Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Linguistics Behind the Wicket (LBW) #1: Shahid Afridi and Free Love Friday

In belated celebration of the breaking of Australia's 34-match unbeaten run in World Cup matches by Pakistan, I offer the first in what I plan to be a recurring series of cricket-related linguistic investigations. I'm dubbing this series LBW ("Linguistics Behind (the) Wicket").

Shahid Afridi after the 2011 World Cup Pakistani victory over Australia
Shahid Afridi during the Pakistani World Cup 2011 match with Australia

This first investigation is a study in onomastics, taking as its subject the name of the skipper of the Pakistan team: Shahid Afridi (Urdu: شاہد آفریدی). To find out the connection between Afridi and free, "love", and Friday, read on!

[A brief word about the sources of Hindi/Urdu words: alongside of the native Indo-Aryan vocabulary (inherited, ultimately, from a vernacular cousin of Sanskrit), both the Hindi and Urdu varieties of Hindi/Urdu employ a large number of Persian and Arabic words (as a result of the Mughal invasion of India).]

Shahid (Hindi: शहीद; Urdu: شاہد) is an Hindi/Urdu word of Perso-Arabic origins, meaning "martyr" (religious or political). It derives ultimately from an Arabic root شہد, which Platts[1] glosses as meaning "to give testimony". Not being a semiticist, I cannot offer any further interesting discussion.

It is rather the name Afridi (Hindi: आफ़्रीदी; Urdu: آفریدی) which is of more interest for me. Jokingly, I have sometimes referred to Afridi as "Afriti", since his aggressive cricketing (Afridi holds the record (37 deliveries) for fastest century in one-day cricket) and mercurial temperament is suggestive of an Arabian Afreet (an angry sort of djinn): Arabic ʻIfrīt عفريت, pl. ʻAfārīt عفاريت. [The origin of this word is rather opaque to me: Platts[1] derives it from an Arabic root عفر meaning "to roll in the dust"; the Wikipedia article suggests that it comes from عفرت (`afrt) meaning "the evil"; the translation of the Qur'anic passage, Sura An-Naml (27:39-40) seems gloss it as "strong one". Maybe semiticists could enlighten me here?]

However, Āfrīdī, in fact, has no connection with Arabic "Afreet". Rather, it is a word of Iranian origin, which, being the name of a certain Pathan tribe, is thus presumably indicative of Shahid Afridi's ancestral origins.
afridi soldiers
Some afridis in the Khyber Rifles

In terms of its etymology, the word āfrīdī can be derived from the Persian word آفريده āfrīda, which means "creature" (noun) or "created" (adjective). (The āfrīdīs are thus perhaps "the created people".)

Āfrīda itself can be derived as the past/perfect participial form of the Avestan root frī- "love" combined with the prefix ā- (theoretically contributing a sense of "near, towards", but sometimes resulting in idiosyncratic meanings). Avestan āfrīda would corresponds to Sanskrit āprīta, both meaning "gladdened, joyous" etc.

The semantic change from Avestan "gladdened, joyous" to Persian "created" is intriguing. The earlier meaning of "joy" still seems to be present in Persian (and Hindi/Urdu) āfrīn/āfirīn, which can be used to mean "bravo! well done!" (though it too can have the "create" sense, at least in the compound jahān-āfirīn "creator of the world").

The root underlying both Sanskrit āprīta and Avestan āfrīda is Proto-Indo-Iranian *prī-, which itself can be traced back to the Proto-Indo-European root *prī- whose most basic sense is "to love".

The PIE root *prī- (see Watkins[2]) is also the source of English free (from Old English frēo, derived from the verb frēon "to love, to set free"), friend (from Old English frēond "friend, lover"), and Friday (from Old English Frīgedæge "Frigg's day", where Frigg, the name of the Scandinavian goddess of love, Odin's wife, derives from Proto-Germanic *frijjō "beloved, wife"); as well as Old English frioðu "peace", which sadly has no direct reflexes in modern English.

In fact, PIE *prī- underlies not only the Persian tribal name Afridi, but also a variety of Germanic-derived names (see Watkins[2]), including:
  1. Siegfried, from Old High German Sigi-frith "victorious peace"
  2. Godfrey, from Old High German Goda-frid "peace of god"
  3. Frederick, from French Frédéric, itself a borrowing of Old High German Fridu-rīh "peaceful ruler"
  4. Geoffrey, from Old French Geoffroi from mediaeval Latin Gaufridus, itself a borrowing from Germanic *Gawja-frithu- "(having a) peaceful region"
Thus perhaps Geoffrey Boycott can mention his "prī-" connection with Shahid Afridi if he ever needs some filler material when commentating a Pakistan match...

So, this concludes the first LBW. I'm open to suggestions for other cricketers or cricket terminology to etymologise for future episodes.

[1]Platts, John T. 1884. A dictionary of Urdū, classical Hindī, and English. London: W. H. Allen & Co., 1884. (Reprinted, New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 2000.) [online]
[2]Watkins, Calvert. 2000. The American Heritage dictionary of Indo-European roots. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2nd edn.
[3]McGregor, R.S. 1993. The Oxford Hindi-English dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (Indian edition: New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1994.)

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Indian voices from 1913-1929: Gramophone Recordings from the Linguistic Survey of India

George Grierson pioneered the vast Linguistic Survey of India in 1894, an immensely useful resource for anyone working on languages of the Indian subcontinent. A set of recordings were also made as part of the survey, which were recently uncovered in the British Library. These recordings are now freely available from the University of Chicago's Digital South Asian Library at

In order that the languages might be more easily compared (and because "it contains the three personal pronouns, most of the cases found in the declension of nouns, and the present, past, and future tenses of the verb"), Grierson chose to use translations of the Biblical "Parable of the prodigal son", and many of the recordings are of speakers reciting this parable in their native language.

Here is the recording of the "Parable of the prodigal son":
  In Hindi (one of the major languages of India)
  In Khasi (a Mon-Khmer language spoken in Shillong, Meghayala, [the former capital of Assam])

OPEN Magazine has a great article about these recordings, their rediscovery and content, available here: Voices from Colonial India

It's well worth a read, but here are a few highlights. For instance:

Some of the Sanskrit recording took a bit of doings. Background: strict followers of the Vedic/Hindu tradition are supposed to safeguard the Vedas from the ears of those who are not dvijas ("twice-born", those who wear the sacred thread). This prohibition was taken seriously by some authorities, for instance, in the Gautama Dharma Sutra we find:
अथ हास्य वेदमुपशृणवतस्त्रपुजतुभ्यांश्रोत्रप्रतिपूरणमुदाहरणे जिह्वाच्छेदो धारणेशरीरभेदः
"Now if he [a Shudra = a non-dvija/untouchable] listens intentionally to (a recitation of) the Veda, his ears shall be filled with (molten) tin or lac.   [Gautama Dharma Sutra 12.4]
From the OPEN Magazine article:
...All of this, of course, could not have been accomplished without some Brahminical drama. The scholar Ganganath Jha, who was approached for the Sanskrit reading, was scandalised to learn that a mlechha [Sanskrit for "barbarian", "foreign devil", and thus by definition a non-dvija] would be privy to his chaste Sanskrit. A demand was made for a certifiably Brahmin gramophone operator. The Raj, almost as unbending as Brahmins, refused. A compromise was reached: Jha sat in a room and spoke into a large horn-like object that projected his voice into another room where the operator sat. Communication between the two was by means of a complicated system of switches to ensure that the operator didn’t physically hear the Sanskrit. And that was enough to assuage the Brahmin guilt about speaking Sanskrit into a device that held the power to broadcast it to the world...
Jha's recording must have been of some Vedic text, because I am unaware of any general prohibition against speaking Sanskrit in the presence of non-dvijas. Sadly, I cannot find this recording on the University of Chicago's Digital South Asian Library site (they do have a general entry for Jha here:

[Brahminical rationalisations can be both amusing and creative: My advisor, who is a (German) Sanskrit scholar, once told me about one spoken Sanskrit conference he attended (where, I believe, he was the only non-Brahmin/non-Indian) at which there was one attendee who was a bit unhappy with the presence of a non-Brahmin, and was careful not to let my advisor's shadow touch him... Other attendees came up with rationalisations: German sounds a bit like Sharma, a Brahmin surname, and so they theorised that Germans are perhaps "long-lost" Brahmins, and therefore my advisor's presence could be a acceptable.]

Another interesting bit from the OPEN Magazine article:
Many of the speakers chose to sing or recite poems or limericks. Particularly lingering is the voice of Hassaina of Delhi who has clips in the Ahirwati and Mewati languages. Who was this girl who sang with such sang-froid of love and waiting on 26 April 1920?  Nothing is known of her. She survives only as a voice.
Here is Hassaina's song:

[27 May 2011: Nepali is actually represented too, hidden under "Khaskura", including both the parable of the prodigal son translation, and a delightful song sung by a Shillongwala Nepali, Babu Dhan.]