Thursday, 21 October 2010

musafir, safari

Once an Arab has told me that Arabic and Romanian are of the same kind of languages. I couldn't hide my opposition. Seeing this, he immediately revealed his argument:

- It's because Romanian when asks how are you doing, what does it say? Ce faci? Right? And likewise the Arabic says: Chefach!

It was an excellent example of a hasty conclusion based on weak knowledge.

Indeed, Romanian says Ce faci, but it literally means: what are you doing? It wouldn't be hard to find the parallels of these words in any Romance languages. Even if he mentions the Slovak čo (a word for "what"), could come closer to the truth than thinking of Arabic.

The Arabic however doesn't say che fach, but it says chef-ach. And it says like this only in some closely distinct dialects in Syria and Jordan. Otherwise it says Kayf (how?) and the 2nd person singular suffix: kayf-ak, كيفك. Therefore it literally says: How are you?

Nevertheless, it really exists something between the two languages, what caught the eyes of their speaker. And this relation is the prominent number of Arabic loan-words in Romanian. As far as I know, this feature didn't get more emphasis in Romanian education than in the Hungarian one.

Such loan-words are the musafir and the world-famous safari as well. Why these two together? I tell you soon. Musafir means guest in Romanian, and according to the Etymological Dictionary of the Romanian language (DEX) it derives directly from the Turkish word misafir. The first written form of this word was müsafir which also means guest. Interesting feature, that Romanian ignored the ü/i version, and accepted the u-version, or in some dialects the currently also widely used o-based transcription: mosafir (cp. Mohamed), which is closer to the original as well. Maybe this tendency can be seen in case of the transcription of the Hungarian word Csík into Ciuc, although the original sound in this word is different.

Noteworthy, that the word musafir can be found in modern Greek as well in the form μουσαφίρης (~musafiris).

The original word was the Arabic musáfir - مسافر, which literally means traveller, who was traditionally received too. This itself derives from the root سفر safara, with the general meaning: to travel.

Here comes safari into focus, which also derives from this root, and in its original meaning it means journey, travel as well. This word travelled through the whole world and appeared in English in 1858 as safar and in 1860 as safari in the meaning: journey, expedition, taken from Swahili directly.


  1. Indeed a quick assumption about the language can lead to faulty analysis. One should refrain from making quick judgements and depend on sound knowledge and understanding. Arabic is an old and rich language. It should be treasured and flourished.

  2. Exactly the arabic is an old and rich in culture. But all the languages are victim of the rewrites / analysed by our inheritance . Eventually its changed from its real tradition for the religions , culture and people in communications