Usually the Turkish word kalem 'pen' is shown in etym. dictionaries to derive from Arabic qalam, which in turn derives from Greek κάλαμος. However, I noticed that Tocharian languages have the term kalām 'writing stylus' and I started thinking of the possibility that the Turkish word is through earlier Turkic-Tocharian contacts and not a later Turkish-Arabic contact. Has anyone considered the Tocharian kalām?


The Greek word kalamos “reed, reed pen, stylus” has a good Indo-European etymology (cognate with, for example, German Halm “reed”). It was borrowed not only in Arabic, as qalam, but also into Sanskrit as kalama-. The Tocharian word is presumably borrowed from Sanskrit. The Turkish word is from Arabic.

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    I am hesitant to say that anything is completely out of the question. But since this word does not (as far as I can see) occur in Old Turkish it is certainly most likely that it is borrowed from Arabic. – fdb Jan 21 '17 at 19:20
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    @mobileink. The IE proto-form has been reconstructed as *ḱ(o)lh2-m-. It is not Semitic. – fdb Jan 21 '17 at 23:20
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    @mobileink. This has nothing to do with "Western attempts". The existence of loan words even in the language of the Qur'an is recognised by classical Islamic scholars like as-Suyuti, al-Jawaliqi etc., etc. – fdb Jan 21 '17 at 23:31
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    @Midas. IE *ḱ(o)lh2-m- accounts for the Greek, Balto-Slavic and Germanic forms. Latin calamus and Skt kalama- are borrowings from Greek; in genuine Skt words *ḱ would have become s-. – fdb Jan 22 '17 at 11:55
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    @Midas: fwiw i poked around in the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary and could not find anthing promising. If it were semitic i would expect to find sth there, so i'll go with the proposal that Arabic indeed borrowed it. – mobileink Jan 22 '17 at 20:07

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