Scholars agree that there are links between the ways languages and cultures develop. They debate and disagree about which of the two came first : does the shaping of words and language influence human culture, or is it culture that determines the development of words and language ? Anyhow one can presume with certainty that they go hand in hand in many instances. Therefore it is useful to see if we find such links from millennia ago between Indo-European and Semitic languages. We have found a few cases we should like to mention.




At first sight the first two of these three words are not connected in any way. The latter two are of a Germanic root and the first one of Latin origin. The meaning of "to count" seems far away from that of the other two, that are linked together. And yet ? Let us see how people in other languages express these concepts.


English                                     to count                  to tell                      a tale

Old English                              tellan                        tellan                      talu

Dutch                                        tellen                    vertellen             vertelling

Hebrew                                     safar                     sipper                 sefer, sippur

Italian                                       contare                (rac)contare        racconto


French                                      compter                raconter    ←←      conte

Latin                                         enumerare               narrare                narratio


We see that the here shown modern languages each use one and the same root to express more than one of the above concepts. The Germanic root in Dutch "tellen", the Latin root in Italian "contare" and the Hebrew root in "safar" are different amongst them, but all are used to express all three concepts we mention. Modern English, always balancing between Latin and Germanic roots, diversifies here as well.


  • In English the word "tell" is still found meaning "to count" in "bankteller".


  • In Modern Hebrew the word "sefer" has acquired the meaning of "book".
    This has made more necessary a word like "sippur", which literally says "a thing told".


As shown, the roots are different, but the cultural approach and their use are identical between European and Hebrew.





English to (make) complete to pay peace
to fill
Italian completare pagare <--- pace
Hebrew shalam ---> shillèm ---> shalom
Greek classic πληροω (plèroo) ---> πληροω (plèroo)  ειρηνη , eirènè
Greek modern πληρω (pliro) ---> πληρονω (plirono)  ειρηνη , irini
Latin (im-, ex-)pleo solvere pax, pace
German fuellen bezahlen Friede(n)
Dutch vullen betalen vrede


  • In older, Biblical Hebrew the picture is slightly more complicated, as meanings had not yet crystallized into the actual modern ones: This shows a cultural similarity, had not yet crystallized into the actual modern ones: This shows a cultural similarity.


Biblical Hebrew                     shalam                            shillèm                        shalom

                                             to be(come) whole,        to compensate,           safety, peace,

                                             complete, in peace           indemnify                    health

  • Note : Italian "pagare" comes from Latin "pacare", to pacify, make calm. The Italian use of the same root for "to pay" and "peace" recalls the Hebrew system, but it leaves out "to complete".


  • Note : Greek develops "to complete" into "to pay", but stops short of taking this root to meaning also "peace".


  • Note : The English words have been derived from established words/meanings and do not show independent development from "to pay" into "peace".


  • Note : Germanic languages show no relationships as do the Hebrew , Greek or Italian examples.


  • Note : The Greek, Latin and Germanic words with "p.l" "f.l" and "v.l" are based on the same Indo-European root , usually indicated as "*pel". We have not found a counterpart in Hebrew, with the exception of "pala", saying "to fulfill" a vow.





        In Middle Dutch we find some "links" between these two blocks :


to count          to speak             to tell                  to pay           a tale           language, speech


                           talen                talen                dial: talen                                   tale


telen                                           telen

tellen                                          tellen

vertellen                                    vertellen                                vertelling


The possibilities are two : either the speakers made some confusion, or the two words, with "a" or with"e" between the consonants "t . l" are based on the same root. We now compare with Danish :




taelle                tale                  fortaelle               betale           fortaelling        tale


to count          to speak              to tell                   to pay             a tale             language


One and the same root , "T : L", in Danish takes care of a nice range of the meanings we have been dealing with !





Created: Tuesday 6 November 2007 at 22.30.54 Updated: Thursday 10 January 2013 at 19.54.00