Church of the Forty Martyrs (Mardin) no. 492, dated Nov 8, 1906, is a late copy of Eliya of Nisibis’ Kitāb al-tarǧamān fī taʿlīm luġat al-suryān (that is, The Book of the Translator, for Instruction in Syriac), his very important Syriac-Arabic lexicon arranged by topic, rather than by the alphabet. The Kitāb al-tarǧamān was published in Rome in 1636 without attribution to Eliya (he is not named in several of the manuscripts either), almost 250 years later by Lagarde (with the Syriac in Hebrew script), and again recently in Iraq. There are a few brief studies on the work, and I discuss it more fully in a paper that has been accepted in the Journal of Semitic Studies, so I’ll not say much more about it generally. Here I only want to highlight the notable manuscript identified above. It is of interest especially for the fact that there is a dedicated slot on every page for Turkish words, even though in many places Syriac and Arabic is all that there is. I have said that there is a “dedicated slot” for Turkish; that is, these words are not merely added in the margin, as in some other manuscripts of Eliya’s book. (In addition to Turkish, Latin and Italian equivalents also show up in some manuscripts.) The image below has the manuscript open to §2.1, with some general vocabulary on humanity and its environment. Syriac is in the right column, Arabic in the center, and Turkish on the left, all written with Syriac letters. The usual arrangement in the manuscripts with only Syriac and Arabic is with the former on the right and the latter on the left (that is, opposite from Obicini’s and Lagarde’s presentations with Syriac following Arabic). It should be noted, too, that this manuscript dates to a time prior to that of the official adoption of a Latin-based alphabet for Turkish, which took place in 1928 as one of Atatürk’s reforms.
Here are the basic meanings listed in this part of the work, along with the Turkish words written according to standard orthography:
- human being insan
- human beings insanlar
- person insan
- people insanlar
- elements aşraf [?!]
- fire ateş
- air, wind rüzgâr
- water su
- earth yer
- mixture mizac
- hot sıcak
- cold soğuk
- wet nem, yaş (note: two words in Turkish, the former really meaning “moisture”, for one in Syriac and Arabic)
- dry kuru
Linguist R.M.W. Dixon has roundly criticized conventional dictionary arrangement, lamenting that, while grammar and other linguistic fields have advanced much in the past few centuries, dictionary-making has not. He recommends, rather than plain alphabetical arrangement, that the order for the lexicon be according to semantic types, and with a kind of index in alphabetical order that points back to this thesaurus. Ten centuries ago, Eliya of Nisibis thought along similar lines for Syriac and Arabic, and some subsequent copyists thought it prudent to tack on other languages (Turkish, Latin, Italian) while tracing this same arrangement.
[Thanks to Reyhan Durmaz for some comments on the Turkish words.]
R.M.W. Dixon, Basic Linguistic Theory, vol. 1, Methodology (Oxford, 2010). See chap. 8, esp. 8.2.
Paul de Lagarde, Praetermissorum libri duo (Göttingen, 1879).
Adam McCollum, “Prolegomena to a New Edition of Eliya of Nisibis’ Kitāb al-tarǧamān fī taʿlīm luġat al-suryān,” Journal of Semitic Studies, forthcoming.
Thomas a Novaria (Obicini), Thesaurus Arabico-Syro-Latinus (Rome, 1636).
Gérard Troupeau, “Le lexique arabe-syriaque d’Elie Bar Shinâyâ,” in J. Hamesse and D. Jacquart (eds.), Lexiques bilingues dans les domaines philosophique et scientifique (Moyen Âge – Renaissance) (Brepols, 2001), 25-30.
Stefan Weninger, “Das ‘Übersetzerbuch’ des Elias von Nisibis (10./11. Jh.) im Zusammenhang der syrischen und
arabischen Lexikographie,” in W. Hüllen, ed., The World in a List of Words (Tübingen: 1994), pp. 55-66.