Sweet Sevda(h)

The second annotation I made in my White Wedding article was sevdah, a turcism (Turkish loanword)  in Serbian. Abdulah Škaljić wrote a comprehensive book on Turkish loanwords in Serbo-Croatian  (Turcizmi u srpsko-hrvatskom jeziku, 1966, p. 561), and there he said that Serbian sevdah ‘love, love longing’ came from Turkish sevda ‘love’, via Arabic sawdā ‘black, black bile’. I think, such etymology of the word sevdah may hardly be acceptable, because there is nothing in Arabic what could possible suggest any connection between the real meaning of that word and ‘love’. On the contrary, sawdā means just ‘black’  (aswad aw abyad ‘black and white’; bilad al-sudan ‘the land of the blacks’), although it have another additional meaning in philosophical sense: black humor or black bile (based on humoral theory of Hippocratic school, later refined by Galen and Avicenna).  According to this theory, white  or colorless body fluid was named phlegma (Arab. balgham; word probably related to Serb. belina ‘whiteness’, beličast/belkast ‘whitish’  and Eng. bleach; from PIE *bhel-), the yellow one was safrá ‘yellow, bile’ (safár esh shams ‘yellowness of sun’), the red one was blood (dam or khun), etc.

Škaljić also mentioned verses from a folk love-song,  Snijeg pade drumi zapadoše (Snow fell, roads closed): ostala ti udovica mama, udala se za prvog sevdaha” (your mother be widowed, and remarried  to her first love). These folk songs are known among the people of Bosnia and Serbia as sevdalinke (love songs). At first sight, everything seems to be known: the Turks took that word from the Arabs, while the Serbs loaned the same word from the Turks, with some “local’ rearrangements done  by adding the final –h. Nevertheless, there are some vague things about the Turkish word sevda ‘love’. First one is the above mentioned discrepancy between the meanings of this word in Arabic and Turkish. The second “problem” is the existence of the words sevgi ‘love’, sevecen ‘loving’ and sevgili ‘loved, darling, beloved’ in Turkish (sf. Turkm. söýgi ‘love’, söýli ‘beloved’, Uzb. sevgi ‘love’, sevgili ‘beloved’), because these words (taking in consideration their meanings and the phonetic “closeness”) may belong to the same “root” as sevda. So, supposedly, we cannot reject the possibility that Turkish sevda may be derived from the same basis as IE words for “sweet” (*sweh-du; cf. Skr. svādú ‘sweet, Lat. suavis -e ‘sweet, pleasant’ ). The final sound ‘h’ in sevda-h, which allegedly has been added to the “Turkish stem” in Serbian, doesn’t look convincing enough. Namely, there are many Serbian words with a similar morphology. For example, uzdah ‘sigh’, predah ‘respite, time-out’, zadah ‘smell’, and almost all verbs when used in aorist or imperfect tense (1st p. sing. gledah, videh, radih, učih, sedeh etc.). Here the Serbian verb zavoditi may be of a special interest because in an aorist/imperfect form, which means ‘I seduced’, it sounds as zavodih or zavedoh (similar as sevdah).

Let us now make a small digression. There is a Latin  adjective suavidicus -a -um with the meaning ‘sweetly speaking’. Phonetically, that word is close to the Serbian verbs svideti ‘like’ and svaditi se ‘quarrel’. Russian rendezvous (свидание the place of love meeting) might be of some help here because it shows that the Slavic verb videti (OSl. видѣти, виждѫ; Cz. vidět) plays the ‘main role” in this case. Actually, Serbian svideti ‘like’ means ‘to see someone eye to eye’ – and in addition – ‘to be fond of seeing/meeting someone’. At first glance, it seems impossible to find any connection between Serbian word svideti ‘like’ and slatko ‘sweet’ (Cz. sladký, Russ. сладкий), and I do not know that any scholar ever connected Slavic slatko/sladak ‘sweet’ and English sweet. Vasmer (IV, p. 713; Brückner: Słovnik etymologiczny języka polskiego, p.500, Skok III, 277) connects Russian солодкий/сладкий ‘sweet’ with соленый ‘salted, savory”. It is hard to determine if he was wrong here, but the name for salt (Lat. sal salis ‘salt, brine, sea-water’, Skr. लवण lavaṇá ‘salt, saline, brine’, Gr. ἅλας/ἅλς ‘salt’ – elision of the initial h/s; Gr. ἁλμυρός = Serb. salamura ‘brine’) appeared to be derived from the PIE “root” *səh-(bh)l-, which is in fact a prefixed *belgh- basis (cf. Skr. sa-lavaṇa ‘with salt, tin’; cf. Serb. so-ljenje, do-so-ljavanje ‘salting’); i.e. it might be supposed that salt is a cognate to the IE words for suffusion, flow, sea (Eng. salivate, slobber, OE slyppe ‘slime’,  Skr. salila ‘flowing, flood, waves’, Serb. zaliti, saliti, sliti, izliti suffuse, flood, pour in/out’; sliniti ‘salivate’; Gr. ἅλιος ‘of the see’).

Turkish word for black is siyah, a loanword from Persian, probably related to  Sanskrit śyai ‘dark, gray’, Avestan sуāvа ‘black’ and Slavic siv ‘gray’ (OSl. сивъ). In Uzbek, there are two basic words for ‘love’. One is sev- and the other is so’y-. Uzbek sevin- means ‘glad, delighted, happy’ (sevinch ‘glee, delight’, Tur. sevinçli, sevin-mek ‘rejoice’) and, it seems, it would be hard to connect this word to Arabic sawâd ‘black’ or ‘black bile’ (the second meaning just in a philosophical sense; adj. aswad, saudâ ‘black’); they are semantically conflicting with each other. In most IE languages the word for ‘black’ is connected to the notion of ‘burning’. Namely, after the process of burning the stricken area would be either black or gray colored. Henceforth, there are words as English black (from PIE *bhleg- ‘burn’, Gr. φλέγω ‘take fire, blaze up’; Lat. flagro -are; Skr. plusyati ‘to burn’, pākalá ‘quite black’; Ger. Fleck; and probably Lat. pullus ‘blackish’ from *pulh-nos). Similar is with the Serbian adverb/adj. crn-o ‘black’ (Russ. чёрный, Cz. černě, Pol. czerń; OSl. чрънъ), which is related to the Slavic verb goreti (OSl. горѣти, Russ. гореть, Cz. hořet; Gr. θέρμω, Lat. formus from *ghwormo-; Skr. घर्म gharmá ‘heat, warmth’). This process will be more understandable if the words like Serbian gorenje ‘burning’ (Russ. горение, Cz. hoření), gar ‘soot’ and garav, garan ‘swarthy, sooty’ are taken in consideration. Actually, the Slavic “root” *črъnъ is derived from the PIE *ghwər-(bl)-ghn– basis (cf. Serb. gorivo ‘fuel’, gorljiv ‘ardent, keen, fiery’). The same PIE basis was used for the naming of the red color (Serb. crveno, rumeno, Russ. червлeный, Cz. červeň; OSl. чръвенъ, чръвлѥнъ).

It seems that Semitic languages fallowed the same pattern by connecting words for ‘black’ and ‘burn, heat’. For instance, there is Aramaic swṭ, which means ‘to be burned’ and Akkadian šahānu ‘to heat up’. Maybe this Aramaic word (swṭ) is related to Arabic sawdā ‘black’ (cf. Aram. sawta ‘old man’, probably ‘gray-haired’). Of course, this is a mere guessing from my side and I would live this assumption to those whose knowledge about Semitic is much better than mine. Nevertheless, at the end of this “story” the fallowing conclusions may be briefly stated:

1) Maybe by chance, but the following Serbian words, zavodnik ‘seducer’, svodnik ‘pimp’ and svedok ‘witness’ sound very close to the Turkish word sevda ‘love’. In Serbian, sevdah also means – as we have seen from the above verses – ‘lover’. Serbian zavođenje is the word that describes the process of seducing and therefore it is the word from the same “arsenal” as Latin seducoducere. Zavoditi literally means “to avert/divert (someone) from the road”. Serbian savet ‘advice’ is also a kind of “seducing” or diverting, but this time from the “wrong” road to the “right” one.

2) Perhaps it could be stated that Turkish sevda hardly might be the Arabic loanword. Sevda is semantically mismatching enough as to be considered related to Arabic sawdā. Sometimes it is possible to make “connections” among different words from different language groups according to our “free will”.  Aramaic zrāq (gray, blue) sounds almost the same as Serbian zrak (ray, beam). May these two words be considered as false friends and true cognates? Who knows, both are related to word “dawn”: Aramaic saḥra ‘dawn’, Serbian zora ‘dawn, daybreak’ (also Arab. saḥar ‘dawn, daybreak’, Hebrew שחר šaḥar ‘dawn, morning, early light’). To give just another example: Hebrew word for ‘gray-hair, hoary, old age’ is שיבה seybah and it sounds very similar to Serbian sivo ‘gray’. On the other side is Arabic sabâh ‘morning’ (sabâh al khayr ‘good morning’) and aşbaḥ ‘black, inclining to red’, which has been “adopted” in Serbian via Turkish as sabajle ‘early in the morning’. And that sabajle resembles to Serbian sintagma “zabijeli se zora” (dawn is lighting up the sky). Earlier mentioned Arabic aşbaḥ could be compared to aswad ‘black’ and to the Serbian noun osvit ‘dawn, dayspring, daybreak’ just as “black inclining to red”.

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