf.” The modern English word “loaf” comes from the Old English word < hlaf >. However, in Old English the word < hlaf > meant “bread,” while the word < bread > meant “loaf.” Since those bygone days, the meanings have switched between them (Munshi p.c., 2014). Therefore, when I write “bread” I mean “loaf,” and when I write “loaf” I mean “bread.” The pattern of Old English will help readers differentiate meanings. The focus of this paper is on corresponding consonants: vowels are outside the scope of this investigation. In order, as well, is a word about dates and charts in this paper. The dates of languages are not representative of the lifespan of the language, but rather of existent texts in those languages (see hypothesis 1). The actual lifespan of the ancient languages are based on educated guesses, the details of which are too numerous to include in this paper. Note that, out of all the textual languages presented, Hebrew is the trickiest to present due to its age, existent texts, and the lack thereof. For this part, I rely on details from Saenz-Badillos (1993) and Brook (2006).

    This research explores two hypotheses, and with different methods. When searching through historical records, I do so like an archaeologist, beginning with topsoil (or youngest layer) and working my way to bedrock (the oldest layer). The first difficulty is that layers tend to overlap, which may bewilder the observer. The second hardship is that of keeping the overlying data in chronological order. My approach is to sift through the strata by language and institution, making connections along the way until a dead end occurs. I then move to the next language and repeat the process. There are other ways to do this, but a search through an institution’s effects on language is this study’s method of choice, as the process of elimination cuts off most of the loose ends. Moreover, it is often through institutions that languages are written down in the first place. Nonetheless, this research is by no means exhaustive, as the overall goal of this method is to “move from the known to the unknown.”

    The second hypothesis entails a different approach.  If the Indo-European peoples did borrow bread (loaf) words from Semitic languages before written history, then I believe that the best method to establish evidence of borrowing is the use of comparative linguistics. In this technique, an ancient text becomes a corpus from which to glean any words with similar phonemes and semantic domains. If the words fall within these two criteria, they are arranged on charts for comparison. The arrangement is chronological, by date of texts, to establish a map of time. This makes it easier to narrow down the time period of the borrowing and who borrowed from whom.

    PART I: A SEARCH THROUGH WRITTEN RECORDS

    At first my study of Semitic and Indo-European languages was merely for the interest of translation. As my knowledge grew, however, I began to take notice of some oddities between the two language families. It seemed that there were certain words that not only sounded similar, but also meant the same thing. After a time, the list of these words began to grow, but irregularly, or so it seemed. Some words correlated between SEM and IE, but not among members their own respective families (Table 1.1). The words that stood out the most were those that signified “bread” or “loaf,” as they most often corresponded to the Semitic and the Indo-European languages of Germanic and Slavic, while excluding the IE languages of Greek and Latin. Oddly, Greek and Latin are the only two IE groups whose consonants are not related to those of the SEM words (See Table 1.1 below of my original findings).

    TABLE 1.1

    Language

    Loaf (of Bread)

    Consonants

    IE

    Latin (classical)

    < panis >

    [ panis ]

    [ p n s ]

    IE

    Greek (koine)

    < αρτος >

    [ artas ]

    [ r t s ]

    IE

    English (old)

    < hlaf >

    [ hlaf ]

    [ h l f ]

    IE

    Russian (modern)

    < хлеб >

    [ xljεp ]

    [ x l p ]

    SEM

    Arabic (classical)

    < خبز >

    [ Xubz ]

    [ X b z ]

    SEM

    Hebrew (classical)

    < לחם >

    [ lεħεm ]

    [ l ħ m ]

    Baffled by the Greco-Latin outliers, I decided to search through Joseph T. Shipley's The Origins of English Words: A Discursive Dictionary of Indo-European Roots to see if [ h l f ] was rooted in the Indo-European language. His volume contained the reconstructed IE root < bher > (471). However, this root corresponds with the consonants in "bread," and not with those in "loaf," the original English word for bread (see above). Unexpectedly, Shipley's volume contains no reconstruction for “loaf”—perhaps because it is not from IE. For these two reasons, I focused on the "loaf" consonants for “bread” [ h l f ], and not on the "bread" consonants for bread [ b r d ]. An exception resides in the fact that the Arabic [ Xubz ] actually means “bread,” while [ Xubza ] means “loaf of bread” (Wehr 226). Thus the search has been narrowed to the origins of the consonants in “loaf” and not “bread.”

    To discover the beginnings of the “loaf” consonants, we might consider several institutions related to the languages on Table 1. Such institutions are those of government and religion, because they have left behind many documents in various languages. In fact, it is because of these institutions that we have any texts at all in ancient languages, like Gothic, which exists only in the form of the New Testament. My sub-hypotheses of Hypothesis 1 are:

    A.    The Greeks and the Romans did not borrow their words for bread (loaf) from foreign languages. Neither did they spread their words for bread (loaf) among foreign languages.

    B.     It is possible that the Christian Church spread words for bread (loaf) into other cultures through the practice of the Lord’s Supper.

    C.     It is possible that the Hebrew word for bread was spread around the ancient world after the Romans dispersed the Jews.

    D.    It is possible that the Vikings spread the Germanic word for bread (loaf) throughout the ancient world via conquest and trade.

    The following paragraphs are my best attempt to sift through the above sub-hypotheses in the order presented. This is no simple task and requires significant historic leaping. All of the aforementioned groups intermingled at various points in history and not all at the same time. Greece was dominant before Rome, which existed prior to the Christianity that spread to Germany only after Rome had already been there. This example is but a little of what we must consider.

    1A: The Mediterranean Empires

    The data in Table 1 may suggest that neither the Greeks nor the Romans were responsible for spreading the bread (loaf) word throughout the ancient world – neither of their words corresponds to anyone else’s. Still, this thought may seem erroneous due to the vast size and influence of these cultures. After all, Romans once called the Mediterranean mare nostrum (“our sea”). Also, food is a valuable commodity, and in the ancient world it was just as valuable is it today. No doubt, loaves of bread were both sold and traded throughout the Greco-Roman empires as evidenced by the Latin word < pistrina >, or “bakehouse” (Simpson 451). Interestingly, the Romans “acquired grain through taxation” from the many peoples they conquered (Jursa, Michael, and Baker 307). Perhaps these provinces did not originally have any grain, and the Romans gave it to them to grow for their military. Moreover, if the nations near the borders of these conquerors did not have words for bread (loaf), then they certainly could have borrowed it from the Romans. A rather simple example of this today is American English borrowing the word “taco” from Mexican Spanish. However, the fact still stands that the "bread” consonants of the Koine Greek < αρτος > [ r t s ]  and the Classical Latin < panis > [ p n s ] do not correspond with those of Semitic (Arabic and Hebrew) or their IE relatives (Slavonic and Germanic). Since the Slavs, Germans, Arabs, and Hebrews used radically different words for bread (loaf) as compared to the Greek and Latin forms, they likely gained those words outside the influence of the Mediterranean empires.

    1B: The Christian Church

    The Christian Church (as a whole) has had a great impact on the world. Its branches have grown in almost every country across the globe, but more importantly (for our purposes) is where the Church took root -- in the Middle East, where Arabic and Hebrew were born. Thus, this study necessarily includes consideration of ecclesiastical influence.

    Pertinent to such concerns is the Church’s connection to bread. In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul commanded that Christians take part in “The Lord’s Supper,” a reverent sacrament in which wine is drunk and bread is eaten:

    For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed took bread, 24 and after giving thanks he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me. (Novum Testamentum Graecum, 1 Cor. 11.23-24; emphasis added)

    Obviously, this is not a suggestion, but a requirement for those who want to follow after Jesus. Glossing the weight of this ceremony in the mind of Christians, is the admonition that “whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord” (Novum Testamentum Graecum, 1 Cor. 11.27 emphasis mine). Needless to say, the repercussions of not eating the bread with reverence are dire. No true believer would dare to disobey such a command; otherwise they would condemn themselves. I have thus surmised that the practice of the The Lord’s Supper, that is to say communion, may be responsible for popularizing the word for “bread” in the ancient world. Any converts (domestic or foreign) would have to participate – perhaps it was their first exposure to bread, or loaves thereof.

    First, let us examine the Church’s work among the Slavs. From there we can move backwards through time. Before taking that this step, we should recall that the modern Russian word for bread, < хлеб > [ xljεp ] is descended from the Old Church Slavonic (OCS) chlebu  [ x l b ] (Harper etymonline.com; I henceforth use the OCS word rather than the Russian one). Next, we must understand that, "apart from a few personal and place-names, no record exists of any form of the Slav language before the middle of the 9th Century AD" (Vlasto 1). Therefore, it seems befitting to launch our exploratory barge from about the year AD 850. It was around this date that the first Slavonic alphabet was invented by "two bilingual Greek missionaries" (Vlasto 1). Their bilingualism suggests that the church had, at an earlier date, succeeded at converting Slavs. This leads us to think that if the Slavs did borrow the word for bread (loaf) from the church, then they could have done so before the missionaries designed an alphabet for them. A Slavonic borrowing from the church in the case of bread (loaf) presents us with the same obstacle that we faced in 1A because the first written Slavonic language was "intended at the outset for ecclesiastical use" and hence, "under the strong influence of Greek in its vocabulary and syntax" (Vlasto 1). As previously demonstrated, the Greek consonants that make up “bread” < αρτος > [ r t s ] simply have no correlation with those used for “bread” in Old Church Slavonic < хлѣбъ > [ x l b ] (Slocum & Krause). Moreover, Vlasto deduced that "Mediterranean culture had no part in Slavic knowledge or adoption of writing and its terminology until the missionary work of the 9th c" (6).  Therefore, because any spoken or written contact with the Church would have involved Greek, I conclude that the Slavs borrowed the word for bread (loaf) not only before the influence of the Church, but from another source altogether.

    1C: Judaism & the Diaspora

    Apart from Christianity, another ancient institution that had connections with the Slavs was Judaism. The Hebrews were dealing with loaves of bread long before they encountered any Slavs:

    And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.  (The Holy Bible: Old & New Testaments in the KJV, Gen. 3.17-19, emphasis added).

    While the dating of Genesis remains at issue, it was doubtless recorded before Hebrew encounters with the Slavs, as the oldest copies of the Hebrew Bible date to “the second century BCE” (Saenz-Badillos 52), while the oldest Slavic texts date to around AD 850, almost one thousand years later.

    We next need to speculate when the Hebrews and Slavs first made contact; and for this we begin in BC 66, when the Roman general Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus captured Judea, the last kingdom of Israel (North, Rajak, and Lieu xiv). Nearly 200 years later, circa AD 130, the Jews attempted to expel Roman authority in the Bar Kokhba Revolt (Speller 201). The Romans won, and their Emperor Hadrian scattered the "surviving members of the Jewish communities" (201). According to archaeological evidence, the Jews of Hadrian's Diaspora relocated "in the Balkans, in the Caucasus, along the northern shores of the Black Sea, and in other areas of Eastern Europe" (Brook 87). Unfortunately, most of these Jewish communities are too obscure for this examination because the records for them are scant. The important fact here is that they were in Eastern Europe with the Slavs.

     At this point it seems prudent to shift focus onto another, better known Jewish connection with the Slavs – one of trade. Beginning around AD 600, many Jews fled from Byzantium into Khazaria because they were being "forcefully converted to Christianity" (91).  Khazaria was a Turkic Empire located "in southern Russia during the early medieval period" (xi).  It is an important puzzle piece for three reasons:

    1)      It was located in southern Russia (73),

    2)      It functioned as "a major center for trade" (73) and

    3)      It existed "in the eighth and ninth centuries" (73).

    Thus, Khazaria ties into our investigation via location, function, and time period, all of which may clarify the Slavic-Jewish connection. Perhaps the OCS word < хлѣбъ > [ x l b ] is the Slavonic rendition of the Hebrew < לחם > [ l ħ m]. If one were to metathesize (swap the positions) of the OCS [ x ] and [ l ], one would get [ l x b ]. The order is now liquid, guttural-fricative, and labial – exactly the same as the Hebrew, except for the Slavic guttural-fricative [ x ], which is mirrored by the Hebrew guttural-fricative [ ħ ]. Maybe the Jews even spread their word for “bread” to other peoples from trade at Khazaria. In fact, there was once a group of widely travelled Jewish merchants who often "crossed Khazaria" while journeying to and fro their desired trade destinations (76). They were called the Radhanites, and their commercial activity flourished from the 750s to the 830s AD (76). These Jewish traders may have made contact with the Slavs before the Church did. Undoubtedly, "Jewish communities existed in eastern Europe before the Khazar Empire was established," and they could have spread their word for bread (loaf) before this empire existed (89). Nevertheless, Khazaria is the most pertinent for our search because it both experienced and facilitated trade among many nations including both the Russians and the Arabs—two of the other nations whose languages are under scrutiny (73-75). Khazaria also establishes a firm connection between the Jews and Germanic tribes: the Khazars’ most important trade route was the Volga river (73).  The Scandinavians also used this river for "trade relations with the Islamic world" (Vlasto 4). As the overlapping dates and crossroads reinforce, Khazaria could be the locale from which the word for bread spread throughout Europe and the Middle East, via Jewish traders. That is especially the case because Khazaria such IE and SEM populations as Slavs, Germans, Jews and Arabs.[1] For now, let us move from the known to the unknown by analyzing the bread words for OCS, Hebrew & Old Scandinavian.

    Table 1.2

    Language

    Loaf (of Bread)

    Consonants

    AD 550 - 1050

    IE

    Scandinavian (old)

    < hleifr >

    [ hleifr ]

    [ x l f r ]

    AD 850 - 1100

    IE

    Church Slavic (old)

    < хлѣбъ >

    [ xljabʊ ]

    [ x l b ]

    BC 200 – AD ?

    SEM

    Hebrew (Biblical)

    < לחם >

    [ lεħεm ]

    [ l ħ m ]

    As can be seen the OCS order (fricative, liquid, labial) corresponds better with the Old Scandinavian order (fricative, liquid, labial) than it does with the Hebrew order (liquid, fricative, labial). According to Saenz-Badillos, any Jews who traded at Khazaria would have known Medieval Hebrew (MH), which was most likely just “a literary language,”  although a spoken form may not have “disappeared entirely from daily use” (203).   The possibility of the use of spoken Hebrew is not in question. What is under consideration is whether Jewish speakers of Hebrew spoke Hebrew to non-Jews. According to the ninth-century Persian Ibn Khordadbeh the Radhanite, Jewish merchants spoke "Persian, Slavic, Spanish, Frankish, Greek, and Arabic"—the languages of the peoples with whom they traded (Speller 76). Interestingly, Hebrew was not listed as a language used for trade communication with non-Jews, but neither was Turkish, the language of Khazaria.  Moreover, the Jews knew Slavic, Frankish, and Arabic—all from families investigated in this paper (Frankish is Germanic like Old English and Old Scandinavian). Still, if the Jews indeed spoke so many languages, they likely used those for trade. The writings of Ibn Khordadbeh attest to Jews speaking in Persian, Slavic, Spanish, Frankish, Greek, and Arabic for trade, but not vice versa (76). Based on what was recorded, we conclude that spoken Hebrew was not used for trade at Khazaria between Jews and non-Jews. Therefore the Slavs likely took the word for bread from another people.

    1D: The Viking Conquest

    Having deposed both Christianity and Judaism as the purveyors of bread (loaf) to the Slavs, we will investigate the people from whom the Slavs in fact took it—that is, the Germanic tribes, and in particular the Vikings. At some point during the AD 800's, "Scandinavian (principally Swedish) rule was imposed on some of the main Slav settlements . . . in the interests of the long-distance trade with the Byzantine Empire" (Vlasto 4). This new dynasty of Germanic rulers may have been responsible for Russian connections with Khazaria in the first place; and like the Radhanites, likely reached Slavonic land before the Church. Let us again compare the Old Norse word for bread with that of Old Church Slavonic.

    Table 1.3

    Language

    Loaf (of Bread)

    Consonants

    AD 550 - 1050

    IE

    Scandinavian (old)

    < hleifr >

    [ hleifr ]

    [ x l f r ]

    AD 850 - 1100

    IE

    Church Slavic (old)

    < хлѣбъ >

    [ xljabʊ ]

    [ x l b ]

    Meriting special attention are the consonants. The fricative [ x ] liquid [ l ] are identical.  Both [ f ] and [ b ] are labials, but one is pronounced on both lips, while the other on one lip. Old Scandinavian documentation is older than that of OCS. However, let us examine some other examples of known Germanic words that were borrowed by the Slavs in order to discover which changes are consistent. Below is a table I created based on information from Vlasto (254-255):

    Table 1.4

    Language

    House

    Plate

    Consonants

    AD 850 - 1100

    IE

    Church Slavic (old)

    xyzǔ

    bljudǔ

    [ x ] [ b ]

    AD 400 -

    IE

    Gothic

    hūs

    biuþs

    [ h ] [ b ]

    In the word for "house" the Gothic glottal [ h ] became a velar [ x ] in the Slavic; the same phenomena can be observed in the word for bread (loaf). The Gothic consonants for bread (loaf) are [ h l f s ], while the OCS are [ x l b ].  As evidenced by Table 1.4, the Gothic [ b ] did not change after entering into Slavic. Interestingly, the Old Scandinavian consonants for bread are [ x l f r ]. Again, the sounds that are important to us are the first three [ x l f ]. OCS did indeed have a labial fricative [ f ], as did Old Scandinavian. Yet the two sounds do not correspond as fricatives [ f ], but as labials [ f, p ].

    Moreover, if a Gothic [ b ] remains in Slavic, it is possible that an Old Scandinavian [ b ] from the same time period (within 150 years as existent texts go) would also remain unchanged in OCS; especially since OCS had all the appropriate consonants to match with that of Old Scandinavian [ x l f r ]. While this assumption has its problems, we do conclude that the Slavs did in fact borrow the word for bread (loaf) from speakers of some Germanic language at some stage in history, as explained below. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the Old Church Slavonic word was most likely a Germanic loan word. The Russian philologist Vlasto also asserted that when Latin words entered OCS they did so through, "Gothic and other Germanic languages" (6). So it seems that the Slavs borrowed quite often from the Germans As a result, little doubt exists that the Slavs took the word for bread (loaf) from the Germans. Still, what remains obscure is precisely when the borrowing occurred. Interestingly, Vlasto suggested that the OCS xlěbǔ  [ x l b ] was borrowed from the Gothic < hlaifs > (254-255). I disagree. Here we return to our assumption about words supposedly borrowed from Germanic languages into Slavic that contain [ b ]. <Hlaifs > contains no [ b ] as it should had it been the parent of [ xljabʊ ]. As previously demonstrated, when a Germanic word had a [ b ], it remained unchanged when adopted into Slavic. This still leaves open a possible exchange from Old Scandinavian into OCS. However, this does not need to be disproven because there is a more accurate explanation for the [ f / b ] problem. OCS has a [ b ] in its bread (loaf) word because OCS borrowed that word from Germanic language at a time when (in that Germanic language) there was a [ b ]  rather than an [ f ] in the bread (loaf) word, as the following data reveal.

    Table 1.5

    Language

    Loaf (of Bread)

    Consonants

    AD 850 - 1100

    IE

    Church Slavic (old)

    хлѣбъ

    [ xljabʊ ]

    [ x l b  ]

    Not Found

    IE

    Proto-Germanic

    *khlaibuz

    *[ xlaibuz ]

    *[ x l b z ]

     

    Unprecedented correspondence exists between the consonants. The velars [ x ], liquids [ l ], and labials [ b ] all match as one would expect (see Table 1.4). This indicates contact prior to written records, which is what the second hypothesis (Levin’s) predicted.

    Albeit, our work is not finished because we need to determine from whom the Germans borrowed this word. While this endeavor may sound impossible, further historical investigation suggests otherwise.

    Addendum I: Paganism, Christianity, Judaism, & Islam

    The Germanic tribes certainly did not borrow their bread (loaf) word from Greece and Rome; nor did they adopt it from the Slavs. If we return to that bulwark of trade, Khazaria, we may yet find the next link in this chain, as that locale was also a destination of the Vikings and Arabs. Historically, the first recorded Viking-Arab contact was around AD 840 (Pritsak 24). It seems probable that the Vikings learned about bread by trading with Arabs at or near Khazaria. However, there are some problems with this proposition.

    Table 1.6

    Language

    Loaf (of Bread)

    Consonants

    AD 550 - 1050

    IE

    Scandinavian (old)

    < hleifr >

    [ hleifr ]

    [ x l f ]

    AD 650 - ?

    SEM

    Arabic (classical)

    < خبز >

    [ Xubz ]

    [ X b z ]

    The first setback is that the Old Norse and Arabic consonants do not correspond so well. The second is that, although the first recorded Viking-Arab contact happened around AD 840, the Arabs already had the word for bread (loaf) recorded in the Quran as early as AD 651 (Reynold 142). Thus, we are might well conclude that if the Germans did take from the Arabs, then it was likely from prerecorded history.

    If we quickly reexamine the Church, then we'll find that the "first testimony for the presence of Christianity in the Roman Rhinelands" or Germany, is from the text, "Adversus haerses, composed c. 180-182 by Bishop Irenaeus of Lyon" (Baus, Hans-Georg, Eugin, and Vogt 225). Nonetheless, during the 1st and 2nd Centuries AD, the written correspondence of the Church was primarily in Greek, whose bread (loaf) word shares no commonality with that of Germanic. Thus, it seems again unlikely that the Church had influence on the Germanic word(s) for bread, but that the word came originated elsewhere.

    It may now be more prudent to look at Germanic tribes like the Goths, whose records precede those of the Vikings. The Gothic word for bread (loaf) is < hlaifs >. We know that the Goths did not borrow this word from the Arabs because it was written in Gothic New Testaments before the Arabs began capturing (and thereby influencing) foreign soil. We know this conclusively because around AD 350, a bishop translated a Bible into Gothic, most of which survived until to today as "large portions of a translation of the New Testament Gospels and Epistles" (Slocum & Krause). Bread is recorded in both testaments of the Bible. If we recall the Greco-Latin influence on Church vocabulary, we can again exclude it from having influenced the Germanic word. For that reason, the Germans must have already known about bread prior to Christian influence. This suggestion thus lends more credence to the reconstructed Proto-Germanic word for loaf *khlaibuz, not in terms of phonetic accuracy, but in terms of theoretical existence. For now we know that the Germans indeed had a word for bread before they had the means to write.

    Our next point of inquiry is whether the Germans may have borrowed from Judaism. We learned from our previous investigation that the Jews were in Eastern Europe by AD 300, before Khazaria existed. We also know that Judaism existed in the Roman Empire before Christianity. What remains to be seen is their first encroachment into Germanic, Western European land. Unfortunately, the earliest mention of Judaism in Germany that I could find dated "to AD 321" and mentions a "Jewish community in Cologne," which is located in modern-day Germany (North, Rajak, and Lieu 117). This information is far too obscure to assist much in our search. Unfortunately, our German-Jewish track has disappeared into history.

    Finally, if the Germans did not borrow from the Arabs, then perhaps the transaction occurred in the reverse. The Classical Arabic word for bread (not loaf) is [ Xubzu ], and their word for loaf is [ Xubza ]. Interestingly, if we add the definite article [ ʔæl ], then we get [ ʔælXubzu ] (in the nominative singular), and thus the missing liquid [ l ] comes to light. The earliest recorded contact that the Arabs experienced with Germanic peoples (that I could find) was that of Ibn Khurdāḏadbeh, who wrote that contact occurred "sometime between [ AD ] 840 and 880" (Pritsak 24). As we have already discussed, the Vikings and the Goths already had words for bread (loaf) prior to encountering Christianity and Islam. Thus, it is possible that the Arabs may have borrowed our fascinating word from Germanic tribes. However, at this junction we meet with another predicament. Classical Arabic was phonetically capable of matching with Gothic < hlaifs > [ x l f s ] almost identically: (left to right) ه ل ف ر [ h, l, f, r ]. If there was any phoneme that would have differed between the two words, it would have been the velar fricative [ x ] by default because it does not exist in Classical Arabic phonology.

    Instead, Arabic phonology yields [ X b z ] for bread—not  a close match. Therefore, the Arabs did not borrow from either the Vikings or the Goths. Once again, the search through historical documents leaves us indefinite. Who took from whom: Germans from Arabs or vice versa? Recorded history fails to yield an answer. Nonetheless I am convinced that one of them took it from the other, as suggested by the following chart.

    Table 1.7

    Language

    Loaf (of Bread)

    Consonants

    AD 650 - ?

    SEM

    Arabic (classical)

    < الخبز >

    [ ʔælXubzu ]

    [ l X b z ]

    Not Found

    IE

    Proto-Germanic

    *khlaibuz

    *[ xlajbuz ]

    *[ x l b z ]

    Astonishingly, the Classical Arabic word for bread corresponds almost exactly with that of Proto-Germanic. If one metathesizes (switches) the [ x ] and [ l ] of Proto-Germanic, then one gets a liquid, fricative, bilabial, fricative formation in both languages. If the reconstruction of Proto-Germanic is correct, then this is evidence of prehistoric borrowing between the Germans and the Arabs. This counters my first hypothesis, but supports Hypothesis two (Levin 2002). Unfortunately, this is where the Germanic-Arabic trail ends. Documentation of classical Arabic before AD 650 is sparse, limited to inscriptions, the earliest dating from “88-125 CE” (Abulhab ). Neither could I find any proposed dates for Proto-Germanic (although it must have been before the Gothic period (AD 400), since PGM is the parent of Gothic). In the end, more comparative research between these two families is necessary.

    Addendum 2: Land of the Semites

    Interestingly, there are still other possibilities to explore in the Arabic story alone. Although the next link in the chain should be the church, we will skirt that inquiry because of the aforementioned Greco-Latin problem associated with it. Before they made contact with the Germans, the Arabs had contact with the Hebrews. This is where the Arabic history becomes somewhat more difficult to follow. Alas, we do not possess the time for Arabic-Hebrew connections. We may nevertheless find answers by investigating Arabic. Etymologically speaking, the word Arab “is a Semitic word meaning "desert" or the inhabitant thereof with no reference to nationality" (Hitti 40). This is important to know because many ancient cultures had contact with the "Arabs" but may have referred to them under other, less recognizable titles due to their nomadic lifestyle (perhaps by family names). This would make a retracing even more difficult. Still, it seems that before the rise of Islam, the Arabs were divided (more or less linguistically) into northern and southern peoples. The northerners spoke "the language of the Koran, the Arabic par excellence," while the Southerners spoke "an ancient Semitic tongue of their own, Sabaean or Ḥimyarite" (30). Thus our path of understanding has split asunder. The Arabic bread word that we under-examined was < الخبز > [ ʔælXubzu ], which came from the north.  As previously stated, "the North Arabians did not step on the stage of international affairs until the advent of Islam" in the AD 600s (30). Now our path diverges into two other possibilities: (1) The northerners borrowed the word for bread after they "stepped on the international stage" or, (2) they already had the word. The first scenario seems unlikely because the earliest Germans who met with the Arabs (that we know of) were the Vikings, and this contact occurred after the advent of Islam. As for the alternative, history has confounded our investigation yet a third time.

    On the other hand, perhaps we should leave northern Arabic behind for a time and shift our focus on their southern brothers who spoke in the (possibly older) Semitic tongues of Sabaean and/or Himyarite. The kingdoms of the south appear to antiquate the northern ones, with the earliest Sabaean inscriptions dating "from the seventh or eighth century B.C." (50). No doubt, they made frequent contact with the ancient Hebrews. In fact, Hitti claims that a Southern Arabian "would have little difficulty understanding the first verse of Hebrew Genesis" (40). Perhaps, the Sabaean/Himyarite speakers took the word for bread (loaf) from their Hebrew cousins and spread it up north. Unfortunately, all surviving, "native South Arabian literature . . . is epigraphic—on metal and stone" any written material has completely disappeared (30). Hence, I was unable to find any Southern Arabic word for bread. Thus, still one more time, the trail has gone cold.

    At long last—having journeyed through Eastern Europe, Khazaria, Germany, and ending in Arabia—we have exhausted our philological search for the origin of bread. While excluding the Christian Church as a purveyor of bread, we lost our way with Judaism in Germany, and finally our trail became buried in the sands of Arabia. Below is a chart of all the Semitic and IE bread (loaf) words aforementioned. They are arranged by date, from oldest to youngest, based on written record.

    Table 1.8

    Language

    Loaf (of Bread)

    Consonants

    Not Found

    IE

    Proto-Germanic

    * khlaibuz

    *[ xlajbuz ]

    *[ x l b z ]

    BC 200 500 – AD?

    SEM

    Hebrew (Biblical)

    < לחם >

    [ lɛħɛm ]

    [ l ħ m ]

    BC 300 - AD 330

    IE

    Greek (koine)

    < αρτος >

    [ artɒs ]

    [ r t s ]

    BC 200 - AD 100

    IE

    Latin (classical)

    < panis >

    [ panis ]

    [ p n s ]

    BC ? - AD 300

    IE

    Gothic

    < hlaifs >

    [ hlɛːɸs ]

    [ h l ɸ s ]

    AD 400 - 1100

    IE

    English (old)

    < half >

    [ hlaf ]

    [ h l f ]

    AD 650 - ?

    SEM

    Arabic (classical)

    < الخبز >

    [ ʔælXubzu ]

    [ l X b z ]

    AD 550 - 1550

    IE

    Scandinavia (old)

    < hleifr >

    [ hleifr ]

    [ x l f r ]

    AD 850 - 1100

    IE

    Church Slavic (old)

    < хлѣбъ >

    [ xljabʊ ]

    [ x l j b ]

    AD 1819 - now

    IE

    Russian

    < xлеб >

    [ xljɛp ]

    [ x l p ]

    In the end, we found that Greece, Rome, and Christianity were not the purveyors of bread (loaf) throughout either ancient Europe or the Middle East. We also discovered that the Slavs borrowed the word for bread (loaf) from the Germans, but before recorded history. Unfortunately, whom the Germans took it from remains unknown; they may have done so from the Jews sometime after Hadrian's Diaspora or, more likely, from the Arabs at some point in time before recorded history. As for the Arabs, they could have borrowed from the Germans, or even their southern Sabaean brothers. For now, this is where our analysis ends.

    PART II: PREHISTORIC CONTACT

    Finally, we arrive at the last stage our investigation, the prehistoric contact suggested by Dr. Saul Levin (2002). His two volumes are expansive, but our time is not. Hence, I used his book Semitic and Indo-European II: Comparative Morphology, Syntax, & Phonetics to narrow drastically our comparison to corresponding labials. In the textual part of this investigation we experienced much variation between the labials: [ p, b, m, f, ]. According to Dr. Levin, "if a Semitic word turns up in the neighboring IE languages with [ p ], it belongs to a prehistoric period when those languages lacked *[ b ] (asterisk is Levin’s reconstruction)" (383). Below is my reorganization of one of Levin's examples.

    Table 2.1

    Labial Correspondence: [ b ] & [ p, f ]

    Family

    Language

    Word

    Meaning

    SEM

    Arabic

    { ʕabra }

    across, over

    SEM

    Aramaic

    { ʕăár }

    across, over

    SEM

    Hebrew

    { ʕeɛr }

    across, over

    IE

    Greek

    υπἑρ

    over

    IE

    Sanskrit

    { upári }

    over

    IE

    Gothic

    { ufar }

    over

    IE

    Old Norse

    yfir

    over

    IE

    Old English

    ofer

    over

    The Semitic [ b ] corresponds to a [ p ] in some IE languages (Sanskrit & Greek), but becomes an [ f ] or [ v ] in the Germanic IE languages. In this situation, Levin's theory that SEM [ b ]s may become [ p / f ] in some IE languages holds true. However, this is not always the case. Levin also argues that, at some prehistoric point [ b ] and [ m ] were allophonic in IE (393). Below is a reorganization of his examples:

    Table 2.2

    Labial Correspondence: [ b/m ] & [ l/n ]

    Family

    Language

    IPA

    Meaning

    IE

    Latin

    [ k b ll s ]

    horse

    IE

    Greek

    [ k b ll s ]

    horse

    IE

    Russian

    [ k b l ]

    mare

    Turkic

    Old Turkish

    [ k v l ]

    race-horse

           

    IE

    Russian

    [ k m n ]

    horse

    IE

    Old Prussian

    [ k m n t ]

    horse

    IE

    Latin

    [ k b n ]

    gelding

           

    SEM

    Hebrew

    [ g m ll ]

    camels

    IE

    Latin

    [ k b ll ]

    horses

    This alternation of "[ k _b/m_ ] derives from a setting where a Semitic [ m ] was recognized by IE speakers as a voiced labial, but they might articulate it as either a plosive or a nasal, because they had no distinct phoneme */b/" (393). In other words, the IE peoples took the SEM sounds for camel [ g m ll ] and applied it to the animal called a horse (prehistorically); later the Romans borrowed the same sounds again, but used it for the camel.

    While Levin's work is quite intricate and very fascinating, we may ask how it pertains to our bread (loaf) words. If we recall the information from Table 1.8, then we should notice something similar to Levin's discovery at work. The [ b ] in the SEM word [ ʔælXubzu ] is replaced (usually) by [ f ] in the historical Germanic languages, just as it is in Table 2.1. For example, the [ b ] of Arabic [ l X b z ] corresponds to the [ f ]s in Old Norse [ x l f r ], Old English [ h l f ], and Gothic [ x l f s ]. Thus, it seems that Arabic is the likely parent for the Germanic word, and not vice versa.

    This study therefore demonstrates that all four variants of hypothesis 1 were incorrect. Texts alone could not be used to explain why several SEM and IE languages share words for bread (loaf). On the other hand, much support favors hypothesis 2 (Levin 2002)—that prehistoric contact existed between SEM and IE peoples. Several uncanny correspondences were revealed; one between Proto-Germanic and Arabic, and others between Hebrew and a plethora of IE languages, all of which have one thing in common—corresponding labials. Much more research on the subject is needed if we are to reveal other prehistoric interactions. For the moment, we may safely assume that the word for bread (loaf) was exchanged before written records existed in many IE languages, but who borrowed it from whom remains in question. In the future, more words that share labial consonants and semantic domains need to be sought and compared. Levin’s labial discoveries are good place to begin.

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    [1] I do recognize that Turkic words for bread (loaf) also deserve exploration, a topic I shall pursue in the future.