Semitic mouth parts

For some time the word “لغة” (lugha) has been bothering me. It means “language”, but that idea can also be expressed by “لسان” (lisaan), which also holds the meaning of “tongue”, and has cognates with those same two meanings in Hebrew (לשון/låshown), Aramaic (ܠܫܢܐ/lshono2), Akkadian (lišānu) and Tigrinya (ልሳን/lɨsanɨ)*.

Knowing as I do that the Proto-Semitic sounds which are realised in Arabic as “ع” and “غ”, respecively, are both realised as “ע” in Hebrew, I looked up “לעה” at Morfix and found this:

לֹעַ שֵם ז
(anatomy) pharynx, throat ; maw, open mouth (of an animal) ; gaping opening (cave, mine shaft) ; crater (volcanic) ; (weaponry) muzzle

Note that “pharynx” is the place of articulation of the sound “ע” pronounced properly, as Lipinski would want us to, and not “like an accountant-ass cracker motherfucker on the subway”, as Plastic Little would put it. This means that “לֹעַ” (loa3) is one of those words whose pronunciation and meaning are related, like “lisp” in English. However, Arabic “غ” is uvular, not pharyngeal! An answer to this riddle lies in the dictionaries. First we return to “A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English” by Ernest Klein:


He does not connect the word with Arabic “لغة”, but one is at pains to find another explanation. For supporting evidence I turn to “The Assyrian Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago (CAD)” (that’s a free and legal download, I suggest you take advantage of it), where we find:


The parenthetical “luxxu” has the same place of articulation as “غ”, although the voicing is different, which implies that this root has been shifting places of articulation for some time, perhaps it is a loan into Arabic itself? There also exists in Arabic “لعلع”, with the meaning of “tulip” (compare Persian “لاله”). At any rate, the meaning “throat” is certainly more general than “pharynx” and matches up with the place of articulation of both “ع” and “غ”. Also note that this entry instructs us to check “mal’atu”, but I can only find “ma’latu”. At any rate, here is that:



*I presume in other Ethiopic languages, but I don’t have the energy to look them up, and Tigrinya is not only the best Ethiopic Semitic language, but also the most beautiful Semitic language overall, objectively speaking**.

**”Objectively speaking” defined as “according to me”.