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In this text, acknowledged by both Theravada and Mahayana traditions as sacred, Buddha gives his speech to Kalamas. According to the dictionaries, the primal Sanskrit meaning of the word कलम (kalama) is ' a thief', which, supposedly, is not the case, since by Kalams in the buddhist text they traditionally mean the inhabitants of Kesaputta.

The original Sanskrit form is कालामसूत्र (Kālāmasūtra), with a long [a], but the vowel length is irrelevant to the purpose of the question, since a) the vowel length in Arabic is grammatical, not (primary) phonetic, as it is in Sanskrit, and b) in a case of cross-linguistic interaction (e.g. via a third language or more) the quality/quantity of vowels is a subject to change.

My question is; can there be any linguistic parallels between Arabic كلام (kalam) and the addressees of Buddha's word? The similarity between the two could be more than just a phonetic coincidence, since the two words are not just pronounced more or less alike, they also mean more or less similar concepts.

The questions seems to be not so easy to answer considering some similarities in the description of the Kalam teaching in Islam (which was first mentioned as early as in 8th century) and the essence of the suttra, since both the sutra and the philosophical doctrine emphasise the importance of following rational reasoning and discourse rather than authorities or any other sources of disputable accuracy. Given the facts of existence of Pan-Eurasian fabulae of Barlaam & Josaphat, recorded from Japan to Ethiophia and further to Portugal, this question can be not so easy to answer at all.

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    According to Wiktionary there are three homonymous words in Sanskrit for कलम. 1 = rice, from a root meaning "to sound", 2 = writing reed, from Greek, 3 = thief, with no origin listed. Also according to Wiktionary, Arabic كلام comes from كلم, to speak, which comes from the triliteral root ك ل م, related to speech. Arabic also has قلم borrowed from the same Greek source as the 2nd Sanskrit homonym. Dec 30 '13 at 12:07
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    These three are all kalama- with short a in all three syllables. The name of the Kālāmasūtra has long ā in the first two syllables. Kālāma is the name of the tribe to whom the Buddha is supposed to have directed his sermon. I cannot see any semantic link between this tribal name and the Semitic root k-l-m “to speak”.
    – fdb
    Dec 30 '13 at 12:42
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    Let me just make it more clear, do you suppose the Sanskrit word was borrowed from Arabic, or vice versa? And what do you think about the time gap between the time of Buddha and the first attestation of Arabic, almost a thousand years later?
    – Yellow Sky
    Dec 30 '13 at 20:34
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    Dr Dion Peoples (a specialist in Buddhism, not linguistics) has written a paper, 'Kalam and the Kalama Sutta', which you can find on academia.edu. Read footnote one to see how modern scholars in the field of religious studies react to this sort of 'etymological determinism'!
    – neubau
    Dec 31 '13 at 16:22
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    It is famously attributed to Voltaire. For the benefit of those with no sense of humour I add that it is ironic. It is a parody of a certain sort of pseudo-linguistics of which Peoples's paper is a particularly blatant example.
    – fdb
    Jan 1 '14 at 17:11

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