LINGUISTIC COINCIDENCES.

In an early LH post I trotted out my favorite example of coincidence in language:

…even though English and Persian are related languages, and even though Persian “bad” means the same thing as English “bad” and is pronounced almost identically, there is no historical connection whatever.

Imagine my joy at discovering an entire webpage [original URL no longer works, so I have replaced it with what is clearly the same list — LH] of such coincidences, from Arabic/Mongolian akh ‘brother’ to Japanese yabanjin ‘person from the wilderness’/Turkish yabanci ‘person from the wilderness.’ For lagniappe there’s a table of “Yin/Yang reversals,” eg Catalan alt ‘high’/Turkish alt ‘low.’ I’m certainly not vouching for the accuracy of all the forms, but it’s a great idea, and I applaud Yahyá M for putting so much work into it! [Replacement page is by “Johanna-Hypatia Cybeleia.”] (If anybody notices any howlers, I’d appreciate hearing about them.)

Comments

  1. What I find strange about this site is that in addition to the list of coincidences it contains a credulous section on Proto-World.

  2. Good heavens. I didn’t investigate that far. That is extremely strange. The human mind is a bizarre thing.

  3. I wonder … who is to say that something is a “coincidence”? Take for instance,
    “Hungarian béka ‘frog’ — Sanskrit bheka ‘frog'”
    Now, I know that there are a lot of Romani speakers in Hungary, and Romani is linguistically related to Sanskrit…

  4. “Hungarian béka ‘frog’ — Sanskrit bheka ‘frog'”
    It could exist in Persian, and absorbed by the Magyars from Persians met during their travels. That happened with a few words.
    The biggest mystery for me about Indian words in Europe is how Indo-Aryan “maidan” entered Ukrainian.

  5. it contains a credulous section on Proto-World
    Not to mention a poem in Nostratic.

  6. Having looked around his site more, I’m afraid Yahya is a kook, and I suspect by “coincidences” he means “words whose similarity proves the Proto-World hypothesis.” Sigh. Well, it’s still a useful list for saner purposes.

  7. My favorites are “man” as in “Turcoman”, which means something like “man”. It’s not a hybrid Turko-English monster.
    “Horde” from the Mongol and the Germanic “hoard” are completely unrelated in every way, but in English I think that there’s pollution, both seeming to mean something like “a shapeless heap of objects or men”. The Mongol horde was very well-disciplined, so a different fake etymology from “order” is recommended.
    Likewise the Anglo-Saxon “gumman” means “man, human” as does the Mongol “kumun” (umlauted).
    Isn’t misleading scholarship so much more fun than valid scholarship?

  8. how Indo-Aryan “maidan” entered Ukrainian
    there’s nothing too irregular about it. Early Slavs were in contact with some Iranian tribe. Mostly religious lexicon was borrowed, so for example bog ‘god’. One group of Slavs has more borrowings than others, namely the Poles. This says certain things about the chronology of Slavic movements, i.e Poles probably stayed back east longer and had more contact with our Iranian tribe. Majdan is also in Polish. I cannot tell you at the moment how the borrowing went, because I just packed all my books. 🙁

  9. Vasmer says Russian got maidan from Turkic (Tatar &c), for what that’s worth.

  10. Speaking of maidans, are you familiar with Tychyna’s
    priceless, На майдані коло церкви?

  11. Nick Wiseman says:

    My favourite antonym is Potuguese puxe – pronounced “push” but means pull. Even Portuguese and Brazilians that speak fluent English have to think twice when you shout “push!”.

  12. One that I was surprised not to see in the near misses is English “ear” and Mandarin Chise “er3”.

  13. Since I mentionned Etiemble in an other post, I thought I’d quote one of his favorites: Chinese shamo 沙漠 (“desert”) and French chameau (“camel”). Another one, if I remember correctly is Spanish caracol (“snail”)/French caracoller (I don’t have any English dictionary here, but it is, of a horse, something like “to run very fast, in the leading position of the race”).
    In fact, I am afraid that many of the so-called similarities on that webpage are more graphic (which is completely arbitrary) than phonological. I mean, French “ça y est” and Urdu “sahih hai” (‘that’s right!’) may look the same when romanized that way, but is that similarity audible? Same for Fr. “toi” and Vietn. “tôi”, and many others (not to mention transliterated/transcribed items in “Ancient Greek” and “Old Chinese”). I know it’s only a matter of poetical leisure (for us, obviously not for the authors of the page), but even in that case, that weakens a lot the potential fun (but I do have a pro-speech vs. writing bias, except for Chinese, admittedly a very particular case).

  14. “French “ça y est” and Urdu “sahih hai” (‘that’s right!’) may look the same when romanized that way, but is that similarity audible?”
    Yes: sa i e v. sahih hE (epsilon), and I understand h is often replaced with breathy voice in India, making it even more similar.
    What I note is the converse problem: not all of them are in fact coincidences… Hebrew awir, for instance, really is an Indo-European loanword (from Koine Greek, I understand.) And of course, whether you accept Jakobsen’s idea or some sort of historical explanation, the mother and father words are unlikely to be just coincidences.

  15. Middle English: “devel” – devil (from Greek “diabolos”)
    Romani: “devel” – god (from Old Indo-Aryan “devata”.)
    now imagine trying to refute accusations of devil-worhiship given such a linguistic set-up.

  16. I believe the nominative form is del, not devel (o Del si yek, o Del si baro). But of course other forms are devla, devlesa.

  17. i got “devel” from “Romani: a linguistic introduction” by Yaron Matras. i figured, if you can’t trust Cambridge University Press, who can you trust in this world? 🙂

  18. i wonder if this could be just difference between dialects… i mean, i don’t think it’s vocative, because “dEvl-a” is supposed to be vocative…

  19. Yeah, must be a dialect thing. I checked my Greek Romani dictionary and my Russian Kalderash book, and they both gave del, but of course there’s a lot of dialect differentiation.

  20. The great cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) is called kawau in Japanese and Maori:
    http://www.bsc-eoc.org/avibase/avibase.jsp?pg=summary&lang=EN&id=1A20DC041F3AC432&ts=1177953266343
    The Japanese word 川鵜 is a compound, made up of kawa 川 (river, brook) and u 鵜 (cormorant), and pronounced ka-wa-u.
    There is also an umiu 海鵜 (sea u, aka Japanese cormorant):
    http://www.bsc-eoc.org/avibase/avibase.jsp?pg=summary&lang=EN&id=1474EC3027432EF3&ts=1177955730843

  21. 西瓜 xīgua ‘watermelon’ & σικύα ‘bottle-gourd’. Herbert Giles says it isn’t a coincidence, but he quotes the smaller Liddell Scott, instead of the larger one, which is more specific.

  22. David Marjanović says:

    Now, I know that there are a lot of Romani speakers in Hungary, and Romani is linguistically related to Sanskrit…

    But why would the word for “frog” get borrowed?

  23. Chechen doga /дога = dog(wood):

    http://vayaza.ucoz.net/blog/dittijn_c1ersh/2017-02-28-19

  24. SFReader says:

    Maori hui (assembly, meeting) – Chinese 会 huì (meeting)

  25. SFReader says:

    New Zealand fact of the day:

    A hui is a New Zealand term for a social gathering or assembly.

    Originally a Māori language word, it was used by Europeans as early as 1846 when referring to Māori gatherings[1] – but is now increasingly used in New Zealand English to describe events that are not exclusively Māori.

    I wonder how it functions in New Zealand English. I imagine something like:

    We are invited to the town hall hui.

    Let’s crash his birthday hui.

    She is such a hui girl…

  26. David Marjanović says:

    For lagniappe there’s a table of “Yin/Yang reversals,” eg Catalan alt ‘high’/Turkish alt ‘low.’

    Around the time that was written, somewhere there was a site about “the Hopi-Tibetan mirror” claiming that not only are the Hopi and Tibetan cultures similar (if you squint hard enough) and found on exactly opposite sides of the globe (if you squint way too hard), but their languages are mirrors, so that carefully chosen words from one language will have “the opposite” meaning in the other. Alas, the language woo isn’t on the first four pages of ghits for hopi tibetan mirror anymore, and I didn’t look farther.

  27. I wonder … who is to say that something is a “coincidence”? Take for instance,
    “Hungarian béka ‘frog’ — Sanskrit bheka ‘frog’”
    Now, I know that there are a lot of Romani speakers in Hungary, and Romani is linguistically related to Sanskrit…

    I neglected to respond to this at the time, but the Hungarian word is apparently from Old Turkish baka (cf. Turkish bağa).

  28. marie-lucie says:

    JHo: caracoler : This verb refers to the nervous leg motions of a horse or group of horses when forced to remain in one place while eager to run – perhaps just before a race, but not during it. Horses can be trained to perform specific motions in such contexts.

    “ça y est” : This means something like That’s it! It’s done! rather than “it’s right”. A goal has been reached, but there is no value judgement.

    David M: why borrow a word for frog

    There are many different species of frogs, and there are also differences between frogs and toads which are not necessarily reflected in every language. Also, in some cultures the frog or toad has an important role in tales of transformation (the prince changed into a frog, or vice-versa; the frog wife kept in the human husband’s pocket; and many others), so a culture adopting such a tale might adopt the word for “frog” first as the name of the character, later as the word for the animal (somewhat as with French “renard”).

  29. David Marjanović says:

    Good points.

    One more coincidence: [dø˧˦] meaning “two?” in French but “zero” in this dialect spoken close to the linguistically infamous Wēnzhōu.

  30. somewhat as with French “renard”

    Or English robin.

    For reversals it seems like there should be something for the Germanic “cold” words and the Romance “calidus” words, but I guess there’s no pair that’s spelled the same. The best I’ve found is Norwegian kald and Romanian cald. (This is also why the “C” label on faucet knobs in Canada is not useful if you don’t look at the other knob to see whether it’s “H” or “F”.)

  31. Five things you need to know to be a plumber’s assistant:

    1) Hot is left.

    2) Cold is right.

    3) Shit don’t flow uphill.

    4) The boss is a son of a bitch.

    5) Payday is Friday.

  32. marie-lucie says:

    Keith: the “C” label on faucet knobs in Canada is not useful if you don’t look at the other knob to see whether it’s “H” or “F”.)

    Indeed. That’s why the modern (or international?) ones don’t have letters but use blue and red markings.

  33. When I was a kid, my favorite way of distinguishing the knobs was that the hot water knob was often, due to the mechanical linkages involved, warm to the touch. It seems though that this was considered an undesirable property, so you don’t really get it much any more.

  34. David Marjanović says:

    For reversals it seems like there should be something for the Germanic “cold” words and the Romance “calidus” words

    I’ve seen that claim made in earnest (in some work from the early 20th century I only leafed through some 20 years ago). It extended to Volk (neuter, supposedly positive connotations) and Latin vulgus (neuter, negative connotations). *sigh*

  35. January First-of-May says:

    My favorite false cognate example is that not only do the English words “marshal” and “march” (or the even more similar Russian words) have nothing to do with each other, but also (probably) neither of them has anything to do with the Roman god Mars (from which we get the words “martial” and “March”).

    English Wikipedia used to have an extensive list, but most of it was removed due to lack of sourcing in October 2015. Admittedly a lot of the removed entries were of terrible quality (English reason and Russian razum, seriously?)
    OTOH, it has some pairs that I really like because they look (at least, on surface) like they should be cognate, but aren’t – things like English strange and Russian stranno, English cross and Russian krest, and perhaps the most ridiculous, English beat and Russian bit’ (I would never have guessed that they weren’t cognate, but Wiktionary agrees).

    An incredible (possibly) unrelated quintuple (partly from the Wikipedia list): Italian sette, Yakut sette, Estonian seitse, (Sino-)Japanese shichi, Georgian švidi, all five words meaning “seven”.
    (Italian/Yakut and Estonian/Japanese were listed on Wikipedia, and the former also on the JHC list; Georgian added by me. According to Wiktionary, the Italian and Estonian forms might actually be related. Note that I did not include any Semitic forms, which also start with s/š, but don’t look as similar to this line specifically.)

  36. David Marjanović says:

    Spread from Semitic would of course be expected to reach Georgian, too.

  37. January First-of-May says:

    Spread from Semitic would of course be expected to reach Georgian, too.

    True (and, in fact, Wiktionary proposes Semitic etymologies for some other Kartvelian numerals, though not for this one), but in this particular case, the Semitic forms lie on the other edge of the Indo-European variation, and aren’t actually that similar to either of those five (though to the extent that they are, the Georgian is closest).

    Incidentally, by sheer luck, David’s comment above somehow managed to get the number 3,000,000 (and by “sheer luck” I mean that, since the numbers of consecutive open comments are actually some several hundred apart – presumably because there’s roughly a hundred spam comments per hour, which don’t show up in the comment listing but do take up the numbers – it was actually quite unexpected that the precise round number would even show up in the first place).

  38. Proto-Malayo-Polynesian *duha ‘two’ and *tolu ‘three’ were two items which resembled Indo-European forms enough to send Franz Bopp on a wild goose chase after a genetic connection.

  39. I don’t remember whether that was discussed here, but it has been suggested that the IE words for 6 and 7, as well as similar – looking words from Caucasian languages, are indeed related to the Semitic words, as commercial wanderwörter, with either Semitic or an unknown language as the source.

  40. David Marjanović says:

    Il Millione

  41. David “Tre Milioni” Marjanović.

  42. dainichi says:

    I still kind of remember realizing, as a native Japanese-speaking kid in Denmark, that 便利 /benri/ (convenient/user-friendly) is an actual (Sino-)Japanese word, not a Japanified version of Danish “(bruger)venlig”, (user-)friendly.

    To my defense, it’s not uncommon for Japanese speakers in Denmark to mix in some Danish words when speaking Japanese to each other, and “venlig” /vεnli/ spoken with Japanese phonology sounds just like 便利.

  43. SFReader says:


    Five things you need to know to be a plumber’s assistant:

    1) Hot is left.

    2) Cold is right.

    Something bothered me and I went to bathroom to check.

    Hot is right, cold is left.

    Shame on you, John Cowan!

    You just failed plumber’s assistant test.

  44. I can only suppose that your dwelling is misplumbed. Is it the same story for all sinks, bathtub, shower, etc? Either that or it is a national matter, which I find hard (but not impossible) to believe.

    Original indoor plumbing with hand pumps placed the pump on the right, since most people are right-handed and can pump harder with their right hands. At that time, of course, all the provided water was cold. When hot water was added, it was natural to place it on the left. The convention was then stabilized by building codes so that the blind and the inattentive would not be scalded by turning on the hot water by mistake.

    Similarly, toilet flushers are on the left as you face them, but on the right if you are sitting on the toilet. Earlier systems had the tank high up on the wall with a chain you’d pull with your right hand.

  45. SFReader says:

    Checked all the sinks. One sink has hot in the left, the other two hot in the right.

    I suppose it all depends on whether the plumber is left-handed or right-handed….

  46. If there’s another sink on the other side of the wall, the plumber may have just run the two pipes straight through rather than cross them.

  47. David Marjanović says:

    Hot consistently on the left over here.

    toilet flushers are on the left as you face them

    That’s an American thing, though, like many other things about toilets.

  48. To misplumb one sink may be regarded as accidental, but to misplumb two looks like carelessness, if not incompetence. —not quite Oscar Wilde

  49. SFReader says:

    SNiP III-28-75, clause 3.27 says:

    “Pipes of hot water supply systems are located, as a rule, to the right of the risers of cold water supply”

  50. Germany is also usually “hot on the left”. The flusher on the toilet in my bathroom is left when sitting (the one in the guest toilet is in the wall directly behind the back when sitting). Having the flusher on the right when standing before the toilet makes more sense with the procedure I’m used to – do your business, get up, wipe your parts, and flush. If of course the tradition is not to flush the toilet paper but to throw it in a waste basket, like in the former Soviet Union, flushing before getting up becomes less impractical / wasteful.

  51. SFReader: Dr. Google can’t find that quote and isn’t informative on what SNiP is. However, when dealing with riser pipes as opposed to taps, it is unclear what perspective is being used to define left and right.

  52. Lao
    According to Michel Ferlus (2009), ethnonym and autonym of the Lao people (ລາວ); nationality of the inhabitants of Laos is formed by the monosyllabization of the Austroasiatic etymon for ‘human being’ *k.raw.[7] The peoples named Lao (lǎo 獠), supposed to be the ancestors of Lao and some other Tai-Kadai populations, settled in the upper Tonkin and in parts of Yúnnán and Guìzhōu during the Táng times.

    λαός
    From Proto-Hellenic *lāwós, possibly from Proto-Indo-European *leh₂wos (“people (under arms)”), from *leh₂- (“military action”).[1] Cognate with Hittite [script needed] (laḫḫa-, “campaign”) and Phrygian λαϝαγταει (lawagtaei).
    1 people, people assembled, the people of a country
    2 the soldiers
    3 common people (as opposed to leaders or priests); the subjects of a prince

    rahvas
    From Proto-Finnic *rahvas, from Proto-Germanic *þrawwaz (“full-grown”). The other loan variant raavas has remained closer to the original meaning.
    1. (relatively derogatory) The peasantry, common/ordinary people/folks, lower-class people (often used of those people in the past, in distinction from the rich and/or influential proportion of a people), the riff-raff
    2. (playfully) people, folks

  53. Rodger C says:

    Then there’s the old tale of the bilingual Canadian faucets labeled C and C.

  54. Then there’s the old tale of the bilingual Canadian faucets labeled C and C.

    I lived in Montreal in the 1970s, at the height of the language wars. It’s true that you had to experiment at every new bathroom or sink to see where the hot and cold water were.

    The C was the key if the plumber was French and political. Then the C would have the hot water, whether he installed it on the left, where hot should be, or on the right, where he had been taught the C should go. You could be pretty sure that H or F would be cold water.

    If the plumber was not political, the hot water would be on the left and cold on the right. But the labeling would be random — the left might be labelled C or F or H.

  55. English Wikipedia used to have an extensive list, but most of it was removed due to lack of sourcing in October 2015.

    I keep thinking that a longer list might be worthwhile to revive as a sideproject/appendix on Wiktionary (where elementary original research is tolerated).

    On the plumbing tangent, I’ve grown up with the standard being either one-handed faucets (over sinks) or “coordinate transformed” faucets with one handle for volume vs. one for temperature (occasionally in showers); faucets with separate hot and cold handles strike me as a quaint archaism.

  56. Yes, one handle seems to be the default setting nowadays, but even there “left” normally means “hot”.

  57. David Marjanović says:

    Always, probably. Usually the sides are not even labeled anymore.

  58. Separate H and C valves is archaic: separate H and C with separate spouts is not only archaic but British.

  59. And the spouts should be barely projecting off the edge of the sink, useless for washing hands underneath them and useful only for filling the sink.

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