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We're Hebrew natives and travel frequently.

Quite a few times people approached us, asking us which language we speak because it sounds like French to them but weren't sure. One of them was French!

When my daughter was 3 years old she was hearing a French song. She said it sounded like Hebrew to her but she didn't understand anything.

We don't see much vocal similarities but I must say I'm fascinated by the above.

Is there any vocal relation between these two languages and why some people think it sounds similar?

closed as off-topic by Flimzy Feb 8 '17 at 19:13

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  • I'm a native English speaker and French and Modern Hebrew sound very different to me. – Columbia says Reinstate Monica Feb 1 '17 at 13:13
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is not about language acquisition. – Flimzy Feb 8 '17 at 19:13
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    The sounds/words like "la" and "le" come up in both languages a lot, though with entirely different meanings. – Hack-R Nov 15 '17 at 18:09
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    This site uses a French video to explain ר and ח/כ pronunciation, so I'd say the idea is shared by many people. – AML Jun 5 '18 at 16:25
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As you know, there are different strains of modern Hebrew pronunciation, including the two major ones: Ashkenazi and Sephardi (by the names I learned them, anyway). Ashkenazi pronunciation is influenced by Yiddish, which in turn is largely Germanic and features some other common European sounds. When I was in Israel, for example, I heard a lot of the uvular [ʁ] (see Wikipedia entry on Hebrew phonology). Funny enough, this sound is shared by German and, uncommonly for Romance languages, French. As it can be quite a salient sound for people who don't speak any of these three languages, it could well have contributed to that impression!

Another factor is the rhythm. Both Hebrew and French are stress-final languages: most words are stressed on the last syllable. Hence, the major parts of the sentence, marked by pauses and intonation, are also generally on stressed syllables. This leads to a marked similarity concerning how the flow is perceived -- especially, I would imagine, by a young person who doesn't understand the words but just hears a stream of sounds.

Besides that, both Ashkenazi and Sephardi pronunciation schemes share a number of sounds with other European languages, but I can't think of other similarities to French specifically. The consonants [x], [ħ], [ʔ] in Hebrew are absent in French, for example; the nasal vowels in French are absent in Hebrew; and there are other differences.

So there is a fair basis for your daughter's impression, though she would probably be able to tell them apart by other salient clues after more careful listening. :)

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    It's not surprising that French shares the uvular R with German - after all, French is spoken right next door to German and it was heavily influenced by it when the German-speaking Franks arrived and adopted the local language. – Columbia says Reinstate Monica Feb 1 '17 at 23:36
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    Yes, very true -- it's just not a very common sound among Romance languages, which mostly have the alveolar [r]. – Luke Sawczak Feb 2 '17 at 1:40

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