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I am fascinated by questions of linguistic relation between Hebrew and the Romance Languages, but I feel here I may have stumbled on a false connection and would like to be properly put in my place.

The French for gold is "or," the Hebrew for light is "אור" which is pronounced essentially the same. Is it possible they both share the same PIE root *h₂ews-? That etymology is given for French or by this article. The PIE root would mean "to dawn, become light, become red" and thus align better with the Hebrew than "gold".

Unfortunately Wiktionary doesn't have as much information on the Hebrew etymology. Still, it would be awesome to get a better sense of the dynamics here. Thank you!

  • Great question. I have wondered the same, but comparing the Hebrew with Spanish oro, also meaning gold (and clearly related to the French). – Robert Columbia Jul 9 '18 at 2:29
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    linguistic relation between Hebrew and the Romance languages - There is no such thing. – Lucian Aug 10 '18 at 6:47
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The Hebrew root אור has cognates in Aramaic אור, Ugaritic 'r, Akkadian ūru, urru, and Arabic 'awwara (reference from here). Hebrew 'ōr and Ugaritic ar likely both came from an original Northwestern Semitic * 'ār-. Some of the others seem to be cognates of the homograph 'ūr "flame." The etymology is transparent enough to indicate that it isn't connected to Indo-European.

The PIE root * h₂ews, from which French or comes, does show up in Hebrew in the word אויר "air," which is borrowed from Greek ἀήρ (apparently from an earlier version with a digamma).

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  • More precisely: * h₂ews-er. – fdb Jul 5 '18 at 11:45
  • @fdb I am not an expert in IE comparative linguistics, but from Wiktionary it seems that the common denominator only extends to *h₂ews, since the source of or is given as *h₂é-h₂us-o- from *h₂ews- – b a Jul 5 '18 at 16:36
  • Sorry about the confusion. I was talking about the etymology of ἀήρ. – fdb Jul 5 '18 at 17:57
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Unlikely in the extreme.

  1. Hebrew is not Indo-European, it is Afro-Asiatic. There are theories (such as Nostratic) in which AA and IE are sisters, but even if these are true (which is far from generally accepted) the time-depth, and the opportunity for sound-changes, is immense.
  2. As the Wiktionary article you quote says, the change /z/ -> /r/ happened within Italic. Even if they are related, why should the same change have happened in a distant branch?
  3. I don't know the etymology of "אור", but I observe that Arabic has "nur" and Akkadian "nūru" for "light, lamp". It seems to me much more likely that it is derived from the same root as those.

I'm afraid that comparing the forms of words in two modern languages is, in general, of absolutely no value whatever in determining relatedness. You need to trace the words back to relevant earlier forms to make any sort of meaningful conclusion.

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This is not a definitive connection but the American Heritage dictionary has a list of Semitic triples and their subsequent cognate English derivatives. And among many possiblities there is:

ḥwr

Central Semitic, to be(come) white.

houri, from Arabic ḥūrīya, nymph, houri, from ḥūr, plural (also used as singular) of ʾaḥwar, feminine ḥawrāʾ, characterized by the quality ḥawar, intense whiteness of the sclera of the eye in contrast to deep blackness of the iris (compare ḥawira, to have this quality).

Look further there. It's just a hint, not an attestation.

Also, there is a selection of supposed cognate PIE and PS roots, but I couldn't find *ḥwr or *h₂ews.

This is all pretty sketchy. From vague memory, I thought there were no PS/PIE cognates from the beginning (of course many outright borrowings) .

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  • Hebrew or isn't derived from this root, so this isn't really relevant. – TKR Feb 21 '19 at 19:28
  • @TKR Oh. That is exactly what the OP is asking about. Can you give a reference for that or can you substantiate it some other way (eg the sound changes lead in different ways)? – Mitch Feb 21 '19 at 20:10
  • The first consonant rules it out: this root is חור ḥwr, "light" is אור 'or. There are Hebrew words from the ḥwr root (ḥiwer 'pale'), but they show the initial pharyngeal, not a glottal stop. – TKR Feb 21 '19 at 20:44
  • @TKR You should make a formal answer out of that – Mitch Feb 21 '19 at 20:56
  • Am I missing something? I don't think the OP brought up the ḥwr root at all. – TKR Feb 21 '19 at 21:19

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