I have a theory

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I have a theory

Post by Legion »

There is an Arabic word tabl "drum", from Persian word tabir/tabil (same meaning), which would be a variation of "tanbur" (luth) ultimately from Sumerian "pantur" (long luth).

The shift from luth > drum is explained quite transparently as the sound box of many ancient lux was structurally a drum (an animal skin stretched over a wooden frame).

All these different words are borrowed by many languages to give the name of various drums or luths. We have the Indian "tabla", the Greek "pandoura", the French "tambour", the Bulgarian "tambura", the Kazakh "dombra", and so on.

Now, there is also a Latin word "tabula", of unknown origin, which means "tablet", "plank", "board", "map".

It too, has a lot of offsprings. It gives us of course "table" and its variant forms and meanings, but it's also the source of the name of two distinct games: tables (aka backgammon), and the Nordic Tafl games.

However, "table" (in both French and English) also has a very specialised and specific meaning: it can be used to designate the soundboard of a string instrument.

My theory, now, is that "tabula" came from Persian "tabil/tanbur" via an unattested Greek word.


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Re: I have a theory

Post by hwhatting »

Legion wrote:My theory, now, is that "tabula" came from Persian "tabil/tanbur" via an unattested Greek word.
Well, with a language so well-attested as Greek, I think the chance that such a word has slipped us by while at the same time giving a loan word into Italic is really small. Also, Latin /b/ comes from a Proto-Italic spirant here, as the cognate in Umbrian shows:
De Vaan, Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the Other Italic Languages wrote:Pit. *taf/þla- 'board'. It. cognates: U. tafle e [loc.sg. + -en] [f.] 'instrument for transporting the sacrificial fire'.
As this loan surely must go back to a time when Greek still did have aspirated stops and no spirant /f/ or /þ/, I think we can pretty much exclude Greek as the direct source language, even if we assume that tabula is linked to the other words you quote. FWIW, this is what de Vaan has to say on the etymology:
De Vaan wrote:The etymology is uncertain. If the original form was Pit. *taþla one may analyze it as a root *ta- plus the instrument suffix PIE *-dhlo-. As proposed by Southern (2000: 97, 128), the root could be s-less *teh2- 'to stand'; we find PIE *steh2- in Latin stare, but compare PTo. and PCI. *ta- 'to stand'. The original meaning would be 'which stands' > 'board, tablet'. For the suffix, compare stabilis derived from stare.
Not too bad as etymologies go, but also not overwhelmingly convincing.
But at least in Latin the "board / plank" meaning seems to be clearly the oldest and basic meaning, and no meaning relating it to music seems to be attested. The musical use in French is a clear semantic transfer, as the English equivalent "soundboard" shows. Also, the musical use in French refers to a part of an instrument, not to a full instrument, in opposition to the other names of instruments you quote. To me, this very much looks like an accidental similarity.

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