Re. Arabic (and all) Cognates

Kenneth Hoglund hoglund at
Tue Jan 29 09:05:12 EST 2002

Stig has it absolutely correct. When trying to understand a word in a
semitic language with limited attestation (such as Classical Hebrew),
the meaning of similar words in other cognate languages (such as Arabic)
is often appealed to. Brown-Driver-Briggs is just one example of the
tendency in Hebrew lexicography. But the process is fraught with
pitfalls. Words come to have meaning within specific contexts ("boot" in
British English for American English "trunk"), that is, in their use by
specific cultures using those words. Our conception of "cognate" needs
to be expanded to include not just triliteral root systems for forming
words, but historical time-frames and cultural continuities. I would
have far more confidence in a cognate from Canaanite or Phoenician than
from a cognate drawn from much later Arabic or more remote Ethiopic.

Ken Hoglund
Wake Forest Univ.

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