German prefix "Ur" and Sumerian city Ur (Probably need to speak German to answer)

While reading this thread about the world’s oldest cities, I was reminded of a question I’ve long had:

What is the etymology of the German prefix Ur-, meaning roughly “first” or “oldest”, or “primal”? Is there any connection the the protohistoric city of Ur?

You know, I wondered that myself when I first noticed the coincidence. But it’s just a coincidence.

The name of the city Ur in the Bible apparently comes from Hebrew ur meaning ‘town, village’. Note that in the Sumerian language uru also means ‘town, village’. The Hebrew word probably was not borrowed from the Sumerian since it has cognates in other Semitic languages. The resemblance is either a coincidence or a trace of an earlier, lost connection between Sumerian and Semitic. Not only that, the Dravidian languages show a remarkable coincidence. The Tamil word for village is ur and the Telugu word for village is uru. The Nostratic hypothesis proposes that there was a prehistoric macrofamily connecting several different language families, including Semitic and Dravidian. Or it my be just a coincidence, or there may have been loanwords traveling between the early Mesopotamian and Indus Valley civilizations.

The German prefix ur- meaning ‘original’ comes from Proto-Indo-European *ud- meaning ‘out, off, away, up’. The same root produced Sanskrit ud- ‘out, up’, Irish úd ‘beginning’, and English out, utter, utmost. The meaning of ‘origin’ comes from the idea of moving out, away from. In phonetics, the sound of -d following a vowel can often change into -r.

Jomo Mojo:

Nope. The Hebrew word meaning “city” (more commonly pronounced “Ir”) is spelled beginning with the letter Ayin. The Hebrew spelling of the city named “Ur” in Babylon, where Abraham came from begins with an Aleph.

Although the two letters are similar in pronounciation in modern times, they once represented completely different sounds (or non-sounds, as the case may be) - the Ayin is more in the throat, a distinction that’s lost in European-based Jewish pronounciation, but is somewhat preserved amongst Jews of Middle Eastern descent. And in any case, representing completely distinct grammatical roots.

:smack: I knew I should have looked it up in the Hebrew dictionary before posting! That’s what happens when you’re in too much of a hurry to post because you want to be the first with the answer. In the other thread about the oldest cities, someone beat me to the punch because I took too long looking up information.

cmkeller, I checked the Hebrew dictionary and found that while ‘ir with ‘ayin does mean ‘city’ as you said, ur with aleph means ‘colony’. Not exactly synonyms, but they are both words for settled places, so not entirely dissimilar. The early form of the name Jerusalem was Ur-Shalem. The first part of this name, Ur, means ‘city’, according to Brown, Driver, and Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament.

Maybe the name of Ur in the Hebrew Bible really does come from a Sumerian original, maybe it’s a Semitic name.

Does your lexicon give any cites for that Biblical translation other than “Ur Kasdim” Abraham’s birthplace? Because I’ve always been taught that that “Ur” meant “fire”, (related to “ohr”, light) and that the city of Abraham’s birthplace was so named because it was the home of many furnaces that served as idolatrous altars. The word “Ur-ta” means fire in Aramaic, which is very closely related to Hebrew.

I found it in Ben-Yehuda’s dictionary; he translated ur-with-aleph as ‘campfire; colony’. I can see how the two senses might be semantically related. Settlers travel somewhere to start a colony, and when they get there one of the first things they do is light a campfire.

I would be interested in knowing what the Sumerians called that place where they lived – was it in fact “Ur” to them? It certainly was not “Ur of the Chaldees” to them – that’s like saying “Peter Minuit built New York City, home of the Yankees and Mets.”

Interesting that Sumerian, Semitic, and Dravidian languages all use “ur” for “urbanized area” of some sort – and there’s an other item – Latin “urbs” – to throw into the mix.

According to my 20-year old copy of Encyclopedia Americana, the Sumerians called it “Urim”. My guess is that all the Semitic names of the city were derived from Urim, and that similar words in the Semitic languages meaning city are coincidental. But on the other hand the Semitic Akkadians and non-Semitic Sumerians lived near each other for a long time, and there do seem to have been a number of loanwords back and forth.

So, a coworker of mine referred to “Hatari!” a 1960s Howard Hawks film as “the ur-film of Hawks”?

From what I can tell from this thread, it sounds like that wouldn’t be the correct way to refer to that film. It obviously wasn’t Hawks’ first film or even an idea that all of his other films sprung from.

But, then it doesn’t mean death at all. They considered life and death as part of the same process. Only that which is not alive doesn’t die. If the root is proto-Ugaric, it’s saying that he lives until he dies. He gets to become human again.