Monday, February 26, 2007

yayin and wine

When my bilingual six year old is offered a drink at kiddush, she would like to know if it is grape juice or "wayin". She obviously senses the similarity between the Hebrew yayin יין and the English "wine". Are the words related?

According to most scholars, yes. What isn't clear is how. The Hebrew yayin is clearly related to the other Semitic words - Ugaritic yn, Arabic wayn, Akkadian inu. The Indo-European words are also connected - Greek oinos, Latin vinum, Albanian vone, Armenian gini - as is the English word "vine".

The words are all similar enough - what isn't clear is if the Semitic borrowed from the Indo-European, the Indo-European borrowed from the Semitic, or both borrowed from somewhere else. A popular theory is that wine making began in the Caucasus - in modern-day Turkey and Armenia, and the word originated there, perhaps the Hittite wiyana. There are those that connect this fact to the first story of wine in the Bible - Noah's planting a vineyard after landing on Mount Ararat, which is in that region (Bereshit 9:20).

And what of my daughter's wayin? According to Kutscher, this was probably the earliest Semitic form of the word - וין. Why did it change to yayin in Hebrew? Because of a general rule in Hebrew (as well as Aramaic and Ugaritic) that a vav in the beginning of a word becomes a yod. Arabic and Ethiopian do not have that rule, and we can see this in the Arabic word for boy - walad, which in Hebrew becomes yeled.

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