The word “island” is of Germanic origin

H 0094 א י

Concept of root: land in, near water

Hebrew word


English meanings

א י


island, riverbank,


Related English words


Comparison between European words and Hebrew




English meanings

Similarity in roots


א י


island, coast, bank pensinsula






e y a




i s

Old English

īeg , īg ;


, i(e)gland


e g





e i

Middle Dutch

ooi, ooy, eilant

ooy, eilant

eiland, riverbank, riverland

o i

Old Frisian

eye, eiland

ey, eilant


o i



Hebrew *I --- *I Indo-European



We find a number of very brief words or parts of words, many with "I" or "Y" and bearing one or more of the meanings of the Hebrew word "I". And this word in fact consists of the vowel guide "aleph" plus the vowel "I". A rather special case of similarity.


  • Eggs and Eyes. In Middle English, and Dutch, the first part of the words for "island" is identical to the name of the "egg". There is in fact something in common in the ideas of shape and place of the concepts "egg", "eye" and "island". This may have contributed to the development of these words.


    In English "is-land", the second part is a separate one, with its own root. Therefore we look at the first part of “is-land” in order to compare it with “eyes” and “eggs”.


    Nordic tongues and Dutch use the same word for "eye" and "island". In Dutch, that generally uses "eiland", another word for this is "oog" and this version for "island" is of limited use in composed island-names, such as "Schiermonnikoog" and "Rottumeroog". In Danish " ge" and " ", witgh "g" for "egg".In Norwegian "ye" and "y" with "egg" as in English. In Swedish "ga" and "" with "gg". One should know that in the Scandinavian languages there is a strong tendency to change "G” into "Y". The same phenomenon we find in English , especially at the end of words .


    Also Old English is very interesting. To talk about an “island” , besides original "īeg , īg ;" it already used the addition “land” in “ēgland”. But an “eye” was a “ēage" and an “egg” an “ g “. This development is nicely confirmed by Old Frisian with its two versions, shown in the Table.


  • Hebrew. Some scholars see this Hebrew word as a contraction of "א ו י , evi", a word that should have meant " place where one seeks shelter " . Thus an " island " would have received its brief Hebrew name for being a possible sailor's refuge . The problem is that this word " evi " does not exist. It is then seen as a disappeared form of another word, a verb, "א ו ה, awa", but such a verb exists only with the meaning of " to desire, long for ".
    The similarity with the European words of this entry makes such a hypothesis even less convincing.


  • Proto-Germanic. Based on analyses of the Germanic languages, there is a rather general view that "island" expresses litterally : "land surrounded by water". Really it should then mean "land bordering on, surrounded by or nearly surrounded by water". The scholars of this opinion rightly see the word "island" divided in a first part "is", that then should carry the concept of "water" and the second part "land". The problem is that there is no further indication that "I" or "IS" should mean "water". Instead there are brief words for "island, as Old English "īeg , īg ;". To these the second part "-land" has been added already in Old English.


    Then the Middle Dutch word "ooy", together with the Hebrew word "I" and the brief Scandinavian words as "" and "y" for "island", confirm again that the part "land" in "is-land" is an extra, a not strictly necessary addition.


    With the multiple meaning of "island, land bordering on water" there are brief words , of which a part have EY, EI, I, others O, ǿ ŌI" and Old High German "OUWA", comparable with a Middle Dutch word "ouwe" that seems to have been used especially far "land alongside river". A "G" was added in a number of cases in both pricipal groups. The question rises which was the older form. Seen the fact that Old Norse had "ey" and Norwegian "ǿ y", one may dare to presume that the first was the oldest and besides this, that the change into "O-sounds" was non generalized and not always maintained. Modern German "AU(E)" is an interesting case, in which the single vowel instead of "Ō" became an "Ū, that required the assistance of a vowel "A" for acceptable pronunciation.


    The picture is a clear one and there is no reason to suppose that all these simple clear words go back to a complicated "*AGWJO" or "*AKSWJO". We may suppose for Proto-Germanic simply "* EY ".


  • Latin has developed the word "insula" in a quite different way. There is a widespread opinion that "insula" is a combination of "in+salo", litterally in English "in+salt" or "in the sea". There are many things in the sea and the use of the word "salt" for sea would be a rather pregnant one, but it might be a reality, even with anyhow the word "mar" at disposition. But there is a different and better explanation as well .


    Wordshaping in Latin requires a suffix for a noun. In this case an "A". And "ul" indicates a diminutive. So we have a root "*ins" with a suffix "a" : "*insa". There may be nasalization (insertion of "N") of an older root "*is". Remains the question what that words means. Latin would not like the single vowel as a word, the way Germanic tongues and Hebrew do. That explains the introduction of an "S" between the "I" and the suffix "A". So the sequence is : "I" > making a noun "I.A" > make this pronouncable "ISA"> nasalize the word "INSA" > create diminutive"INSULA". In the Neo-Latin tongues the unnecessary nasalization has disappeared again, for example in Italian “isola”.


  • Proto-Semitic. We have no evidence for a valid hypothesis, besides the similarities of Hebrew with the numerous Indo European languages. But there exists also a supposition that this Hebrew word comes from Old Egyptian "iw = island, coast", part of the Afro-Asiatic group, to which also Proto-Semitic belongs. This remains a guess.



  • Indo-European. A number of modern European words for "island" have been developed on the basis of Latin "insula" or have been influenced by that word. Examples are German "Insel", Middle English "ile, isle" French "île" and Spanish "isla".


    The avilable information comes from Latin and Germanic and indicates for Indo-European a straightforward "* I ".





Created: Tuesday 6 November 2007 at 22.30.54 Updated: 27/09/2012 at 17.39.05