It seems to me that many Arabic female names are ending in -a: Fatima, Yamina, Aisha, Aziza. Is this a modern innovation imported from Indo-European languages or a native feature? Also I wonder about nouns and country names like say Jamahiriya, Arabiya etc.


The feminine ending -at- is pan-Semitic, as in Arabic malik-un “king” vs. malik-at-un “queen”. In pausal position -at-un becomes -ah, so malikatun becomes malikah. There are similar pausal forms in Aramaic, Hebrew, etc. This is all purely Semitic and has nothing to do with Indo-European.

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    does this mean that Allah is feminine also?
    – Anixx
    Apr 20 '14 at 11:28
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    No. allāhu has a long ā. It is part of the stem.
    – fdb
    Apr 20 '14 at 11:31
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    There are a few male personal names with the ending -atu , -ah, for example ʼumayyah, or muʻāwiyah; also a small number of masculine common nouns like xalīfah ‘caliph’, in the same way that there a small number of feminine nouns without the suffix –atun, -ah, e.g. ʼumm ‘mother’. Every rule has exceptions.
    – fdb
    Apr 20 '14 at 22:43
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    This change -at to -ah evolved several times independently. That's how Sáenz-Badillos (A History of the Hebrew Language) puts it: "A striking phenomenon ... is the similar development within many different Semitic languages, albeit by various routes and at different times, of the feminine ending -at, so that the -t is dropped in the absolute state but retained in the construct."
    – alephreish
    Apr 23 '14 at 23:13
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    No. I was trying to explain that these pausal forms are already in Classical Arabic, and in other ancient Semitic languages. Does that not answer your question?
    – fdb
    Apr 25 '14 at 8:42

Semitic nouns originally had three cases:nominative,objective,possessive/oblique; and many feminine nouns took a -ta ending, which shortened to -a@(glottal stop or the like) and then simply to -a(long, and often written as -ah).so, we might illustrate all of the above as follows, using the sus/horse root:-

                                                   masculine    feminine
                                                   horse        mare

nominative - horse/mare as subject. sus.u. sus.at.u

objective. horse/mare as object/extent/direction. sus.a.(ma/m) sus.at.a(ma/m)

possessive - of horse/mare; horse's/mare's} sus.i. sus.at.i oblique - to/by/from/with/etc. horse/mare}

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    If all your comments are part of one answer, can you please keep them together? You can click on "edit" below your answer and modify it as many times as you wish. Please post separate answers only if the answers are distinct.
    – prash
    Apr 24 '14 at 19:48

Most likely derivation of 'Allah (found as a pre-Quranic name) is 'al-'ilah = the (supreme/true/only)God. Arabic 'ilah = Hebrew 'elah >'elo(a)h.

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    There is no point in writing Arabic in Latin script if you do not distinguish long and short vowels.
    – fdb
    Apr 24 '14 at 22:20
  • There ĭs nō point ĭn wrītĭng Englĭsh ĭn Lătin scrĭpt ĭf you do nŏt dĭstĭnguĭsh lŏng ănd short vowels either. Or māybē wē jŭst hăve opĭnions. Apr 25 '14 at 5:15
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    It is just that the whole spurious comparison between Indo-European and Afro-Asiatic collapses when you realise that the IE feminine marker is long/ ā/ (or if you prefer *eH), while that in AA is /at/ with short /a/, or merely /t/.
    – fdb
    Apr 25 '14 at 10:15
  • @fdb the long a in PIE came from a+h2 < e+h2.
    – Anixx
    Jun 25 '14 at 14:28

Masculine adjectives in Arabic can end in -I: hence, 'Arab.i...and the femininine is made from adding -ya to the masculine: hence, the feminine would become 'arab.i.ya.

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