ARABIC LANGUAGE ii. Iranian loanwords in Arabic



ii. Iranian Loanwords in Arabic

Loanwords in Arabic, traditionally called moʿarrab (arabicized) or daḵīl (foreign words), include a considerable number of Iranian elements. Political relations between the Iranians and the Arabs go back to the Achaemenid period (5th century B.C.), when Arabia (Old Pers. Arabāya-) formed a satrapy of the Persian empire consisting of Palestine, Lebanon, and the Syrian desert up to the Euphrates. In the absence of any evidence for cultural relations between the two nations in this period, Arabic words that can be proved to be of Old Iranian origin must have been borrowed later through Aramaic, which was the lingua franca and the chancellery language of the Achaemenids. From the 5th century A.D., the Lakhmid princes of Ḥīra in Babylon, west of the Euphrates, were Sasanian vassals, and the Lakhmid kingdom was one of the cultural intermediaries between the two peoples. Some of the Arab poets of the Lakhmid court, including ʿAdī b. Zayd and Aʿšā, were well versed in Middle Persian and acquainted with Iranian culture. ʿAdī b. Zayd served as secretary at the court of Ḵosrow I and was later sent as the king’s envoy to Byzantium; Aʿšā also lived a long time at the Sasanian court. Other Arabs living in Ḥīra were well acquainted with Iranian mythology and history; at the time of Moḥammad, Nażr b. al-Ḥāreṯ from the Qorayš tribe related stories of Iranian kings and other heroes in Mecca and compared them with the Koran and the sayings of the Prophet.

Bahrain and Oman to Yemen were also under Iranian rule. An Iranian community called asābeḏa (plural of asbaḏ “horse-master”) lived in Bahrain, and the Sasanian commander Wahrēz led a successful campaign against Abraha, the Ethiopian ruler of Yemen at the request of the Himyarids. The Iranians, called “sons of nobles” (Banu ’l-aḥrār), are constantly praised by the Arabs for their liberation of Yemen (A.D. 562-72).

After the Arab conquest of Iran, the new Muslim rulers, who had no experience with imperial government, sought the assistance of the Iranians in administering the newly established states, and in succeeding centuries, the Iranians also made important literary and scientific contributions, including the translation of a number of Pahlavi books into Arabic.

Most Middle Persian or New Persian words entered Arabic during the first four centuries of the Islamic period. This occurred both directly and indirectly. Most of the words entering directly came from Middle Persian (Pahlavi), the official language of the Sasanian period, which survived as a religious language in Zoroastrian communities, and to a certain degree as an administrative language in the early centuries of the Islamic period. Besides the loans from Middle Persian, there are also some that must have come from Parthian (or a related dialect), cf. marǰ “meadow” (Parth. marg, NPers. marḡ, but Mid. Pers. marw); -ǰūn “color” (Parth. -gōn, Mid. Pers. -yōn, NPers. -gūn and -yūn; cf. e.g. Ar. samanǰūn, Parth. zargōnag, NPers. zaryūn “golden”); tāǰ (Parth. *tāg, cf. Arm. ṭʿag, Syriac and Mandean tāgā, NPers. tāǰ); raṣāṣ “tin, lead” (Parth. *aṛčīč, cf. Arm. aṛčič, Mid. Pers. and NPers. arzīz); namraq (nomroq) “cushion” (cf. Parth. namr “humble, meek,” Mid. Pers. and NPers. narm “soft”).

Loans from New Persian can be identified only when the NPers. forms differ from the Mid. Pers. ones. Thus the following can be assumed to have been borrowed from New Persian: ḵāna “box, column” (NPers. ḵāna “house,” Mid. Pers. xānag); šīra “juice” (= NPers., cf. the earlier loan sīraǰ from Mid. Pers. šīrag); kūšk “kiosk” (= NPers., cf. ǰawsaq from Mid. Pers. kōšk, cf. Syr. gwšqʾ); zīr “soprano, treble” (= NPers.; Mid. Pers. zēr).

Indirect borrowings took place via Aramaic or Syriac, cf.: kanz “treasure” (Aram. gnz from Old Pers. *ganza-); fetkar “idol” (Aram. ptkr “relief, sculpture,” from Old Pers. patikara-); zarnīḵ “orpiment” (Aram. zrnyk, from Old Pers. *zaranyaka-, a Median form, beside genuine Old Pers. daraniya- “gold”); dāšen, plur. dawāšen “gift” (Aram. dšnʾ, from Old Pers. *dāšna-, cf. Mid. Pers. dāš(i)n); but also via Turkish (in the Ottoman period, see K. Vollers, “Beiträge zur Kenntniss der lebenden arabischen Sprache,” ZDMG 50, 1896, pp. 607-57; W. Eilers, “Iranisches Lehngut im Arabischen,” Actas do IV Congresso de Estudos Árabes e Islâmicos [Lisbon, 1968], Leiden, 1971, p. 595), cf.: tāzǰa “joiner’s bench” (Turk. tezgiah, from NPers. dastgāh); tarzī “tailor” (Turk. terzi, from NPers. darzī); šorrāb “stocking” (Turk. čorab, cf. the older loanword ǰawrab, both from NPers. ǰūrāb).

The Iranian loans in Arabic were of course adapted to the Arabic phonology. Phonetical changes include the following. Vowels: The Mid. and classical NPers. maǰhūl vowels ē and ō appear as ī, ay, or ā and ū or aw, e.g., dībāǰ “silk brocade” (Mid. Pers. dēbāg, NPers. dībā); fīrūzaǰ or fayrūzaǰ “turquoise” (Mid. Pers. *pērōzag, NPers. f/pīrūza); bāl “spade” (Mid. Pers. bēl, NPers. bīl); šerās “glue” (Mid. Pers. *@srēš, NPers. serīš); raṣāṣ “tin, lead” (see above); mūq “shoe” (Mid. Pers. mōg); rawšan “window” (Mid. Pers. rōšn “light,” NPers. rowšan).

Consonants. Iranian p, č, and g, which are sounds foreign to Arabic, are replaced by f or b; (s), š or ǰ; and ǰ or q (in late borrowings also k). Ir. p, cf.: fostaq (fostoq) “pistachio” (Mid. Pers. pistag, NPers. peste); fālūḏaǰ, sweetmeat of flour, water, and honey (Mid. Pers. pālūdag); bābūš or bābūǰ “slipper” (NPers. pāpūš); ferǰār or ferkār (berkār) “pair of compasses” (NPers. pargār); fīšfaraǰ and šofāraǰ “sweetmeats” (Mid. Pers. pēšpārag). Ir. č, cf. ṣanǰ “harp” (Mid. NPers. čang, Parth. šang); ṣarm “hide, leather” (Mid., NPers. čarm); ṣārūǰ and šārūq “mortar” (Mid. Pers. čārūg); ṣehrīǰ “cistern” (Mid. Pers. *čāhrēg); ǰaṣṣ “gypsum” (Mid., NPers. gač); ṣawbaǰ and šawbaq “rolling pin” (Mid. Pers. čōbag “wand”); šawḏar “veil” (Mid. Pers. čādur); šaṭranǰ “chess” (Mid. Pers. čatrang); in tašmīzaǰ, a medicinal black grain (NPers. čašmīzag), we have t through dissimilation (cf. R. Dozy, Supplément aux dictionnaires arabes I, Leiden, 1877, p. 147); in some late loans we find ǰ, cf.: ǰank “harp” (cf. ṣanǰ, above); ǰankī “harp player;” ǰārkāh, the name of a musical mode (NPers. čārgāh); ǰormūq and (older?) sarmūǰa “boot” (Mid. Pers. *čarmmōg “leather shoe,” see Eilers, Lehngut, 1971); serāǰ “lamp” has s instead of (Parth. čarāg, NPers. čarāḡ, Aram. šrgʾ, Mid. Pers. čarāh). Ir. g, cf.: ǰawhar “substance, jewel” (Mid. Pers. gōhr); ǰond “army” (Mid. Pers. gund); ǰoʾḏar “calf” (Mid. Pers. gōdar); ǰāmūs, plur. ǰawāmīs “buffalo” (Mid. Pers. gāwmēš); ǰond and qond “testicle” (Mid. Pers. gund); ǰorboz and qorboz “sly, cunning” (NPers. gorboz); qašnīz “coriander” (Mid. Pers. gišnīz, NPers. gešnīz; on this word see W. B. Henning, Asia Major, N.S. 10, 1963, pp. 195-99); in final position: korbaǰ (qorbaǰ) “shop, tavern” (Mid. Pers kurbag); nāmaq and nāmaǰ “letter, writing” (Mid. Pers. nāmag); mūq “large boot” (see above); dokāh, sekāh, cf. ǰārkāh above (NPers. dogāh, segāh).

Ir. t and k are sometimes replaced by the emphatic t¡ and q ; k occasionally also by . Ir. t, cf : tāǰ (see above), tūt “mulberry” (NPers. tūt); tadroǰ (taḏroǰ ) “pheasant” (from Parth. *tadarg? cf. Mid. Pers. tadar(w), NPers. taḏarw); ṭābaq “frying pan” (Mid. Pers. tābag); ṭayhūǰ “partridge” (Mid. Pers. tēhōg, NPers. tīhū); ṭabar “axe” (Mid., NPers. tabar); šaṭranǰ (see above). Ir. k, cf.: korbaǰ and qorbaǰ (see above); qayrawān “caravan” (Mid. Pers. kārwān); qafīz, a measure (Mid. Pers. kafīz); qabī “partridge” (Mid., NPers. kabk); qabā, “outer garment” (Mid. Pers. kabāg); ḵandaq “ditch, moat” (Mid. Pers. *kandag).

Ir. s is sometimes replaced by the emphatic , and Ir. š occasionally by s. Ir s, cf.: seǰǰīl, “lumps of baked clay” (Mid. Pers. sag “stone” + gil “clay”); serǰīn “dung” (Mid. Pers. sargēn); bostān “garden” (Mid. Pers. bōstān); ṣard “cold” (Mid., NPers. sard); feṣfeṣ “clover” (Mid., NPers. aspast); šaṣṣ “fish-hook” (NPers. šast); Ir. st is occasionally replaced by zd, cf.: rostāq, rosdāq, and rozdāq “district” (Mid. Pers. rōstāg); rozdaq “row” (Mid. Pers. rastag). Ir. š, cf.: šīrāz “curdled whey” (= NPers.); šāǰerd ( Mid. Pers. hašāgird, NPers. šāgerd ); šāhdānaǰ “hemp seed” (Mid. Pers. šāhdānag); ḵošknān “dry bread” (= NPers.); serwāl “trousers” (Mid. Pers. šalwār); sīraǰ “sesame oil” (Mid. Pers. šīrag); mesk “musk” (Mid. Pers. mušk, NPers. mošk and mešk); dast “plain” (Mid., NPers. dašt); ṭast and ṭass “bowl” (Mid., NPers. tašt).

Ir. is occasionally replaced by , Ir. ḵᵛ by or ḵw. Ir. k: ḵāna “box, column” (see above); ḥobb, “earthern vessel” (Mid. Pers. xumb); the name of the Sasanian king Ḵosrow, Kesrā, is borrowed from Syriac Kwsrw (see A. Siddiqi, Studien über die persischen Fremdwörter im klassischen Arabisch, Göttingen, 1919, pp. 40, 72). Ir. ḵᵛ: ḵordīq, a kind of broth (Mid. Pers. xwardīg “food”); ḵewān or ḵowān “tray, table” (Mid. Pers. xwān).

Loanwords have sometimes been altered to conform with the triliteral (and quadriliteral) root system of Arabic and with the so-called “forms” (qāleb), thus the final consonant of monosyllabic words was often geminated: ǰaṣṣ “gypsum” (Mid., NPers. gač); ǰoll “rose” (Mid. Pers. gul ); qazz “silk” (Mid., NPers. kaz); consonant groups were simplified: forānaq “army leader” (Mid. Pers. parwānag); fehres “summary, register” (Mid. Pers. pahrist; NPers. fehrest from Arabic?); initial or final syllables were dropped: samanǰūn “sky blue” (NPers. āsmāngūn); mārestān “hospital” (Mid. Pers. wēmārestān, NPers. bīmārestān); šofāraǰ (fīšfāraǰ) “sweetmeats” (Mid. Pers. pēšpārag); koštobān “thimble” (Mid. Pers. anguštbān, cf. Aram. gwspnqʾ ); daydab and dayḏabān “watcher, guard” (Mid. Pers. *dīdbān).

The complete integration of loanwords sometimes led to new formations, e.g.: 1. names of trades (faʿʿāl ): ǰaṣṣāṣ “plasterer, gypsum seller,” ṣarrām “seller of hides,” qazzāz “silk manufacturer” (from ǰaṣṣ, ṣarm, kazz, see above). 2. broken plural forms of Iranian loans: mawānīd “tax debts,” from mānd (Mid., NPers. māndan “to remain”). 3. back formations on the basis of forms interpreted as plur.: fadan “palace” from afdān (Old Pers. apadāna-, Syr. ʾpdnʾ ); ferdaws “Paradise” from farādīs (from Gk. parádeisos, OIr. *paridaiza-); ǰāmūs “buffalo” from ǰawāmīs (from *ǰawāmīs, Mid. Pers. gāwmēš ); nebr “warehouse” from anbār (= Mid., NPers.). 4. denominative verbs: razaqa “provide nourishment,” from rezq (if from Mid. Pers. rōzīg “daily bread”); zaraqa “to be greenish,” from zarqūn (see below), dašana “to give,” from dāšen (see above); tāǰa “to put on a crown,” from tāǰ (see above); namaqa “to write a book,” from nāmaq (see above); mahara, mahhara “to seal,” from mohr (= Mid., NPers.).

Following is a list of Ir. loans in Arabic grouped according to their semantic sphere: 1. Administration: fayǰ “courier” (Mid. Pers. payg, NPers. peyk); dīwān “office, administration, collected writings” (= Mid., NPers.); mawānīd “tax debts” (see above); ǰahbaḏ “moneychanger” (Mid. Pers. *gēhbad, OIr. *gaiθāpati-, see W. Eilers, “Iranisches Lehngut im arabischen Lexikon,” IIJ 15, 1962, p. 211); marzabān “margrave” (Mid., NPers. marzbān); dostūr “rule, minister” (Mid. Pers. dastwar, NPers. dastūr); farmān “order, decree” (= NPers.; Mid. Pers. framān). 2. Science: ǰawhar “essence, substance” (see above); ǰawzahr “the Dragon” (astrology, Mid. Pers. gōzihr); zīǰ “astronomical table” (Mid. Pers. zīg); eyāraǰ “medication” (Mid. Pers. ayārag “helper”). 3. Music and entertainment: ṣanǰ “harp” (see above), nāy “flute” (= Mid., NPers.); mostaq “bagpipe” (Mid. Pers. mustag, Pahlavi Texts 32.14); wann “lute” (Mid. Pers. win, from OInd. vīṇā); tonbūr “cither, pandora” (Mid., NPers. tanbūr); baydaq “pawn,” plur. bayādeq (chess; Mid. Pers. payādag); farzān “queen” (chess; Mid. Pers. frazēn); roḵḵ “rook” (chess; NPers. roḵ). 4. Cuisine: sekbāǰ, a dish made of meat, wheat flour, and vinegar (Mid. Pers. *sikbāg, NPers. sekbā); kāmaḵ, a kind of gruel (Aram. kmkʾ ); ǰawzīnaǰ (ǰawzīnaq) “walnut sweetmeat” (Mid. Pers. gōzēnag); ḵordīq “broth” (see above). 5. Animals: ǰawḏar “calf” (see above), ǰāmūs “buffalo” (see above), tadroǰ “pheasant” (see above); ṭayhūǰ, a kind of partridge (see above); ṣaqr “falcon, hawk” (Mid. Pers. čark, NPers. čarḵ, čarḡ). 6. Plants: ǰawz “walnut” (Mid. Pers. gōż); banafšaǰ “violet” (Mid. Pers. wanafšag, NPers. banafša); ǰoll and ward “rose” (Mid. Pers. gul and Parth. *ward, cf. Arm. vard, Syr. wrdʾ ); ǰazar “carrot” (NPers. gazar). 7. Textiles and clothing: istabraq “thick silk brocade” (Mid. Pers. stabrag); narmaq “white fine cloth” (Mid. Pers. narm “soft”); dībāǰ “brocade” (see above); qabā “outer garment” (see above); mawzaǰ “shoe” (Mid. Pers. mōzag); mūq “large boot” (see above); qafš “shoe” (Mid. Pers. kafš ); serwāl “trousers” (see above); šawḏar “veil” (see above). 8. Architecture: korbaǰ and qorbaq “shop, tavern” (Mid. Pers. kurbag), beside kolbaǰ, ǰolfaq (NPers. kolba); ǰawsaq “palace” (see above), fadan “palace,” plur. afdān (see above); ǰonbaḏ and qobba “vault, cupola” (Mid. Pers. gunbad ); sorādeq “tent cover, curtain” (Mid. Pers. srādag “hall,” cf. Mandean srdʾqʾ ); dehlīz “vestibule” (Mid. Pers dahlīz); ṣahrīǰ “cistern” (Mid. Pers. *čāhrēg, cf. Ar. ebrīq “water jug,” from Mid. Pers. *ābrēg); nebr “warehouse,” plur. anbār (see above); zīǰ and zīq, “builder’s string” (Mid. Pers. zīg); ṣārūǰ “mortar” (see above). 9. Minerals: zāǰ “alum” (NPers. zāḡ, zaǰ ), nawšader and nūšāder “sal-ammoniac” (NPers. nošādor). 10. Measures, coins, money: qafīz, measure of grain (Mid. Pers. kafīz or kabīz); farsaḵ “farsang, league” (= NPers.); dānaq, sixth part of a drachm (Mid. Pers. dānag); ḵorda “(small) change” (= NPers.; Mid. Pers. xwurdag). 11. Colors: zarqūn “zircon” and zarǰūn “reddish, wine” (Mid. Pers. zargōn “golden”).



See also A. Sher, al-Alfāẓ al-fāresīya al-moʿarraba, Beirut, 1908.

A. Āḏarnūš, Rāhhā-ye nofūḏ-e fārsī dar farhang wa zabān-e tāzī, Tehran, 1354 Š./1975.

T. Arnold and Z. Aḥmad, Sawāʾ al-sabīl dar bayān-e moʿarrab wa daḵīl, Lahore, 1903.

M. A. Emām Šūštarī, Farhang-e vāžahā-ye fārsī dar zabān-e ʿarabī, Tehran, 1347 Š./1968.

S. Fraenkel, Die aramäischen Fremdwörter im Arabischen, Cairo, 1360/1942.

A. Jeffery, The Foreign Vocabulary of the Qurʾān, Baroda, 1938.

Ḵafāǰī, Šefāʾ al-ḡalīl, ed. M. A. Ḵafāǰī, Cairo, 1371/1952.

M. Mīnovī, “Yakī az fārsīyāt-e Abū Nowās,” MDAT 1/3, 1333 Š./1954, pp. 62-77.

M. Moḥaqqeq, “Taʾṯīr-e zabān-e fārsī dar zabān-e ʿarabī,” MDAT 7, 1338-39 Š./1959-60, no. 3, pp. 38-56; no. 4, pp. 91-110.

S. Telegdi, “Essai sur la phonétique des emprunts iraniens en araméen talmudique,” JA, 1935, pp. 177-256.

G. Widengren, Muḥammad, the Apostle of God, and his Ascension, Uppsala and Wiesbaden, 1955, pp. 178-98.

Idem, Iranisch-semitische Kulturbegegnungen in parthischer Zeit, Cologne, 1960, pp. 89-108.


Originally Published: December 15, 1986

Last Updated: August 10, 2011

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Vol. II, Fasc. 3, pp. 231-233