Whats the connection between Japanese, Germans, and Jews? It may go deeper than you think.
Anyone who knows me knows I am obsessed with languages. Particularly the history of language. I think it has to do with the fact that I was born in Germany as a foreigner and for the first 6 years of my life I regularly faced ostracism and bullying because of it. The more I study language, the more I realize everything is connected and that we are all the same. And that the negative treatment I received wasn’t based in anything other than misunderstanding.
Studying language and history has brought to some very interesting and surprising lines of thought.
This article is about one them.
On the surface, German, Semitic, and Japanese people are completely different. Their locations in the world are completely different. Their language looks and sounds completely unrelated.
But is there a connection?
Linguistic connections in German and Hebrew
In his book “Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue” (Affiliate link), John McWhorter shares the interesting, convoluted history and development of the English language. I read it back in 2009 and was tantalized by something in the ending:
The inexplicable connection between Semitic and Germanic languages.
Some things of note:
Past Tense Verb changes are similar
Most European Languages made past-tense verbs by changing endings.
Spanish: “To Play”: jugar
Spanish “I Play” : juego
Spanish “I played”: jugué
Spanish “I used to play”: jugaba
But German changes verb tense by changing vowels. (This was standard in Old German and English. The “-ed” ending became popular after influence of French)
Drink Drank Drunk
But in Semitic languages, tense is shown by changing the vowels in the verb.
The Curious Case of Seven
Other European languages have a “t” in their word for “seven”
But German doesn’t. It’s “sieben.”
What about Hebrew? “Sheevah”
Verbs come at the end
Anybody who has tried to study Turkish, Japanese, or Korean know that one of the most difficult things for European speakers is that verbs come at the END of the sentence.
So, to say “I went to school yesterday,” the actual word order is “I yesterday to school went”
And while in German the main verb comes in the same position as English, verbs in “subordinate clauses” (sentences within the sentence) come at the end:
I go to school: Ich gehe zur Schule (Lit: “I go to school”)
I say that I go to school: Ich sage, dass ich zur Schule gehe (Lit: “I say, that I to school go”)
there are other linguistic connections, but it doesn’t stop there.
In Germany’s northern Schleswig-Holstein region (north of Hamburg and below Denmark) artifacts and pottery belonging to Greece, Minoa, and Phonecia dating back to as far as 1500BC were discovered.
Even in Antiquity, we can see that there was rich trade between the Germanic people and the Greeks/Phoenicians. And normally where there is trade, there is language transfer.
There are many other references in the book.
A is for Ainu, B is for Berserker
The English word “Berserk” comes from a North Germanic type of warrior called “Berserker” literally Bear-shirter, because they frequently wore bear skins to battle. These warriors got high and went “Berserk” on the battle field and struck fear into those that faced them.
Why did they were bear skins? They worshiped the bear. But Northern Germanic peoples were not the only ones who are known to have bear cults:
Among them are
and Ainu: the indigenous people of Japan.
Interestingly, though there is high respect for bears in American tribes, I couldn’t find something on the same caliber as what is in these cultures.
Is that just a coincidence? It could be. Could it be the sign of a deeper connection? I’d like to think so.
History books can be rewritten. Language cannot. Our language is itself a history book: a record of interactions and influences from before we were born that shaped us into who are today.
What other secrets could it be hiding?