An Eight-Legged Problem

Hi there!
(From Wikimedia Commons.)

So when trying to teach your children a dead language, issues of vocabulary come up more often than not, and today my eldest daughter asked me, “mahi meltha ‘spider’?” (What’s the word [for] ‘spider’?”).

I can tell you right away that it doesn’t come up very often in my translation work (much like “monkey”) so I immediately hit the books and came upon an interesting dilemma.

There appear to be several words that are used to express our eight-legged friends that are endemic to different dialects.

  1. ܓܘܓܝ (gwagai) in Syriac.
  2. Some permutation of עכב (“to hold back,” formed as עכבי or עכובי etc.) in late Jewish dialects.
  3. And an obscure form ܟܘܟܝܗ in Christian Palestinian Aramaic (the only Western example) which seems to be a phonetically spelled loan from the Syriac form (g -> k).

So then there is the question: Which of these to adopt into the “official” family vocabulary?

As a matter of keeping the dialect as Western as I can, I’m trying to avoid Syriac vocabulary to fill the gaps, and in this case it would normally disqualify the CPA form (as where CPA is a Western dialect, it’s most certainly from the Syriac); however, the late Jewish form is rather late and עכב is not attested in Galilean.

We’ll see what a bit more digging will turn up later. 🙂


One thought on “An Eight-Legged Problem

  1. I always liked the Assyrian Neo-Aramaic word for “spider”: zaqraqode; with zaqra meaning “weaves” and qode meaning “webs”, thus literally “weaves webs”. It’s the kind of thing you’d expect from a Greek or a German to derive new words from mashing old words together. 🙂

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