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I can't help but notice word pairs between Arabic and some European languages that seem to be cognate, such as: Sabah "seven"/ German Sieben also "seven" Ktab "book"/ English tablet (both something written on) hadith "saying"/ Italian ditto "say" and to me the most obvious kafir literally "one who covers/English cover If the answer to my question is "no", then how could these word pairs exist?

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    I don't know enough to give a good answer, but I know enough to say there's no mainstream consensus that these language groups are related. There's not enough good evidence. Some people have hypothesized about a relationship, of course. Regarding your specific examples, I've read speculation that "seven" in IE was a loanword from Semitic (a loanword wouldn't imply "genetic" relationship, though), but I don't think a specialist would find any of the other apparent similarities at all convincing. Coincidental resemblances are very common and don't require any special explanation. – ewawe Jan 11 '17 at 20:56
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    It actually is fairly easy in the modern day with web resources like Wiktionary to test for yourself if similar-looking words are likely to be related. (I'm not saying Wiktionary is error-free, but you can use it to elimate a lot of false leads.) If as you trace them back they look more similar in meaning and form, they may be related; if they look less similar, they almost certainly aren't. – ewawe Jan 11 '17 at 21:01
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    You came up with a large set of consistent changes -- Arabic /b/ corresponds to German /b/, Ar /s/ with German /z/, /k/ with English /k/, /f/ with English /v/, and /r/ with English /r/. OK, then test them. Are there any other word pairs that follow those rules? You would need a dozen examples, say, of each rule (and at least a dozen more such rules) to interest a linguist. They don't exist, however. These are random. It's easy to find dozens of random resemblances between any two languages, depending on how much freedom you're willing to allow in the matches. But it's never systematic. – jlawler Jan 12 '17 at 22:11
  • Related: linguistics.stackexchange.com/questions/7048/… – TKR Jan 18 '17 at 19:15
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    The first pair is possibly related (likely a borrowing), the other pairs aren't. – Anixx Jan 20 '17 at 6:16
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If you really want to pursue this line of enquiry you need to compare proto-Afro-Asiatic with proto-Indo-European. You cannot just compare Arabic with English or Italian. Taking the etymology even a small step further demolishes most of your examples. E.g. Italian detto (not “ditto”) comes from Latin dictum, which does not look at all like Arabic ḥadīϑ. The only one of your examples that is even debatable is the word for “seven”, where Semitic *šabʽ has been compared with Indo-European *septṃ, either as evidence for a “Nostratic” super-family or else for an ancient borrowing in one direction or the other. But even in this case, coincidence is the most likely explanation.

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  • Taking the etymology even a small step further demolishes most of your examples. Consider that this is because semitic hadn't been taken into consideration in the comparison. It's a circular argument. – vectory Nov 26 '18 at 7:53
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    There's also the old exemple comparing hebrew "עין" (áyin) with english "eye" both meaning the same thing, but if you go deeper you see that English "eye" comes from proto-germanic "augô", which comes from PIE "*h₃ekʷ-", therefore cognate of latin "oculus". The latter two look almost nothing like hebrew "áyin". – Ergative Man Jan 12 at 16:30
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There's this controversial hypothesis about a genetic relationship between Indo-European and Semitic languages. The Wikipedia article that deals with it concedes that it "has never been widely accepted by contemporary linguists in modern times". At the end it tries to salvage the hypothesis by moving the goalposts:

The Indo-Semitic hypothesis has thus undergone a paradigm shift. From Lepsius in 1836 through the mid-20th century, the question asked was whether Indo-European and Semitic are related or unrelated, and in attempting to answer this question Indo-European and Semitic were compared directly. This now appears naive, and the relevant units of comparison instead appear to be Eurasiatic and Afroasiatic, the immediate precursors of Indo-European (controversially) and Semitic (uncontroversially). This revised schema still has a long road to go if it is to win general acceptance from the linguistic community.

So, in short: no, there's no generally accepted evidence of a genetic relationship between Indo-European and Semitic languages.

Regarding the second question: how could these word pairs exist? The thing is, unless the pairs can be shown to be phonetically related in a systematic way, no amount of them can be used to infer a genetic relationship. In other words, they are just coincidences.

If you look for them, in fact, you'll find that there are many more such word pairs, not only between English and Arabic but between any pair of languages, of whatever family you might choose. There's a very thorough article on this ("How likely are chance resemblances between languages?") in case you find it hard to believe. The trick is relaxing the rules for considering word x cognate to word y (or starting without rules altogether).

See also Comparative method and Mass comparison.

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Chance coincidences like this aren't uncommon. For example, there's an African language (whose name escapes me sadly, if anyone else can give the name it would be greatly appreciated) whose word for 'dog' is 'dog'. This is pure coincidence, the two words in fact have separate ancestries that just so happened to converge on each other over time.

There's thousands of languages on this planet, but only a few hundred phonemes, and taking into account how humans tend to see some (though not all) foreign sounds as sounding like native phonemes, coincidences like this happen far more often than you think. For instance, in Japanese the word for 'name' is 'namae'. They aren't related, in fact, 'namae' is a compound word made from native roots. Also, the similarity is more in how its spelled in the Latin alphabet than its pronunciation.

Like others have stated, there is no evidence that the Semitic and Indo-european families are related. Some think there may have been loan words between the two proto-languages, but that's the closest to a relationship that anyone seriously thinks exists between the two language families.

Also, there's a number of suspected relationships that aren't (currently) accepted by the linguistic community. Some seriously argue that Japanese and Korean are related (both are accepted to be language isolates). This mostly comes from their striking similarities in grammar and the huge number of Chinese loan words they took in the past. There are a handful of native words in the two that look like they could be related, but again its generally accepted to be just a coincidence.

To be considered related, you have to find far more words that look similar. If you want an example, go look at the evidence that shows that Hindi/urdu is part of the Indo-european family. You can find thousands of Hindi/urdu words that are obviously similar to English words with related meanings. Even their pronouns are obviously related! These are the kinds of similarities that linguists accept as indicating a relationship between two languages, not the few pieces of evidence that you suggest. Besides, if they were related you would expect to see far more words with similarities, rather than vocabularies where 99% of the words bear no resemblance what-so-ever.

Of course, you could possibly consider them related if you assume that all current languages have a single common ancestor in the ancient past. But in reality, there's no way to confirm or deny this. We don't know if there was ever a single proto-language that all languages descend from. Language may have appeared in multiple different populations independently of each other. Really, the origins of language are impossible to determine, and its commonly accepted that its just something we'll never know due to the lack of written evidence.

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    "Dog" in the (now extinct) Pama-Nyungan language of Mbabaram, spoken in Queensland before 1979 (death of its last native speaker). Compare its cognates e.g. "guda" in Dyirbal – Michaelyus Jul 10 '18 at 10:50
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All languages are related: there's a limited inventory of phonological, lexical, and syntactic features of which any particular language has a subset.

But that's surely not what you're asking. I suppose you're asking if there is some common cultural chain from long in the past that connects the two, closer than other language groups.

A handful of pairs, some from different pairs of language, is a bit of cherry picking. You really need to show a systematic comparison.

Like with much language history questions, we weren't there at the time so we have to use comparisons of current language to check. Phonology changes so much over the years that if two languages seem to share a small handful of words very closely it is most likely a matter of a recent borrowing.

Even some very large over-arching parameters of a language, eg left vs right branching or pro-drop, can change between historically very near languages so that is not a good single measure of closeness.

But there is the vague idea based on vague commonalities like general word formation and general sentence structure (called the Nostratic hypothesis) that seem to relate the European and 'Uralic' languages together (but not Bantu), and the Sino-Tibetan and American languages together. Very vaguely. So there are some very vague commonalities between IE and Semitic that are not exactly done for the most part in other language groups. What those vagaries are... well, sometimes Afro-Asiatic (including Semitic) is included and sometimes not. In the end, the hypothesis is not considered crazy exactly, just that the evidence for it is not overwhelmingly convincing to most linguists. That is, it's pretty controversial.

All that said, there are a lot of latter day Semitic borrowings into IE languages via biblical scholarship on the one hand and the Ashkenazi Jewish diaspora in Europe on the other. In English, check out the American Heritage Dictionary appendix on Semitic Roots of English words. By 'a lot' is not even 1% of words, but the number is non-trivial.

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    Under the "Semitic Roots" link there are overwhelmingly Proper Names, not borrowed words. – jk - Reinstate Monica Jan 19 '17 at 14:55
  • @jknappen Eye-balling it but going through the entire list quickly, yes, I'd say very roughly 50% seem to be biblically derived personal names or place names directly from the (Christian) Bible, which may in some sense 'not count'. – Mitch Jan 19 '17 at 16:17
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What is presented here is the standard view, but it might be partly otherwise. Nostratic might actually have been a dialectical continuum in a large area in the Middle East, without any language boundaries, but still with layers having distinct features.

Uralic and Altaic branches might have originated from early migrations form the north of that continuum.

The southern Afro-asiatic languages possibly originated early from the southern parts of this continuum.

Indo-european and Semitic possibly developed developed by migrations from two adjacent mid levels in that continnuum at a later time.

This picture explains that Indo-european in many respects is very Semitic-like and in other very Uralic-like. In this interpretation Afro-asiatic was nothing but the southern half of that continuum, and Eurasitic nothing but the Northern half.

At some very early period Nostratic was probably a more compact and homogenic language, but after developing into a dialectical continuum, several layers from south to north developed with many of the traits we can see today in the different sub-brtanches like Indo-european and Semitic.

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All world languages are related. Specially the semitic and indo european languages renamed by the linguist Zaidan Ali Jassem as Eurabian or Urbanian languages. His work is published in a serie of articles as the radical linguistic theory approach.

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Indo-Eurpean languages are also realted to Semitic languages, here a few examples:

EARTH < ארץ AReTS, earth
PALSY < פלץ PaLaTS, to tremble or shake
PANE < פני  PiNaY, “face" or the "surface of" the waters
(EN)CASE < כסה Ka$aH, to cover, conceal, encase 
ENDOW < נדב NaDa(V), to donate

And more than 23K English words related to Edenic (Proto-Hebrew). Please refer to this blog Edenic Posts by Isaac Mozeson or refer to the site edenics.org

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After all, for 100%, there must be only a mother language as the origin of all human laguages!

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    How do you know this? What if the Tower of Babel story was actually true? What if some languages were taught to us by aliens? Or what if some languages started out as constructed (invented) languages? Can you prove they weren't? – curiousdannii Jan 12 at 12:52

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