Langfocus - Strange Similarities Between Celtic & Semitic Languages!

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Langfocus - Strange Similarities Between Celtic & Semitic Languages!

Postby Deinonysus » Wed Mar 27, 2019 3:30 pm



This video came out a few days ago and I thought this forum might be into it. I very briefly dabbled in Irish recently and I did notice the similarity between Irish and Hebrew possessives. In both, you say "there is" something, and then you follow it with an inflected preposition to indicate whom it belongs to. But apparently there are many more similarities, including the fairly rare word order VSO, which occurs in only 7% of the 1377 languages surveyed by WALS. I didn't notice this connection because I'm only familiar with Modern Hebrew which uses SVO order instead of Biblical Hebrew's VSO.

The theory of Semitic influence on Celtic languages does seem a bit farfetched, but at the very least it's cool to see the similarities.
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Re: Langfocus - Strange Similarities Between Celtic & Semitic Languages!

Postby jeff_lindqvist » Wed Mar 27, 2019 6:07 pm

Ownership is expressed in a similar way in Russian and Finnish (and possibly some of their related languages):
I have a book = AT ME (there is) (a) BOOK
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Re: Langfocus - Strange Similarities Between Celtic & Semitic Languages!

Postby zenmonkey » Wed Mar 27, 2019 6:45 pm

With SVO there are six possible combinations:

  • SVO are the FIGS, English, Chinese, Swahili, others one might think that these are the most common because they dominate Western expression, but,
  • SOV are early the most numerous language - Korean, Mongolian, Tibetan, Turkish, the Indo-Aryan languages and the Dravidian languages...
  • VSO are rarer covering Celtics, Ancient Semitic languages and bunch of classic languages from the Americas (Zapotec(!), Mayan, etc...)
  • VOS, OSV, and OVS ... well, I've never really looked into those, Malagasy seems to be the only major language in any these groups.
So about 10% of languages are VSO (the number I remembered is higher than 7%) - a group large enough that this order can be considered to exists without direct influence.

Having said that, it is still and interesting video, thanks for sharing that!!
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Re: Langfocus - Strange Similarities Between Celtic & Semitic Languages!

Postby Doitsujin » Wed Mar 27, 2019 6:57 pm

jeff_lindqvist wrote:Ownership is expressed in a similar way in Russian and Finnish (and possibly some of their related languages):
I have a book = AT ME (there is) (a) BOOK
What is also weird is that the меня [= me] in У меня есть книга. is the genitive form of я [= I].
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Re: Langfocus - Strange Similarities Between Celtic & Semitic Languages!

Postby Deinonysus » Wed Mar 27, 2019 7:34 pm

zenmonkey wrote:With SVO there are six possible combinations:

  • SVO are the FIGS, English, Chinese, Swahili, others one might think that these are the most common because they dominate Western expression, but,
  • SOV are early the most numerous language - Korean, Mongolian, Tibetan, Turkish, the Indo-Aryan languages and the Dravidian languages...
  • VSO are rarer covering Celtics, Ancient Semitic languages and bunch of classic languages from the Americas (Zapotec(!), Mayan, etc...)
  • VOS, OSV, and OVS ... well, I've never really looked into those, Malagasy seems to be the only major language in any these groups.
So about 10% of languages are VSO (the number I remembered is higher than 7%) - a group large enough that this order can be considered to exists without direct influence.

Having said that, it is still and interesting video, thanks for sharing that!!

My source was WALS. I linked it in the OP but it was small and easy to miss. In fact, SVO is a close second behind SOV. Here is the breakdown:
ValueRepresentation% of total
Subject-object-verb (SOV)56541.0%
Subject-verb-object (SVO)48835.4%
Lacking a dominant word order18913.7%
Verb-subject-object (VSO)956.9%
Verb-object-subject (VOS)251.8%
Object-verb-subject (OVS)110.8%
Object-subject-verb (OSV)40.3%
Total1377100.0%

https://wals.info/chapter/81

OVS is the go-to "I want to make my conlang weird" order and is found in Klingon. Although it looks like OSV is even rarer.

The possessive is covered in the WALS Chapter "Predicative Possession":
https://wals.info/chapter/117

Hebrew and Irish fall under the category of "locational" possession. All types of possession are around equally likely (except for Genitive which is slightly rarer), so given that they share a slightly rare word order, it isn't outside the realm of random chance that they would also share a possessive construction. English and FIGS use the "have" construction which is the most common by a slim margin.

ValueRepresentation
Have-Possessive63
Conjunctional Possessive59
Locational Possessive48
Topic Possessive48
Genitive Possessive22
Total240
In fact, the locational construction is the second most common for VSO languages; WALS lists a whopping four languages that share these two features. First place goes to the "topic" possessive, which is shared by five VSO languages.
https://wals.info/combinations/81A_117A#2/16.7/148.9

There are other features covered in the video beyond these two, but I haven't looked into whether any of these other features are particularly rare.
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Re: Langfocus - Strange Similarities Between Celtic & Semitic Languages!

Postby Cainntear » Wed Mar 27, 2019 9:38 pm

This claim first arose in the heyday of “nationalism”, when every country/people was looking for a creation myth that made them better than everyone else.

One of the common ones was the “Lost tribe of Israel”, making a group one of god’s chosen people, and therefore better than their neighbours. This has largely been rubbished in more recent times as just a matter of cherry-picking whatever features fit the argument best.

And the video basically repeats that line, rather than the more interesting point of the research referred to: the suggestion that we’re still too trusting of the divergent model of language change, when of course there are all sorts of weird substrates that appear and disappear.

Proving a theory like this means looking for evidence across various languages, and focusing on just Insular Celtic vs Semitic distracts from that.
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Re: Langfocus - Strange Similarities Between Celtic & Semitic Languages!

Postby Hashimi » Thu Mar 28, 2019 2:03 am

The frequency of mtDNA haplogroup J is highest in the Arabian Peninsula followed by Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. The coalescence time of this haplogroup in Scotland, for example, was just 5000 to 7000 years ago. Also the ancestors of most males in the Y-DNA haplogroup G migrated to Europe from the Middle East with the spread of agriculture 6000-8000 years ago. So it is possible that before the evolution of Semitic and Celtic languages, there was a group of common ancestors who spoke a language that had these linguistic features.

There is no shared vocabulary between Celtic and Semitic because there is a constant rate of lexical replacement in vocabulary over time and that rate is around 20% every 1000 years.
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Re: Langfocus - Strange Similarities Between Celtic & Semitic Languages!

Postby Random Review » Thu Mar 28, 2019 3:02 am

Hashimi wrote:The frequency of mtDNA haplogroup J is highest in the Arabian Peninsula followed by Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. The coalescence time of this haplogroup in Scotland, for example, was just 5000 to 7000 years ago. Also the ancestors of most males in the Y-DNA haplogroup G migrated to Europe from the Middle East with the spread of agriculture 6000-8000 years ago. So it is possible that before the evolution of Semitic and Celtic languages, there was a group of common ancestors who spoke a language that had these linguistic features.

There is no shared vocabulary between Celtic and Semitic because there is a constant rate of lexical replacement in vocabulary over time and that rate is around 20% every 1000 years.


I may be talking nonsense here, but I thought that whole "constant rate of replacement" glottochronology thing had been shown to be an oversimplification. One example I saw was Norwegian and Icelandic, which are equally distant from Old Norse but have seen very different replacement percentages of their vocabulary in that time.

Is that not right?
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Re: Langfocus - Strange Similarities Between Celtic & Semitic Languages!

Postby Random Review » Thu Mar 28, 2019 3:11 am

Cainntear wrote:This claim first arose in the heyday of “nationalism”, when every country/people was looking for a creation myth that made them better than everyone else.

One of the common ones was the “Lost tribe of Israel”, making a group one of god’s chosen people, and therefore better than their neighbours. This has largely been rubbished in more recent times as just a matter of cherry-picking whatever features fit the argument best.

And the video basically repeats that line, rather than the more interesting point of the research referred to: the suggestion that we’re still too trusting of the divergent model of language change, when of course there are all sorts of weird substrates that appear and disappear.

Proving a theory like this means looking for evidence across various languages, and focusing on just Insular Celtic vs Semitic distracts from that.


I thought it was a good topic and a good video, but that suggestion is a good shout. You should comment on his video. Maybe he will make a video about that.

The linguist John McWhorter considers these issues in a book about the history of English that I really enjoyed*. He concluded that the evidence for a Celtic substrate in English is overwhelming and that (in his opinion) it is mental that this theory isn't more widely accepted. He also looks into the idea proposed by Theo Vennemann (the same guy Paul discusses who proposed the Afroasiatic substratum in Insular Celtic) that the Germanic languages have a Semitic superstratum (IIRC Paul also mentions this idea in his video) and he (McWhorter) concludes that it is not actually a totally daft idea, but that the the theory doesn't have nearly enough evidence at the moment. Just for now it's an unproven hypothesis, but not a crazy one.

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Re: Langfocus - Strange Similarities Between Celtic & Semitic Languages!

Postby Hashimi » Thu Mar 28, 2019 4:44 am

Random Review wrote:I may be talking nonsense here, but I thought that whole "constant rate of replacement" glottochronology thing had been shown to be an oversimplification. One example I saw was Norwegian and Icelandic, which are equally distant from Old Norse but have seen very different replacement percentages of their vocabulary in that time.

Is that not right?


Well. The rate may be not constant, but this does not change the fact that there is a lexical replacement and that languages lose most of their lexicon over time.
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