The relationship between Arabic Allāh and Syriac Allāhā

David Kiltz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
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Various etymologies have been proposed for Arabic allāh but also for Syriac allāhā. It has often been proposed that the Arabic word was borrowed from Syriac. This article takes a comprehensive look at the linguistic evidence at hand. Especially, it takes into consideration more recent epigraphical material which sheds light on the development of the Arabic language. Phonetic and morphological analysis of the data confirms the Arabic origin of the word allāh, whereas the problems of the Syriac form allāhā are described, namely that the Syriac form differs from that of other Aramaic dialects and begs explanation, discussing also the possibility that the Syriac word is a loan from Arabic. The final part considers qur'anic allāh in its cultural and literary context and the role of the Syriac word in that context.
The article concludes, that both, a strictly linguistic, as well as cultural and literary analysis reveals a multi-layered interrelation between the two terms in question. The linguistic analysis shows, that Arabic allāh must be a genuinely Arabic word, whereas in the case of Syriac allāhā, the possibility of both, a loan and a specific inner-Aramaic development are laid out. Apart from linguistic considerations, the historical and cultural situation in Northern Mesopotamia, i.e. the early Arab presence in that region is taken into scrutiny. In turn, a possible later effect of the prominent use of Syriac allaha on the use in the Qur'an is considered. It is emphasized, that we are presented with a situation of prolonged contact and exchange, rather than merely one-way borrowings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-50
Number of pages17
JournalDer Islam
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2012


  • Islam
  • Late Antiquity
  • Arabia
  • Syriac
  • Monotheism


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