Absentee Bird Propheteering

I am reading a most curious Kazakh etymological dictionary of late, “Қазақ Тілінің Қысқаша Этимологиялық Сөздігі” by “А. Ысқақов, Р. Сыздықова, Ш. Сарыбаея”. I was struck by the loneliness of the only entry under the letter “Ғ” (Ğ):

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It didn’t strike me as particularly odd that Kazakhs, famous for their falconry, would have some very specific Linguistic relativist-bating terms lying around, and this one does appear to be one of them (note that wikipedia curiously ascribes the practice to “Muslims” before it mentions “Kazakhs”).

Still, due to the strangeness of the dictionary’s layout (Russian definitions given for words with obvious Öztürkçe, leaving out the etymologies for a lot of very useful everyday words while giving the etymology for quite obscure ones, etc.), I felt the need to check this sentence with a native speaker of Arabic: “Араб тілінде عايف ғааиф (ғайып) –– ұшқан құсқа қарап алдын ала болжайтын әулие,” (In the Arabic language, عايف ğaaïf [ğayıp]) –– is a prophet who can foresee a flying bird).

So I asked Comrade Jumana and here is what she found: A “عائف” (note the spelling error in the dictionary above, at least according to Classical Arabic, colloquial varieties would agree with the Kazakh dictionary) is a “متكهن بالطير أو غيرها” (“soothsayer of various kinds of bird”*). If you feel you can’t trust an Arabic dictionary without the seal of approval of the Syrian government, here’s another link. So there you have an Arabic word so intrinsicly related to bird-keeping that only Kazakhs could borrow it.

But outside of discussions of birds (I suppose), Kazakhs use the word “ғайып” to mean “absent”. As I mentioned, the Kazakh Etymological Dictionary above only lists one entry starting with “ğ”, but based on the Uzbek spelling “g‘oyib” (with the same meaning), this comes from the Arabic “غائب”, with the resulting homophony for Kazakhs being an annoying coincidence (in Turkey, the initial “ğ” has hardened to a “k”, in Azerbaijan to a “q” and in Türkmenistan to a “g”). Adding to the confusion, although “ع” becomes “ğ” in “عائف”, it is dropped in “عيب” (shame), perhaps because “g‘ay(i)b” would be too close to “g‘oyib”, hence: “ayb”.

*It says “birds or others”, but Comrade Ella alerts me that the word for “bird” implies a large bird, so the reference to “or others” would serve to encompass avian life in a broader sense.

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