Sunday, June 16, 2024

dayal, doula, and degel - update

 I have a long list of words to write about. Today I started looking into one of them, and then only later did it turn out that I had already written about it. This happens occasionally - with nearly 700 posts, and often several words beyond the primary word discussed in each, I suppose it’s to be expected. I’m just relieved when I discover it before I write the whole thing. 

This time, however, I found some new information, so I thought I’d write a post that updates the earlier one.

I had intended to write a post about the words dayal דַּיָּל - “steward” and “doula.” I was planning on pointing out how they share a common origin. But I had already discussed it in my post on meltzar מֶלְצַר, another word meaning “steward”:

However, as Elon Gilad writes here, Ben Yehuda did not want the word meltzar used for "waiter" in Modern Hebrew. He preferred dayal דייל (feminine dayelet דיילת). He coined dayal on the basis of the Talmudic Aramaic word dayala דיילא - "attendant", which in turn derives from the Greek word for slave or servant - doulos. Doulos is also the root of the English word doula, which literally means "female slave".

However, as happened on more than one occasion, Ben Yehuda's plans did not win out, and people continued referring to waiters as meltzarim. But his word dayal was eventually redeemed - when El Al airlines was founded in 1948, they needed a specialized word for someone attending to passengers - and so a few years later, dayal became the Hebrew word for steward. Quite the journey for these words!

But as noted, I forgot that post, and began to research. I found Klein’s entry for dayal:

NH waiter, steward (on an airplane). [Nomen opificis coined by Eliezer ben Yehudah (1858–1922) from JAram. דַּיָּלָא (= attendant, waiter), which derives from Gk. doylos (= slave), a word standing for doelos and derived from Aegean doëro (= slave).]

As well as the Online Etymology Dictionary entry for doula:

"woman trained to assist another woman during childbirth and provide support to the family after the baby is born," by 1972, a coinage in anthropology, from Modern Greek doule, from ancient Greek doule "servant-woman," fem. of doulos "slave, servant," which probably is a word of Pre-Greek origin.

That last sentence was interesting. When Etymonline says “Pre-Greek,” it sometimes refers to a Semitic etymology. But could that be the case here?

It turns out that it just may be. The Wiktionary entry for δοῦλος (doulos) has this interesting etymology:

Related to Mycenaean Greek 𐀈𐀁𐀫 (do-e-ro /⁠dohelos⁠/),[1] possibly from Canaanite *dōʾēlu “servant, attendant” (compare Late Babylonian 𒁕𒀝𒂵𒇻 (daggālu, “subject, one who waits on another, does their bidding”), Aramaic דַּיָּילָא (dayyālā), Hebrew דייל (dayyal, “flight attendant, store clerk”)).[2]

According to Parpola,[3] the word δοῦλος is related to the ethnonym Dahae (found as Δάοι, Δάαι, Δαι or Δάσαι in Greek sources) and thus related to Sanskrit दस्यु (dasyu, “bandit, brigand”) and Sanskrit दास (dāsa) which originally meant 'demon' and later also 'slave' or 'fiend'. 

The first theory is the one that interested me - since it proposes a Semitic origin. However, it seemed rather mixed up, giving the anachronistic impression that the Greek doulos derived from not only the Aramaic dayala (which we had already seen is purported to derive from the Greek, not the other way around), but also mentions the Modern Hebrew dayal, which certainly couldn’t have influenced any Ancient Greek words. 

But I thought I’d try looking around a bit more. I couldn’t find anything of note about the Canaanite *dōʾēlu, other than websites quoting or referring back to this Wiktionary page. But the Babylonian daggālu had more promise. Since Late Babylonian is another word for Akkadian, I looked in Tawil’s dictionary of Akkadian. In the “Akkadian to Hebrew Concordance,” under dagālu, he points back to his entry for דגל. In that entry he writes:

Akkadian dagālu … to look (at) …

Akkadian dagālu in the G-Stem and S-stem has a wide variety of nuances and meanings, including “to own” and “to be a subject.” With the prepositions ana, pan, and ina pan, it means “to wait for.”

This fits what I wrote in an even earlier post on the Hebrew word דגל degel. I quoted Milgrom on Bamidbar 2:2

Hebrew degel possibly originally meant a military banner. This is supported by the Akkadian dagalu, "to look", and diglu, "sight"

But while dagālu could mean “to be a subject,” is there further evidence that it’s related to dayal and doula?

Sokoloff, in his Dictionary of Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, does make such a connection. In his entry for the Aramaic dayala דַּיָּילָא, he provides two definitions. A type of official (as in Yoma 18a) or a servant (as in Pesachim 86b). And for the etymology, he says it derives from the Akkadian dajalu - “inspector.” 

So Sokoloff says that dayala (the source of dayal) derives from dagalu. He makes no mention of the Greek doulos, but there’s nothing in what he wrote that would contradict doulos deriving either from the Akkadian or Aramaic.

Where then did Klein get his idea of a Greek origin for dayala? I assume this Ben Yehuda entry:

Ben Yehuda defines a dayal as someone who serves food (i.e., a waiter) and says it was common in Hebrew speech and also used in newspapers. In the footnote, after quoting Pesachim 86b (see above), it notes that there are those who say it is borrowed from Greek. 

I don’t know who are “those who say” but I imagine it’s possible that Akkadian scholarship at that point had not advanced to the level it later did, and so the dictionary editors weren’t aware of the possibility of an Akkadian origin. 

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