I have noticed that Southwest Asian Languages (SWAL) such as Arabic and Hebrew and Southeast Asian languages (SEAL) such as Thai and Vietnamese and maybe also others, tend to share usage of different types of t:

Arabic ت | Hebrew ת                 | At least one variation in all languages
Arabic ث | Hebrew ת' (not a letter) | Similar to european þ (IPA: θ)
Arabic ط | Hebrew ט                 | ถ (Thai/Lao Tho thung)
Arabic ظ | Hebrew ט' (not a letter) | ต (Thai To Tao) | ຕ (Lao To)
Kurdish t variants
Khmer t variants
Vietnamese Chữ Nôm t variants (obsolete)
  • I am also impressed both share lots of B, T and L

  • I am also impressed both share the rhotic consonant which is absent in some south American languages while frequent African and European languages

  • Many share the h consonant (Semitic ح) roughly paralleled with a Dutch soft g; for example; available in Pinyin (IPA x), optional in Thai Kho Khai (ข), similar to Hindi Hu (हूँ), and is absent in generally all European languages where it is replaced with h.

Is there is a theory according to which both West Asian and East Asian form a sprachbund?
similarly to the Dené–Yeniseian languages and likely to be be in accordance with out of Africa migration.

  • I'm confused by your comment on "h"—if you're talking about IPA /x/, it's far from absent in Europe. Off the top of my head, Scottish Gaelic, German, Russian, Dutch, Greek, Polish, Irish, and some dialects of English all have it, and I'm sure there are more I'm forgetting.
    – Draconis
    Dec 27, 2019 at 2:04
  • @Draconis I don't know IPA, but I can tell you that for me, "hello" sounds different than "Geert (Wilders)" or "Hali" (uncle, in Arabic) which I personally don't find frequent in European languages I have heard.
    – user24141
    Dec 27, 2019 at 4:37
  • The Arabic letter <ح> is usually used for the unvoiced (no vocal chord vibration) pharyngeal /ħ/ made as a constriction of a part of the throat called the pharynx, as opposed to Hindi <ह> which represents the voiced (vocal chord vibration) glottal /ɦ/ made with constriction of a flap lower in the throat called the glottis, and both are different than the Dutch soft g, which is velar (made with the back of the tongue touching the soft palate), and /ɣ/ (voiced) or /x/ (unvoiced) depending on dialect. Dec 27, 2019 at 4:48
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    @JohnDoea sure, if you decide to pick English "hello", that's a different thing, it's /h/. But Draconis is talking about the /x/-like sound you can find in Scottish loch, German nacht, Spanish gente, Greek χώρα, and more in languages I can't provide examples for. To me it feels more like there's limited examples of European languages that don't have that sound: French, Italian, arguably the Nordic languages, although some dialects of the latter exhibit it allophonically.
    – LjL
    Dec 30, 2019 at 17:49

1 Answer 1


There isn't such a theory. For starters, a sprachbund only occurs through contact, and so it's unlikely to have a sprachbund broken up by South or Central Asia.

Second of all, the different types of t-like sounds in Arabic (and some varieties of Hebrew) use is not like the varieties of t-like sounds in South East Asian languages. Arabic <ت> and Hebrew <ת> and Thai <ต> all do correspond to a similar sound (which linguists notate as /t/, and sometimes call a tenuis t, meaning it has no complicated alternations to it), which most languages have.

The other sounds are not shared between the different language groups. Arabic <ط> and (in some dialects) Hebrew <ט> correspond to a pharyngealized sound /tˤ/ (meaning that there is also a constriction at the back of the throat when making this sound). It is not very common (and in fact, mostly only found in the Middle East, the Caucasus mountains, North Africa, East Africa, and the Pacific Northewst, but not in most Southeast Asian languages). Depending on dialect, Arabic <ث> and <ظ> and sometimes Hebrew <ת> at the end of syllables, when not representing a sound like the plosives (sounds where you completely stop the air in the mouth, like /p/ and /t/), represent fricatives (sounds like /f/, or in this case, frequently like /θ/, which English has and represents with ), and these kinds of fricatives are not found in Thai, Lao, Vietnamese, etc. (but are found in Burmese - which is not strong enough evidence for a sprachbund).

Contrastingly, the South East Asian sound, which you are representing with Thai <ถ> is aspirated (meaning with a puff of air afterwards), frequently notated as /tʰ/. It barely appears in the zone you call SWAL, but is very frequent in what you call SEAL. Specifically, unlike in English, where [t] and [tʰ] are both representations of the sound represented by the letter depending on where in the word it is, many languages of South, East, and Southeast Asia contrast them (they would hear tʰa and ta as different words, while English speakers would hear them as the same word).

Rhotic consonants are extremely common, and occur in at least 3/4 of all languages, and so not strong enough to establish a Sprachbund unless most of the languages around the potential Sprachbund lack it.

The consonants you are saying are all approximately h are in fact a whole bunch of pretty different sounds.

I don't see how Dené-Yeniseian is similar, as it is a (proposed) language family (languages related by common ancestor) and not a Sprachbund (languages related by areal features spread by contact).

  • Hello; I thank you for the answer; about the approximately h sounds, I would personally assume they share some core; I protest displaying To tao as ת because for me it sounds as a very bold ת or a ט.
    – user24141
    Dec 27, 2019 at 1:48
  • I think in a lenient reading, the question considers similar distribution, not exact feature paraity. Some influence of Arabic on Thai Land, Indonesia and all those countries who had a significant Muslim population wouldn't be surprising at all. However, Sprachbund should (by definition?) also require influences in the other direction to be a bund instead of a onefold adstratum. Indeed, orange is thought a loanword from South Asia, though I suggested to cp Akkadian "gold" (ar, or if I remember correctly), a far spread wanderword as well, certainly predading Islam either way.
    – vectory
    Dec 27, 2019 at 17:12

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