Thursday, 21 October 2010


Once when I was walking on the street coming home from work, it happened that I heard somebody who was speaking Gipsy (Romani, AKA Ghajary) language. It was fascinating. He didn't demonstrate his knowledge on Romani language, but he used it. It never happened to me like this in Hungary before, and I was impressed.

So I decided to look it up, what is to know about this language and I found that there are even efforts to standardize it. Moreover, a kind of reform arouse, which includes the tendency to replace loan-words with Hindi ones.

One of these neologisms caught my eyes.

Misal मिसाल, which means "example".

This was necessary because the majority of Romani dialects uses loan-words from the local language that surrounds it, as it can be clearly seen in case of primer (in Slavic areas), bajšpilo (German), and példa (Hungarian).

But as for the misal, it was so striking for me because I understood it immediately, as it is an Arabic word. So this praiseworthy endeavour, to unite Romani language using Hindi words, failed a little here, considering that even Hindi loaned this word. Hence, it blocked keeping things original, because this Hindi word itself is not more original than those to be replaced.

Arabic however generously presented its words to other languages. This word was also adopted by several other languages. Not to go too far, right here it is the Turkish misal, the not-really-surprising Urdu مثال (misal), which can be interpreted as a Persian word as well, and we can find its tracks in the Indonesian misalnya too. As for the Urdu and Persian words they even reserved the original spelling.

The original word مثال (mithál, with the th-sound, as in "both") derives from the Semitic root مثل mathala, which means: to be similar, to resemble. The languages above not only adopted its derivative meaning "example", but also several other forms like amsila, masal, misl, tamsil, those meaning reflects resemblance as well as the "example", "specimen", "model" all resembles to, similar to something.

One of the very useful features of Arabic language is revealed here. This is the radical-system and the pattern driven word forming derives from it. The root letters were emphasized here in order to make easy to realize what kind of patterns are drawn in the specific words, while the order of the root letters never changes.

Moreover, this word is one of those not too rare Semitic words, which share not only similar meaning but also similar pronunciation. Likewise it is in Hebrew mashal (parable/to support with examples), and Amharic msale, msalet (example).


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