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The Numeral 6 in Some Languages

The word for the numeral 6 is pronounced the same way (sheish) in Phoenician 𐤔𐤔, Hebrew שֵׁשׁ, and Persian شش. Its spelling seems very different due to the different scripts adopted by each of the languages mentioned above, but the three languages follow the same rule in regard to spelling and that is the repetition of the respective letter in each language for the ʃ sound in English represented by the two letters S and H.

There are variations in its pronunciation in Hebrew depending on the noun following it. If the noun is feminine, it is pronounced shisha שישה just like the word for the waterpipe in Egyptian Arabic, which is derived from the Persian term for glass (شيشة). More interestingly, the waterpipe along with its pipe curved and hung before being used looks exactly like the Arabic numeral 6.

As far as I know, Persian has not this distinction based on gender, but the word شش in Persian is pronounced sheesh or what is equivalent to שיש in Hebrew if speakers of Persian want to sound formal. It is a bit different in Arabic ستة /ست and similar to how the number 6 is pronounced in Syriac or Aramaic-related tongues in general. For example, Syriac provides us with ܫܬ shiti and ܫܬܐ shtʾ. Moreover, the word six is pronounced (shitsha) in the Aramaic of Maalula.

Like Hebrew, Arabic grammar features concord or agreement and both the spelling and the pronunciation of the word six in Arabic (ست/ستة) depend on the noun associated with it. Clearly, the word for six in Modern and Classical Arabic has more in common with Aramaic and Syriac.

Rami Ibrahim ©

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