Girl, via Pixabay

A documentary about the secluded ancient tribes of the Amazon noted it is difficult to know the age of the tribesmen interviewed or how long they have been living in the deep jungle because they can only count to ten, the number of the fingers of their hands. Because etymology is rarely called on to help understand the people who remained locked in the Stone age pale, paleoanthropologists provide their own interpretations. What we have to understand is that all numbers above five are invented this side of the Agricultural Era. The number expressing three is equal today to a band of guards of honour. Number four has several meanings including “clan, tribe, countries,” etc., while number five means a huge army.

Our ancient ancestors may have used single letter words to communicate and the thousands of signs of face and body language before they invented their first biliteral root hence its name: primary root because it was invented first. Because biliteral roots were applied to situations or things with a specific semantic domain, the increasing number of things or situations related to the semantic domain dictated expanding the language beyond the primary roots. The solution was very simple. Responding to the urgent need of communicating they reversed the order of the two letters of the primary root and generated a secondary root.

In the article BILITERAL CATEGORIES AND SEMANTIC DOMAINS the primary root presented as an example is *NB. The reversed order of the root is *BN. The girl with the angelic face of the feature image of this article carries the secondary root as a noun – *BN + t “bint,” “girl.”  A son would be the biliteral root with the feminine element, i.e. *BN, one of money biliteral root many generations of speakers found no need to expand it beyond its two original letters.

Not in all cases, but secondary roots tend to share the semantic domain of its biliteral parent. Like a growing plant, a girl is named bint simply because she is expected to grow up like a plant and the same applies to bin or ibn “son”.

From *BN the triliteral bana “build.” English bin, ben and bent (past and past participle of bend) do not derive from *BN. The first two words appear to be a compound of *P’ and *’N. The third is also a compound of *P’ and *ND but the proper noun Benjamin (Benjamin) is constructed of *BN “son” and yamin “Yemen or right side.”

Akkadian lists this entry from *BN:

banû (4) : [Industry]  1) to create , to build ; 2) (deity) : to create (a person, grain , creation …) ; 3) (person) : to engender (a child) , to sire , to make (a figurine) , to build (house, boat) ; 4) (mathematics) : 1) to construct ; 2) a shape , a form of feature (geometrical …) ; 5) D : : to erect (a city)

Four more entries can be consulted: banû (3)bānûbāntišbāntu.





The English equivalent word is build but Arabic uses the same word, balad (بلد), to mean “city, country.” A city north-west of Jerusalem is Lid known also as Lod. The name indicates English build and Ancient Arabic balad derive from *LD, established by Canaanites probably 7,000 years ago.

Unlike *NB and *BN, the biliteral root *LD has a complex category and a corresponding semantic domain. The first cities named lad, lid, lod, appear to have had two parts facing each other, probably because they were built alongside a valley or depression. Though independent, both belong to the same entity. If the suggestion is correct, choosing the English lid to mean cover is clever because both lid and pot are one entity made of two related parts. The 700 word entry of ladd (لد/لدد) in Lisan al-Arab opens with: “Two ‘leds’ are the two sides of a valley and the two sides of the neck and the two sides of the mouth.”

It makes sense to suggest that the act of leading comes after the place one is led to it but we can’t be sure if *LD is the primary or secondary biliteral. Curiously, Ancient Arabic for guide is dalīl from *DL. There should be no confusion in this example as both primary and secondary roots extend categorically and semantically into each other’s domains to form a larger category and semantic domain.

In many cases, both the primary and secondary biliteral roots are joined in a compound that combines the two biliterals, their larger category and both semantic domains. Examples include agga, abbot and one of the most common words in English. Another is this Akkadian entry:


  • akku[Moral life → Feelings]  furious




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