This paper deals with words that sound similar in Arabic and English. It considers, in particular, the possible reason why the organ of smell was named with the help of this particular combination of sounds, namely, the word NOSE in English and the word ANF “nose” in Arabic. The author puts forward his own version (hypothesis) of the origin of these two words, and also gives some evidence that both words, Arabic and English, may have the same origin.
This paper is a fragment of a study of the similarities between the basic words of Arabic and English. It deals with such cases of apparent consonance, as between the English word EYE and the Arabic AYN "eye".
The author tried to establish why so many languages use the same or very similar combinations of sounds to name the organ of smell.
Nose in English - NOSE
Nose in Arabic - ANF أنف
At first glance it seems that these are two absolutely different words. However, there is a slight similarity between them. Both words, Arabic and English, are similar to each other because there is a common sound / n / in each of them. As the Arabic proverb says: "Better a bit than nothing." Sound / n / also occurs in many words meaning “nose” in a variety of languages. Some examples are given in the list below.
Arabic انف /anf/
Bulgarian нос /nos/
Macedonian носот /nosot/
Serbian нос /nos/
Ukrainian ніс /nis/
Kazakh мұрын /murin/
Tajik бинӣ /biny/
Urdu ناک /nak/
Hindi नाक / naak/
Japanese 鼻 /hana/
Persian بینی /bini/
Bengali নাক /nak/
The most shameful thing for a researcher is to think that something is going on for no reason. Each phenomenon has its own reason. Yes, indeed, that very often we can not know these cause-effect relationships. So in our particular case, we do not know why quite often the sound / n / is found in words meaning “nose”. In other cases, the reason of the connection between meaning and sound is obvious.
Here are some examples:
“to spit” in colloquial Arabic TAFFA تف
“to sneeze” in Arabic عطس ATS
“to cough” in colloquial Arabic كح KAHHA
Each of the above words reproduces the sound emitted when spitting, sneezing and coughing, that is, sounds transmitted in letters as “tfu”, “achoo” and “kha”. These are cases of the so-called onomatopoeia, that is, making words based on the sounds they represent.
The English verb "to cough" also occurred as an imitation of the sound made when coughing.
The similarity of the words NOSE and ANF is not limited to only one common sound / n /.
The English word NOSE sounds very similar to the English word NEWS. As for the Arabic word ANF, the same root A-N-F occurs in the words embracing the concept of something new, earlier, expresses the idea of something happened earlier. The same idea of novelty lies at the heart of the English word NEWS. Compare: nose/news /new.
The Arabic word ANF ”nose” has the same root A-N-F as the Arabic word ISTANAFA “to renew”. Its main, profound, deeper meaning is “to be ahead”, “came earlier, first”. This meaning is manifested in some other Arabic words of the same root. Such as:
ANIFAN انفا “earlier, before.”
ISTINAF استئناف “becoming new again”, “renewal”, “doing again or anew.”
ANFA انفة “the proud”, that is, literally, “feeling of being the first, “priority”, “birthright”, “earlier place”, and therefore “superiority.”
There is no doubt that the Arabic root A-N-F has the same origin as the root of such words as the English word NEW or French NOUVEAU. Compare in Latin: NASUS “nose” and NOVUM “new”.
Thus, the second similar feature between the Arabic ANF “nose” and the English NOSE is the
connection with the concept of “something new, news”.
It is possible that the answers for the following two questions:
- Why is the sound / n / so widespreaded in the languages of the world?
- Is there any connection between the sound / n / and the concept of "news"?
will be done by the psychoacoustics, the scientific study of how humans perceive various sounds and the responses associated with various sounds.
Arabic belongs to the Semitic languages.
English is a German language. One of the points of confluence, contact, meeting of the Semitic languages with the Germanic ones is the word meaning "nose".
The Arabic literary word ANF corresponds to the Algerian spoken word NIF نيف with the same root. Among the languages belonging to the group of Germanic languages, along with English, there is the Icelandic language. In Icelandic, the nose is called NEF.
Now compare: NIF “nose” and NEF “nose”.
The English word NOSE has a synonym: SNIFFER. In this word, we find the same combination of sounds: N – I – F as in Arabic N I F “nose”. A similar combination is in the Icelandic NEF "nose".
This is another indication of the closeness of the origin of the Arab ANF and the English NOSE.
There is a reason to put forward the following hypothesis of merging of the concept of “advancing, novelty” with the concept of “nose”. At the dawn of mankind, the ancient, primitive people relied heavily on their sense of smell, drawing from it the basic information about the world around them. Today the same feature is observed in animals in the wild. At that far time, the human organ of smell was very sensitive. Life or death depended on its information.
For example, in order to protect, to save oneself from a fire, it is very important to receive timely notification about the wildfire.
The sense of smell perfectly do it, bringing the smell of something burning even before the eye can see a smoke or a flame. However, later, especially after humans had learned to use fire, the sensitivity of the human nose dulled. It was influenced by smoke, a long staying in artificial rooms with their stale air, the constant smell of clothes made of animal skins, smoking and other negative factors. The humans began to rely mainly on their sight and hearing.
It is possible that in the distant past the sense of smell was the most important feeling, with the help of which humans were oriented in their environment. Like animals, a human could, through the sense of smell, to look for food, for a male or a female, to communicate with each other and to learn about danger. It was then, many thousands of years ago, that people came up with a name for the organ of smell. This word denoted the function of the nose as the main informant, the main provider of news.
As a relic of the former superiority of the nose above the eye and ear, the consonance between the English words NOSE and NEWS and the Arabic ANF ”nose” has been preserved. Shortly speaking, a NOSE is the first one who KNOWS (sorry for the pun).
Valery Osipov, PhD