Powerful Evidence of Semitic Roots
A homonym is a word with more than one meaning. As well, it is a word that is pronounced the same or spelled the same as another word. There are various reasons why English has many homonyms, and a particularly interesting fact is that many Old English homonyms which have survived to this day can be traced to ancient Biblical Hebrew (BH) and Aramaic words.
In non-Semitic languages, borrowed Semitic words commonly lost the gutturals (e.g. aleph, ayin) and emphatics (e.g. tsade, qoph) as they could not be pronounced by non-Semitic speakers. Semitic words are typically built on a three-consonant root. Many Semitic word roots share two common consonants in relatively same order such as AoB, ABo, and oAB with o representing a guttural or emphatic. If one of the consonants was a guttural or emphatic, and was lost, the word root was reduced to two consonants (AB) in a non-Semitic environment. As a result, the different meanings attached to the original three-consonant word roots might have converged, surviving in a two-consonant word root, rendering it a homonym.
The sound changes which linguists observed in ancient BH and Aramaic also explain how homonyms occurred. Sometimes a phonological change affected one word by altering its pronunciation. This change caused the word to resemble another existing word in form. These similar sounding words inevitably converged with their meanings intact. When we see two or more meanings attached to an OE word, chances are that these meanings had passed into Germanic from Semitic roots. The full significance of this has not been recognized; many OE homonyms offer historical evidence of the morphological breakdown of a Semitic mother tongue.
This paper examines the origins of three homonyms: light, bind-bond,and strait (straits). Each homonym is first prefaced with a set of definitions as per their older forms which hopefully, will provide a comparative or historical perspective, before its etymology is elaborated.
First Homonym: LIGHT
The following entries are drawn from A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary. Note how they evidence a high incidence of lexical overlapping in the following OE words.
lêoht (ê, î)
I. 'light,' not heavy; slight, easy, trifling, inconsiderable; quick, agile; gentle
II. n. 'light,' daylight; power of vision; luminary
III. luminous, bright, 'light,' clear, resplendent, beautiful
I. to be lightened, relieved
II. to become light, ‘dawn’; give light, illuminate
I. light, of little weight or importance; lightly, slightly; inconsiderately: easily, quickly: gently, softly, slowly [‘lightly']
II. bright, radiant
lîhtan (ê, êo, ý)
I. to make 'light,' easy, relieve, alleviate; dismount, ‘alight'
II. (ie, ý) to lighten, illuminate, give light, shine; grow light, dawn; 'light,' kindle
Chiefly, these OE words stem from the phonological convergence of two Semitic words that occurred in the pre-Germanic time setting. One particular BH word accounts for some of the homonymic meanings captured by OE words. It eventually merged with another BH word with the sense of ‘to blaze up, flame.’ The following explains their history, beginning with one Aramaic etymon.
Aramaic QLL ‘to be light’ consists of several meanings in several verb stems which are unique to Semitic languages. For this Aramaic word root, the verb-stem system involves a certain prefix to create a causative meaning  and the doubling of medial consonants to denote an intensive degree of meaning. Below, the lexical senses of the root QLL are shown by verb stems, as reproduced from the Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon:
Qal (basic) 1) to be light; a) to be made light of; b) to be lenient
2) to be swift
3) to vanish
4) to be little, few, important
D (intensive, active) 1) to lighten
2) to treat lightly, dishonour
C (causative) 1) to make something lighter, remove a burden
2) to treat lightly; a) to rule leniently; b) to degrade
3) to hasten
4) to curse
Dt (intensive, passive) 1) to abate, become diminished; a) to be made light, alleviated
2) to be despised
3) to be cursed
Notably, QLL points to an older origin of the homonymic nature of light which seems to have been overlooked today. Its Aramaic lexical senses are essentially the same as those of the BH word root. Gesenius recognizes BH QL as a derivation of QLL and defines it ‘light, swift’ for which he cites ‘a swift horse’ as an example . Over time, the word root QLL evolved to QLH. The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament states, “Scholars generally consider the verb qlh, a by-form of qll, “be light, small, insignificant” . This change typifies the historical trend of the linguistic reduction of double roots or double consonants which is observed in many Aramaic words .
QLH bears a qoph (q), whichis a Semitic emphatic. This sound disappeared, causing the root to reduce to LH in the paradigmatic manner of oAB > AB. In the intervening time, the Aramaic verb-stem system weakened. For instance, the prefixes, which generally distinguish a meaning of a word according to its verb stem, became obsolescent. The words whose meaning depended on a particular prefix were now orphaned. In this phonological situation, they now converged into one primary form without prefixes to distinguish a particular sense. As a result, the root LH (formerly QLL) was reduced to one word with a homonymic range of meanings — whereas the lost verb-stems with particular prefixes attached, once produced different words, each word having a distinct meaning [5, 6].
The source of the meaning of ‘a light’ is BH lahat (LHT)‘to set ablaze, burn,’ of which the noun form is extant . It merged with the root LH, combining both sets of meanings. LHT was likely the preponderant of these two word roots, since it preserved the final t. The Gothic and OE words corroborate this historical phonological occurrence: Gothic laúhatjan ‘to lighten,’ liuhtjan ‘to give light’ , and OE lîhtan 1) ‘to make 'light,' easy, relieve, alleviate; dismount, ‘alight,’ 2) ‘to lighten, illuminate, give light, shine; grow light, dawn; 'light,' kindle,’ and lêoht 'light, not heavy,’ ‘slight, easy, trifling, inconsiderable’ [9,10,11]. These Germanic words evince the attempt to maintain the distinct meanings by employing different vowels, but the attempts could not completely prevent lexical overlapping. The merging of two Semitic word roots appears to be haphazard. Ultimately, research in Germanic adequately evidences that several OE words merged into light in Middle English and it has been since carried into modern English.
The idioms “to make light of” and “light on your foot” are familiar to many of us. Little do we know that their origins trace back many centuries to the Biblical Hebrew era. Although the ancient lexical receptacle of many meanings of QLH is not recognized today, these modern English idioms, interestingly enough, preserve the same meanings as found in Biblical Hebrew.
(To be continued in PART TWO Second Homonym: bind-bond)
 In the Aph`el causative stem, verbs are prefixed with an aleph and an (a/e) vowel.
 Gesenius, Wilhem. Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon, London: Bagster, 1857, 732.
 The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament states, “Scholars generally consider the verb qlh II, a by-form of qll, “be light, small, insignificant” (Volume 3, 32).
 For example, Aramaic Golgotha “Place of the Skull’ relates to BH gulgoleth ‘skull,’ but it elides the second /l/(GLGL > GLG). It is a close rendition of Syriac Gāgūlṯā. Nolan, Frederick. The Analogy of Revelation and Science. Oxford: Oxford University, 1833, 506. Another example is Babel,which is said to be a contraction of Balbel (BLBL > BLBL),instancing the elision of the original second radical. Schelling, F.W.J. Historical-critical Introduction to the Philosophy of Mythology. Translated by Markus Zisselsberger and Mason Richey. Albany: State University of New York, 2007, 77. Yet another example of linguistic reduction involves dissimilation, which nasalizes the first radical of double consonants (i.e. dd > nd).
 This explanation is intentionally simplified; in many Aramaic and BH words, the verb-stems often have more than one meaning. For example, the D stem (intensive, active) of QLL denotes two meanings: 1) to lighten and 2) to treat lightly, dishonour.
 Semitic speakers would make vowels short in a verb in order to create an intensive meaning through doubling of a medial consonant. Normally, the doubling of a consonant occurred when the consonant was preceded by a stressed and short vowel and followed by a short vowel. This phonological change is known as gemination. However, it is not clear whether speakers continued the practice of modifying vowels in a verb to deliberately convey an intensive meaning through gemination when the verb-stem system collapsed. On the other hand, gemination prevailed in Germanic when the phonological conditions necessary for gemination were present in a word.
 Clines, David J.A., ed. The Classic Dictionary of Classical Hebrew. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix, 2009,191. See also Gesenius, 431.
 Balg, Gerhard. A Comparative Glossary of the Gothic Language. Milwaukee: Benton, Waldo, 1887, 238, 254-55.
 Gothic laúhatjan is a three-consonant word, not commonly found in Germanic (not counting the infinitival suffix). This form hints at the recentness of its lexical transmission from the Semitic origin. OE lîhtan may bear three consonants, but ht is a consonant cluster, which counts as one consonant in the Germanic bi-consonantal vocabulary structure. This word evolved to light, in which gh is silent in pronunciation.
 Gothic ga-liuhtjan ‘to bring to light, illumine’ extends the meaning of liuhtjan ‘to give light.’ The prefix ga- usually indicates an intensive degree of meaning. These cognates appear to mirror the Aramaic verb-stems at least at the basic
and intensive levels. It is suggested that due to the loss of the Aramaic verb prefixes, Gothic developed its own prefixes (called preverbs) in an attempt to maintain verb-stem distinctions after a Semitic fashion.
 In Old English, final -t is found in many nouns such as miht ‘might,’ niht ‘night,’ and wihte ‘weight.’ Skeat, Walter. Principles of English Etymology. Oxford: Clarendon, 1887, 241-43.