The word "ariya" is conventionally translated as "noble".
But all conventional wisdom should be examined again from time to time.
Some time ago I read a book by someone (just now I can't remember who the author was, but it was a known and respected authority on Buddhism), where he suggested that "ariya" in many cases rather might be understood as something close to "buddhist". When I read that, I thought that was an interesting suggestion, but then I thought no more about it.
Now, however, I have been looking into an interesting book on Proto-Indo-European (J.P. Mallory and D.Q. Adams: "The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World"), where I found some interesting remarks on this word.
Mallory and Adams say that the reconstructed *h4eros or *h4eryos seems to mean "member of one's own group", which in Indo-Aryan is generally represented as "Aryan". Cognates are fount in Hittite - ara- "member of one's own group, peer, friend", Lycian - arus- "citizens", Old Irish - aire "freeman", and of course Avestan and Sanskrit. They continue: "The evidence suggests that the word was, at least initially, one that denoted one who belongs to the community in contrast to an outsider".
It is well known that words may change their meaning over time. Still, one might wonder if maybe some of this original meaning of the word might apply to the use of "ariya" in Pali texts.
For instance: ariyasacca - "noble" truth? Or: a truth the way it is taught in our group, in our teaching - or "Buddhist" truth?
ariyasavaka: "noble" student? Or: a student of our teaching? Or: a "Buddhist" student?
The Proto-Indo-European studies by Mallory and Adams show that the word "ariya" - at least in some cases - may come rather close to mean just "Buddhist", as suggested by the author I mentioned (the one I can't remember the name of ...)
At least, this is a question that translators may ponder upon - as if life was not already complicated enough for translators ...