Книга /’kniga/ is a Russian word for book, and also appears in other Slavic languages: кніга in Belarusian, книга in Bulgarian, Macedonian and Ukrainian, knjiga in Croatian and Slovenian, kniha in Czech, knéga in Kashubian, kъńiga (book, character, writing) in Old Church Slavonic, książka in Polish, and књига in Serbian.

It apparently comes from the Proto-Slavic *kъniga, from Old Turkic *küinig, from the Bulgaric Turkic *küiniv, from the Uyghur kuin, kuinbitig (book-spool/scroll), possibly from the Chinese 經 (jīng in Mandarin, *kˤeŋ in Old Chinese = classics, sacred book, scripture). It is possibly also related to:

Armenian: kniќ (slab, letter)
Assyrian: kuniku (slab, document)
Hungarian: könyv (book)
Korean: 권 (kwen – book)
Mordvin: końov (paper)
Sumerian: kunukku (seal, stamp)

If all these words are indeed related, it’s possible that they come from a common source – maybe Chinese, as paper was invented in China in about the 1st century AD, and books sometime after that. Are there any similar words in other languages?

7 thoughts on “Книга

  1. In Arabic “book” is Kitáb which comes from the root “k-t-b” which related to everything has to do with Writing.

    Anyway, the word kitáb in classical Arabic was used for “letters” between people, and back then these letters were written generally on the typical skins that manuscripts are made of commonly.

    Talking a bit about the grammar, as usually is done with roots in Semitic languages, adding some vowels gives a sense of something, and here the “i” and long “á” makes a sense of “something created from writing”, and hence, Kitáb can be translated by meaning as “the written text”. I’m not sure if it has a specific grammatical name really.

    Similarly, we can have “Kátib” (writer), and Maktúb (standard Arabic commonly, meaning letter, and there is a website http://www.maktoob.com).

    The plural for “kitáb” is Kutub.

  2. Forgot to say: Kátib is called in Arabic grammar “Isim Fá?il” that is “a donor noun”, i.e. a noun created from the root to signify a person who does the deed.

    Maktúb is called “Isim Maf?úl” that is “an objective noun”, i.e. a noun created from the root to signify something created by the action or deed (of that root).

  3. Other Turkic languages have the same word книга for ‘book’ which may be a loan straight from Russian are Khakas and Yakut (Sakha) ‘kinige’ as well as Chechen. Interestingly Lithuanian for book is knyga compare Latvian gramata and also Romany ginadyi although I don’t know if Finnish ‘kirja’ and Saami ‘girji’ are cognate with книга?

    (Cheers Simon, it worked!)

  4. Kitab also turns up in Swahili, and in Indonesian, the Bible is, ironically, Al-Kitab.

  5. As well as Petréa’s examples above, kitab is the word for book in many other languages:
    Azeri, Bashkir (китап), Kazakh (кiтап), Kirghiz (китеп), Maltese (ktieb), Mokshan (kitap), Somalian (kitaab), Tajik (китоб), Tatar, Turkish, Turkmen, Uzbek.
    Many others including: Hindi, Urdu, Kurdish (kitêb), Luhya (sitabu), Persian (ketab), Gagauz (kitap) etc.
    Obviously the word has been spread due to Arabic being the language of Islam as kitab coexists in some languages with their respective native words for ‘book’.

  6. Also, the direct cognate of kniga in Polish isn’t książka but księga (with a well=known, if strange, shift in Polish from ń ti ś. This is still used in words like księgarnia (book store) and księgowość (bookkeeping, accounting) as well as a few fixed phrases like księga wieczysta (deed – eternal book).

    Also old books (which are very, very large) are still called księga. Książka is a frozen dimunitive form (like booklet) with more of those oddball morphophonemic changes Polish is famous for as ę becomes ą in a closed syllable and g becomes ż under some kind of palatalization rule (and is then devoiced before k).

  7. The forum Simon linked to actually goes on to say “In light of the information on Korean, which the Russian etymological dictionary I checked didn’t mention, I was completely wrong and the Chinese word they’re referring to is 卷, which actually is pronounced 권 in Korean.”

    In Mandarin, 卷 means ‘roll’ (juǎn) and ‘book’ (juàn).

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