Arabic and IE

Alice Faber faber at
Sun Jan 31 02:27:55 UTC 1999

Alexis Manaster-Ramer disingenuously summarizes work on potential
Semitic/Indo-European relationships:

> (a) the vast majority of linguists have never studied
> the question at all,


> (b) of the small number who have, most probably think
> there is insufficient evidence for positing a relationship,
> but many think that there is, and
> many (I think many more) others that the evidence
> points to a fairly high probability of
> a relationship, but
> (c) among the much much smaller number who have
> studied the problem INTENSIVELY, the proportions
> seem to shift toward more support and less opposition
> of a relationship, but
> (d) no one has really done a census, so the proportions
> I suggested in (b) and (c) are anecdotal,
> (e) those who support or if dead did support a
> relationship include some leading specialists in
> IE and/or Semitic, e.g., the great IEnist Holger
> Pedersen, even if most of the leading specialists
> in each field have always either ignored the question
> or been against,

Point (e) is where I have a problem. For those who don't know me, I've done
considerable work on the subgrouping of the Semitic languages, and dabbled in
extra-Semitic comparisons. What Alexis is totally omitting in the above is any
mention of the Afro-Asiatic family, of which Semitic comprises one group. The
other language groups in Afro-Asiatic are Egyptian, Berber, Chadic, Cushitic,
and Omotic. Among scholars working on these languages, there is some
disagreement about detail, such as the validity of the Omotic branch, possible
sub-groupings within Afro-Asiatic, whether specific languages belong in, say,
Cushitic, or in a neighboring, perhaps unrelated, African language family. The
existence of an Afro-Asiatic stock, however, isn't in doubt.

I have no doubt that Afro-Asiatic is related to other language stocks of
comparable depth. Indo-European may be one of them. However, any attempt to
relate *Semitic* to Indo-European that doesn't take Afro-Asiatic into account
simply isn't worth considering seriously. If there are Semitic forms or
structures that aren't widely attested in Afro-Asiatic but that show up in
Indo-European, insisting that these bespeak a genetic link between Semitic and
Indo-European also requires explaining away the evidence supporting an
Afro-Asiatic language family. My understanding of most larger affiliations for
Semitic is that are in fact filiations for Afro-Asiatic and not merely
Semitic, but it's worth making that explicit.

Furthermore, and now I'm speculating wildly, if I were seriously interested in
linking Afro-Asiatic with other language stocks, Indo-European, or, indeed,
any other Eurasian language stock, is *not* where I would look first. Rather,
I would look seriously at Nilo-Saharan. I fear that at least some of the
interest, especially from non-specialists, in relating Semitic and
Indo-European is motivated by a notion of "Judeo-Christian cultural
tradition" that may, itself, not be supported by the historical record.

Alice Faber

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