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Archeological Dialectology: Reconstructing the Etymological Derivation of the Various Lexemes Denoting the Obsolete Farm-Implement “Threshing-Board” in Palestinian Dialects

Pages 125 - 134


Galilean Arabic preserves an array of agriculture terminology which has ancient cultural roots, some dating to Biblical times, others found in Semitic languages that infiltrated this region in the course of time. Presently the Galilee region is experiencing rapid language change for several reasons: some concern modernism, others the influence of Hebrew. These processes threaten an enormous display of vocabulary with obsolescence. The article probes for the etymological roots of an ancient agriculture apparatus, the threshing-board, which belongs to the research region and has several diferent lexemes. This research shows that the various etymons of this tool belong to a wider agriculture circle of agricultural terminology. Timeliness is of the essence with the collection of the region's agricultural vocabulary to repel the grave danger of obsolescence.


1 The Arabic grammarian Ibn Ǧinnī (932–1002) at the beginning of his book al-Khaṣā'iṣ develops the idea of Taqlībāt, whereby the consonants in a specific root change places so that a joint semantic circle forms of all roots. See ‘Ibn Ǧinnī: al-Khaṣā'iṣ. Egypt 1913, pp. 1–4; in my article I rely also on comparative Semitic, as set forth in the book by W. Gesenius: Handwörterbuch über das Alte Testament. Berlin 1962 and on Nostratic Theory, as shown the book by A.-B. Dolgopolsky: From Proto-Semitic to Hebrew: Phonology: Etymological Approach in a Hamito-Semitic Perspective. Milano 1999, p. 99: the word ǧərn appears in Ge'ez in the same meaning.

2 According to a joint fieldwork, it was in use for example in the Galilean Moslem village of Naḥef until 1979; see F. Zachs / A. Geva-Kleinberger: “On the Path to Obsolescence: Children's Songs and Nursery Rhymes from the Galilean Muslim Village of Naḥef.” In: Mediterranean Language Review (forthcoming).

3 Rarely also illōḥ (“the board”). See I. Halayqa: Traditional Agriculture and Domestic Tools in Palestinian Arabic: An Ethnographic and Lexical Study. Wiesbaden 2014, p. 59: “A wooden tablet, board or plank, but it also refers to a threshing tablet of different sizes.”

4 See Cl. Denizeau: Dictionnaire des Parlers Arabes de Syrie, Liban et Palestine (Supplément au Dictionnaire Arabe-Français de A. Bartélemy). Paris 1960, p. 483: “lōḥ ed-drâs «planche à dépiquer». See also Dictionnaire de l'arab parlé palestinien (français-arabe). Jérusalem/Afula: Fraternité 1983), p. 300. For more details see G. Dalman: Arbeit und Sitte in Palästina. Hildesheim/Zürich / New York 1987 (repr.), Band III, p. 79.

5 M. M. Aranov: The Biblical Threshing-Floor in the Light of the Ancient Near Eastern Evidence: Evolution of an Institution. Ann Arbor, Mich. 1977, p. 314, relates the name etymologically back to the Hebrew word מגרה [“drawer”]. He adds on the same page: “The morag was adopted in Greece and Rome much later than its introduction in [Ancient] Israel”.

6 Ibid, p. 59. Halayqa mentions that this word is in use in Jerusalem. See also R. Sobeh: The Agricultural Lexicon in the Dialects of Shafa'amr. MA thesis under the supervision of Aharart Geva-Kleinberger. University of Haifa 2015, pp. 131–133 (in Arabic). See also A. Bthėlemy: Dictionnaire Arabe-Français: Dialectes de Syrie: Alep, Damas, Liban, Jérusalem. Paris 1935, p. 855: “náwraj- herse à depiquer le grain.” This term is found also in Egypt. He relates this lexeme back to Literary Arabic nawraju. According to him, it also has traces in Modern Greek with a metathesis: ‘΄ροχάνα. He also mentions that the variant máwraj is in use in Lebanon, and the existence of a term that relates to the root “djrdjr”. Compare also Gesenius 1962, p. 408. Gesenius assumes that this lexem appears also in Old South Arabic as نورج. He adds that this word together with مورج was spoken even in his time. See also A. Geva-Kleinberger/Y. Ben-Artzi: Von Muelinen's Mount Carmel [ha-Karmel shel Von Muelinen]. Jerusalem 2013 [Scientific annotations, translation and editing of E. von Mülinen: Beiträge zur Kenntnis des Karmels. Leipzig 1908], p. 306: The word nōraǧ was also in use in the village of il-Fredīs, which is located on the northern coast of Israel, south of Haifa. It strengthens the assumption that this word has a northerly “Coastal Isolex” which continues farther north to the Syrian coastline, based on Behnstedt's data in his Syrian atlas. The word نورج as the agriculture implement “threshing-board” appears also in the Classical Arabic Dictionaries: see e. g. Ibn Durayd: Ǧamharat al-Luġa. Beirut 1987, pp. 1169, 2.

7 P. Behnstedt: Sprachatlas von Syrien. Wiesbaden 1997, Map 492, pp. 984–985.

8 The linguistic informant is Yūsef Ṣabbāġ, born in 1922. The name of the tool in Mí'ilya is lōḥ ed-drās. The informant stated that he used to make it himself. He says [sentence 44 in the recording]: “loḥ iddras, b-ilawwal bažīb ilxašabi ġalīḓa. ġalīḓa, ya'ni hēk. bašuqqa b-innuss. [Sentence] 45. ba'dēn banažžíra ba'mallha sidir min quddam.” Meaning [sentence 44 in the recording]: “The threshing-board: at the beginning I bring wood which is very rough, and I divide it into two parts. [Sentence 45]: Then I do the woodwork, shaping the form of a big plate in the front.”

9 Behnstedt marks the Syrian coastal dialects as “C”, ibid., p. 1004. Even phonetically, this region shows an isophone, e. g. in the use of ž; see ibid., pp. 6–7.

10 Aranov 1977, p. 26: “The season of threshing—waraḫ ‘adri [in Akkadian] ירח אדר [in Hebrew]”; “the time of threshing comes after compilation of the reaping”.

11 Dalman describes the threshing-board in great detail in the third volume of Dalman 1987, pp. 78–97.

12 There are two types of threshing-boards used by Palestinian peasants: “Palestinian” and “Turkish”. The Palestinian type is smaller and contains sharp stones.

13 Dalman 1987, p. 81.

14 Compare also Gesenius 1962, p. 408: “Dreschschlitten, ein n. vorn etw. aufwärts gebogener Schlitten, auf der unteren Seite m. spitzen Steinen od. Messern besetzt”.

15 The etymon of the word Nouraghe meaning megalithic edifices found in Sardinia is still unknown. This archeological structure might have had a religious function on one hand and an agricultural purpose on the other.

16 Aranov 1977, p. 318: “stone-embedded threshing[-]board”.

17 See Halayqa 2014, pp. 59–60: also used as passim (פסים literally “rails” or “stripes”) in Mishnaic Hebrew.

18 Dalman 1987, III, p. 82, notes that here Rabbi Sa'adya Gaon translates the Hebrew text into the Arabic term مورج.

19 King James Version.

20 New International Version.

21 Aranov 1977, p. 314: “Rabinic texts relate מורגים to a device ‘goat with hooks’ עיזא דקירקסא wherewith the threshers thresh. It is clear from several texts that what is being described by all these terms is the classical מורג threshing-sledge”. See also Y. A. Bar-Lev: Yedid Nefesh le-Mesekhet Shabat (le-Talmud Bavli). Petah-Tikva 1998, II, p. “ומוריגי :נ“ה .בהמה ללא מלח”.] המוציא יין, פרק שמיני,] שבת.

22 The Targum uses here מוריגי סומפורין, which has an etymon derived from מספריים “scissors”.

23 Compare Aranov 1977, p. 318: “the remarkable similarity to the Accadian [sic.] and Aramaic threshing flail ‘turbalum’ should be noted … In the Sumerian language turbalum is the rod used to separate grain from straw.” According to Aranov, the etymon of turbalum derives from the Sumerian composite of the words duru and bal which means “to break open” or “to disrupt”. I am not sure that Aranov's suggestion is right. I suggest another interpretation, based on J. Black / A. George / N. Postgate: A Concise Dictionary of Akkadian. Wiesbaden 2000, duru in the sense of “permanence” [p. 62: p. 57, from dāru “to last”] and balu in the sense of “without” [p. 37], and as a composite in the sense of “device”, like the semantics of the Latin word automobile.

24 Aranov 1977

25 Dalman 1987, p. 90.

26 Threshing in Maltese (which derives from Arabic) is tidrīs. On the compatibility and etymology of Arabic words in Maltese see A. Geva-Kleinberger: “The Mystery of the Dance: The Semitic Etymological Derivation of the Maltese Root √żfn and Its Contribution to History.” In: Semitica 58 (2016), pp. 271–287

27 See note 6 above.

28 Aranov 1977, p. 20: “A gōren is that complex of areas, structures and appurtenances where the farmer processes his harvested corn, barley, wheat and spelt. In order to make the grain product edible, the farmer had first to separate and cleanse the kernels from their adhering chaff.”

29 Halayqa 2014, p. 59. He refers to the word lḥ in Punic, which is the Phoenician dialect of Carthage. On Phoenician-Punic agricultural terminology in Egyptian Arabic dialects see also G. Conti: Apporti tra Egiziano e Semitico nel Lessico Egiziano dell'Agricoltura. Firenze 1978, pp. 175–176. Halayqa finds the same etymon of lḥ in Nabatean. This word lacks vowels, as is prevalent in this dialect. Halayqa even locates the apparatus lē'u in Akkadian, citing von Soden. For more details on Phoenician and Punic agriculture see also E. Lipiński / C. Baurain: Dictionnaire de la Civilisation Phénicienne et Punique. Turnhout 1992, pp. 9–10.

30 Aranov 1977, p. 36, adds details on the sanctity of threshing for the ancient Egyptians. On page 39 he refers to the magical power of the threshing-board: generally “[i]t was not unusual for the local threshing-floor to serve as ‘high place’.” Also among the Philistines, “the local deity was a grain god and bore the name of Dagon [dorn]”, ibid., p. 51.

31 F. J. Cadora: Interdialectal Lexical Compatibility in Arabic. Leiden 1979, p. 5: “Compatibility is a synchronic dialectological concept that operates on the lexical level. It assesses the degree of lexical relationship that exists between two or more varieties of a given language at a given time irrespective of geography.”

32 The Arabic word for “peasants”.

33 A. M. Barghouthi: Dictionary of Colloquial Palestinian Arabic. Ramallah-Bireh, n. d., p. 268. See also Ibn Manđour: Lisān al-‘Arab. Beirut 1956, v. 13, p. 82: the word جرن [ǧurn] is also associated here with بيدر “threshing-floor”.

34 Compare Behnstedt 1997, map 399, pp. 798–799.

35 See also R. Dozy: Takmilat al-Ma'āǧim al-‘Arabiyya. Iraq 1979–2000, v. 5, p. 122: “جاروفة تنظف بها الحبوب في البيدر” [an agricultural device that cleans the grain on the threshing-floor]

36 Aranov 1977, p. 18: “winnowing involved the further separating of the kernels”. See also ibid., p. 315.

37 See Barghouthi n. d., p. 55: “طرح الزرعة أي البذر في الأرص”

38 Thus lōḥ eddrās.

39 The Arabic word صرار ṣarār “pebble” lefts its traces in Canaanite. Compare S. Hopkins: “Pebbles: Canaanite Substrate Word in Palestinian Arabic.” In: ZAL 30 (1995), pp. 37–49.


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