Arabic Observations: Doubled Roots


root: ز-و-ج / active participle of form VIII / definition: double

I really love writing these Arabic Observations posts, because the way the Arabic language reveals its beautiful complexities—no matter how “small” they may be—deserves to be recorded.

In the course of my frequent ambling through the Hans Wehr dictionary, I have in many instances stumbled upon what can be called “doubled” (or “repeated” or “reduplicated”) roots.

And what I mean by this is that the first two root letters are repeated to form a four-letter root that looks something like ف-ع-ف-ع.

What’s really interesting is that the words derived from this type of root overwhelmingly refer to a repeated action or sound.

Not only that, but a lot of the words derived from these doubled roots actually onomatopoetically mimic the sound of what they signify.

So the meanings of words from doubled roots are often reflected in both the repeated form and the phonology.

Take a look at the following roots and their core meanings (get ready for a long list):

و-س-و-س (w-s-w-s) and و-ش-و-ش (w-sh-w-sh): to whisper

ط-ق-ط-ق (T-q-T-q): to rattle, creak

ع-س-ع-س (‘a-s-‘a-s): to darken

ر-ف-ر-ف (r-f-r-f): to flutter, flicker

ن-ح-ن-ح (n-H-n-H): to clear one’s throat, say “ahem”

ك-ح-ك-ح (k-H-k-H): to cough

ز-ل-ز-ل (z-l-z-l): to shake, tremble; from this root, we get the words زَلزَلة and زِلزال, meaning “earthquake” (i.e. an event of repeated shaking)

ر-ج-ر-ج (r-j-r-j): to sway, to make something shake

ق-ل-ق-ل (q-l-q-l): to shake, convulse

ه-ز-ه-ز (h-z-h-z): to move, agitate, convulse

ق-ر-ق-ر (q-r-q-r): to rumble

د-ن-د-ن (d-n-d-n): to buzz, hum, murmur; notice how even the English word “murmur” appears to be a repeated root itself

ت-ك-ت-ك (t-k-t-k): to tick (a clock); similar to the English ticktock

ر-ع-ر-ع (r-‘a-r-‘a): to grow, flourish

و-ح-و-ح (w-H-w-H): to tremble, shiver, shudder

ق-ه-ق-ه (q-h-q-h): to laugh

ص-ل-ص-ل (S-l-S-l): to clink, jingle, rattle

ص-ر-ص-ر (S-r-S-r): to chirp, creak

و-ع-و-ع (w-‘a-w-a’): to howl, yelp, bark

و-ل-و-ل (w-l-w-l): to wail, howl; it’s interesting here how the Arabic has the same [w] and [l] consonants as the English “wail”

د-ل-د-ل (d-l-d-l): to swing, dangle

ذ-ب-ذ-ب (dh-b-dh-b): to swing, dangle, vibrate

ج-د-ج-د (j-d-j-d): from this root comes the word for “cricket”, جُدجُد (think about the repeated sounds crickets make)

ج-ع-ج-ع (j-‘a-j-‘a): to make noise

ث-ر-ث-ر (th-r-th-r) and د-ر-د-ر (d-r-d-r): to chatter, prattle

د-م-د-م (d-m-d-m): to mutter, grumble

غ-م-غ-م (gh-m-gh-m): to mumble, mutter

ج-م-ج-م (j-m-j-m) and ت-م-ت-م (t-m-t-m): to stammer, mumble

ت-ء-ت-ء (t-‘-t-‘): to stammer

ز-ق-ز-ق (z-q-z-q): to chirp, to rock a child in one’s arms

ل-ع-ل-ع (l-‘a-l-‘a): to reverberate, to glimmer

ل-ء-ل-ء (l-‘-l-‘): to glisten, sparkle, glimmer

د-ح-د-ح (d-H-d-H): to waddle

غ-ر-غ-ر (gh-r-gh-r) and ر-غ-ر-غ (r-gh-r-gh): to gurgle; this pair is particularly interesting because both roots share the same meaning and the same two repeated letters, just in different orders

ب-ء-ب-ء (b-‘-b-‘): the word بُؤْبُؤ comes from this root, which can mean “core”, “root”, or “pupil (of the eye)”

ض-ع-ض-ع (D-‘a-D-‘a): to demolish

…and there are actually many more!

To give some real-life context to these fascinating roots, I just flicked through the last few pages I’ve read of a novel, and look at how many examples we can see:

Have you come across any other doubled roots? If so, let us know in the comments below!

Until the next post, مع السلامة!

P.s. You can check out my previous Arabic Observations posts here: Word Twins and Root Derived From Phrase (and you might be interested in Treasures in Translation too, which has the link to a really great resource), enjoy!

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