What sorts of changes led the Biblical Hebrew name Shiloah (שילוח) to become Siloam (in Greek) and Silwan (in Arabic)? Has this been discussed anywhere?

EDITED I removed the word morphological from my question.


1 Answer 1


I don't think any of these qualify as morphological changes.

Koine Greek lacked a /ʃ/ phoneme, so Hebrew shin was regularly transcribed with sigma /s/. The final mu is, I think, a relic of mimation: in many Semitic languages, an /m/ is attached to the end of various nouns. This feature has been lost in Hebrew, hence the lack of mem in שילוח.

Arabic /s/ often corresponds to Hebrew /ʃ/ and vice versa, which is of great interest in reconstructing Proto-Semitic. The consensus is that Proto-Semitic *š or *s₁ led to /ʃ/ in Hebrew and /s/ in Arabic, while *ś or *s₂ led to /s/ in Hebrew and /ʃ/ in Arabic. I don't know the etymology of this name but presumably it came from a root with *š or was analogized to one that did. Proto-Semitic mimation became Classical Arabic nunation, with a final /n/ instead of an /m/. And finally, Arabic has no /o/, and generally prefers glides (/w j ʕ/) while Hebrew tends more toward clusters of vowels.

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    It seems to me that the Arabic Silwan/سلوان comes from Greek Σιλωὰμ, with the expected replacement of /m/ with /n/ because of normal Arabic phonology and the frequency of Arabic nouns ending in /n/ even without nunation. I agree that the Greek probably stems from an ancestor of the Hebrew name that had mimation. Some Greek borrowings were quite early. Similar correspondences exist with other names, such as some of the equivalents of "Shiloh," which is a place different from "Shiloah." Commented Jul 12, 2022 at 20:14
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    @Vegawatcher Also possible, but the fact that it's a place in Jerusalem makes me think direct contact with Hebrew is more likely, and the fact that it looks so much like the famous root ŠLM (even if the final /m/ is from mimation) makes me think analogy would be very easy.
    – Draconis
    Commented Jul 12, 2022 at 20:21
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    I wonder about a direct borrowing because I would expect that Arabic would also have borrowed the ח as خ (ḥ) or ح (ḵ). Dropping this phoneme seems like a frequent Greek habit; however, I cannot think of another borrowing with this phoneme in stem final position. Commented Jul 12, 2022 at 20:52

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