Gailic and Hebrew

And I don’t have a source for this, but I believe the Latin was borrowed from the Greek. So it really isn’t so uncanny for the Hebrew, Welsh and Greek words to resemble each other after all.

FWIW, I’m also not aware of any widespread acceptance of Nostratic, though “crackpot” might be overstating the case a bit.

Of course the Latin alphabet (English “aye, bee, see, etc.” and Spanish “ah, beh…”) was adapted from the Greek (alpha, beta, and so on), via Etruscan IIRC. The Greeks got their alphabet from the Semitic Phoenicians; and Hebrew is also descended from another branch of the Semitic alphabetic family. It’s not just a coincidence that “alpha, beta, gamma, delta” sounds so much like “aleph, beth, gimel, daleth”. (These relationships don’t necessarily reflect relationships between the underlying spoken languages, but between the written systems used to represent them, with forms of the Latin alphabet being adapted to write down languages Finnish to Turkish to Vietnamese.)

I’m aware that Latin borrowed aer from Classical Greek aêr. But if Hebrew and Welsh borrowed the word from Greek with a w still in it, that would have to have been preclassical Greek, approximately 500 years B.C. The digamma (Greek letter for the /w/ sound) disappeared from Greek after that. Welsh did not exist that early! How do you explain that? The only plausible explanation is that all three derived it from some other source. (Note that the Tamil word for ‘breath’ is avi . . . .)

They sound familiar too to me too. Hebrew and Irish Gaelic are both what I think of as phlemy languages, spoken way back in the throat. And since Gaelic has been the major influence on the development of the Irish accent, the throaty sound would exist even for an Irish person who spoke no Gaelic.

Good one, Celyn!

Now, as for the English going here and there in the world and finding people speaking (what sounded like) “Welsh” . . .

Look at the linguistic history of Britain. Your Angles & Saxons invade and conquer the native Celts, pushing them out of their lands. They never bothered to learn the Celtic language of Britain. There are scant words in English from the ancient British language. Then having settled in, they developed an insular mentality. The Welsh had been pushed aside and few if any Englishmen ever bothered to learn the Welsh language. Instead, they imposed English on them (cf. How Green Was My Valley).

When English explorers reached the eastern edge of the Great Plains, they encountered the Mandan Indians and fancied that their language was similar to Welsh. They recalled the medieval legend of the Welsh Prince Madoc who had sailed west over the ocean, and imagined that the Mandans were Welshmen. From the English point of view, just about any language could have sounded like Welsh, since it was all gibberish to their ears. Their imaginations would run amok, to the point that they reported the Mandans speaking actual sentences understandable to Welsh speakers.

Bill Bryson told in Notes from a Small Island how he was watching Welsh TV, and there you see what looks like regular British people wearing Marks & Spencer sweaters, drinking tea from Wedgwood china, in ordinary living rooms – and speaking in Martian.

It seems quite plausible to me that Welsh could have added the w, and since Hebrew doesn’t even use the Roman alphabet, it doesn’t really matter where it came from.

I wouldn’t describe Irish that way at all.

It seems quite plausible to me that Welsh could have added the w, and since Hebrew doesn’t even use the Roman alphabet, it doesn’t really matter where it came from.


Languages don’t just “add” sounds like that. There has to be some explanation for the existence of a sound. In the Classical Greek word aêr there is no labialized environment that would allow for a labial [w] glide to intrude between vowels–Welsh doesn’t insert sounds like that. All we know is that the original [w] sound disappeared from Classical Greek, though it had existed in earlier stages of Greek.

The alphabets, Hebrew or Roman or Greek, are totally irrelevant to this question, since we’re discussing the sound itself, not how it was written. Linguistic borrowing takes place whether or not writing is used.

When English speakers think they hear “phlegm” in other languages, they mean the velar fricative /x/, the sound of the “ch” in Bach. (If you listen to classical music radio, nowadays the DJs are making an effort to articulate the authentic German pronunciation /ba:x/, and some of them actually succeed.) Irish and Hebrew both have this sound (as well as Arabic, Azerbaijani, Breton, Chinese, Dutch, German, Greek, Persian, Polish, Brazilian Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and many many other languages around the world), even if it sounds outlandish to your monolingual Anglophone ears.

The way I see Irish phonology, it is dominated by the opposition between “lean” and “broad” consonants. The lean sounds are palatalized, in the front of the mouth, and occur next to the vowels e and i. The broad sounds are in the back of the mouth, sometimes labialized, and occur next to the vowels a, o, and u. This is why there are so many silent letters in Gaelic orthography: sometimes a silent e or i is inserted to show that a consonant is lean before a back vowel, or a silent a or o is used to show that a consonant is broad before a front vowel. Lithuanian also uses silent i to indicate palatalization. Since the opposition between palatalized (“soft”) and nonpalatalized (“hard”) sounds is characteristic of Russian, the sound of Irish reminds me of Russian more than anything else.

Collounsbury, as a matter of fact, Joseph Greenberg has been working on his own hypothesis which is similar to Nostratic but different. He calls it Eurasiatic. The Nostratic hypothesis as developed by Illich-Svitych and Dolgopolsky joins together Indo-European, Uralic, Altaic, Afro-Asiatic, Dravidian, and Kartvelian.

Greenberg’s Eurasiatic also links language families into a macrofamily, but he has dropped Afro-Asiatic, Dravidian, and Kartvelian. To Indo-European, Uralic-Yukaghir, and Altaic, he adds the languages of Northeast Asia: Japanese, Korean, Ainu, Gilyak (Nivkh), Chukchi-Kamchadal, and Eskimo-Aleut. Greenberg’s book is going to be titled Indo-European and Its Closest Relatives the Eurasiatic Language Family, but I don’t think it’s out yet.

Allan R. Bomhard and John C. Kerns, in The Nostratic Macrofamily of Languages: a Study in Distant Linguistic Relationship, agree that Chukchi-Kamchatkan, Gilyak, and Eskimo-Aleut should be included in Nostratic (and that even Dolgopolsky himself included Chukchi-Kamchatkan), but left them out of their book. They did, however, include Sumerian.

What’s the position of the big boys on these. I’ve read some less than enthusiastic responses to Greenberg.

You’re mistaking the w sound in Welsh for the w sound in English. Normally it’s an /u/ sound. In this case, it and the letters around it form a dipthong which is pronounced /a/. No labial glide at all.

Anyway, it’s nonsense that languages don’t just “add” sounds. Several of the English words with /T/ sounds were borrowed from languages in which the /T/ sound doesn’t exist or isn’t used in the original word.

Thanks for the attitude ishmintingas, I’ll let you know when I’ve decided whether to be offended or amused. I hear Irish spoken every day, love. While the /x/ exists in the language, it’s nowhere near as prominent as it is in German (a language I also hear frequently, due to having a German flatmate).

There’s a bit more of it in Ulster Irish, and I’d more accept a description of the English spoken in the North as “throaty”, but I’d guess this has more to do with the influence of Scots (a Germanic language) on the speech up there than anything else.

*Originally posted by ishmintingas *

Is that the Sumerian language from 780 A.D. or B.C.?

Thanks for explaining that, and for giving me a phrase to use to describe that effect, ishmintingas. “Phlegm” and “throaty” were simply the only words I could think of to tell Chronos that I too can hear the similiarity in the accents.

Well, can you point me to a variety of resources about it? I can ask the Conlang list (who have linguists) what they think. As with Ruadh, from what I’ve read it’s still not widely accepted, which is the way it sounded in your original post mentioning Nostratic. Now, of course there’s many linguists who accept it, but that’s far from widespread acceptance.

I was not directing that remark at you, sweetie pie. :slight_smile:
That was a response to the other person who used words like “phlegm” to describe Irish sounds. Actually, I was agreeing with you that it doesn’t sound like that.

To get back to you, insider, James Joyce is the one leading you astray. Sift through this chunk of Ulysses and you’ll find a comparison of Ireland and Israel. I found it at Google using +joyce +kells +“dun cow” - use the Find fundtion for “dun cow” to drop you down the page.

I don’t know what Joyce meant by this section. I remember reading this, the only bit of Ulysses I’ve ever read, when it was taped to the door of a professor’s office.