Many people trying to work out an understanding of what languages are, where they come from and where they are going experiment with conlangs or constructed languages. They often try to learn one of the many available, especially on the internet, of which the most “successful” – a relative term here – is the famous construct of Dr L. L. Zamenhof, namely Esperanto, but there are at least a thousand others, each with a handful of speakers or less. Sometimes these experimental linguists try to write their own artificial language, which is a very instructing thing to do. I did write an English based conlang myself once called “fucatok” which, in the alphabet it had, was supposed to be pronounced in a way not far off the modern international English pronunciation of “futuretalk”, but then I realised that a lot of people were calling it “f*ckertalk” and so I called the project off.
The Tower of Babel
I’m in correspondence because of my YouTube activities with one modern-day Zamenhof-style naive idealist, who wants to create from all the languages of today a perfect language that will solve humanities problems. It will not work, as I explained to him, and to see why we need to look at the origin of the many forms of speech we have today, and the reason why things are the way they are.
The reason why an ideal language is not the answer is that most people are stupid, live at a low level, and need a simple pidgin like language that is hard to get wrong and easy to learn. People who need to think advanced thoughts are helped to achieve their synthetic capacities by the process of learning a number of languages.
Having one language will not help them do this.
There was once a language which had all the functions you could dream of, and it enabled humanity to progress from infancy to a society so advanced they nearly killed themselves off by about twenty or thirty generations, and also all grouped together in one place, under a common leader, Nimrod, a type of Antichrist.
One day, this linguistic Union of the Adamic language was terminated supernaturally when God gave every single person alive at that time their own language. When they woke up that morning they couldn’t even understand the other members of their own family, when they left their homes to get help, they discovered they couldn’t understand anyone and nobody could understand anyone. Everyone had a language, but it was the end of language as they knew it. Ever since then, humanity has been trying to get back to the state it knew in Babel. First families had to flee away to a secluded spot away from all others so that they could unite around one common language just for those who loved each other closely and needed to be together. It was usually the mother’s tongue, so we talk about mother tongues to this day. Later families joined into tribes and tribal languages emerged which were the language structures of the most influential families, with borrowings from other family languages
in the tribe.
Later tribal languages grew into supertribal languages, such as proto-indo-european, which in turn got so large that they split up into languages some of which further had success but split again. The successful languages at every stage always made the les successful ones go extinct. Humans are inventive, but not of words. Almost all words in any language are not invented – they are combinations, borrowings, onomatopeias, but not random. Not usually. That way almost any word could, if we only had the archive, be traced back to one or other person waking up on that fearful morning maybe around six or eight thousand years ago. Maybe that word would be the only remaining word from that particular person’s individual language, and many of their languages will have left today’s humanity no lexical fossils at all.
If you have a better explanation of the state of affairs with human languages, let’s hear it.
(first published in Daily Telegraph, January 2008)
3 thoughts on “On the Origin of Speeches”
This whole issue of Babel babble and the current worldwide linguistic diversity has unceasingly fascinated me since I was born again and began to believe the Bible, yet it has left me with many questions, owing to Genesis 11: 1-9 only being 9 verses long, which recounts the judgment of the confusion of tongues. There is much remaining information to reach a complete understanding, and I desire a full explanation from God about what really happened. Does that original Adamic language still exist on earth, or only in heaven?
To add more detail to your essay, I believe that the male / female pairs selected each other not only because of love, but because their languages were mutually intelligible. For example, a woman speaking Old Church Slavonic would not select as her mate a man speaking Old High German. Also, if the infant born from their union naturally learned only its mother tongue, then the husband’s dialect would go extinct after one generation. (unless dad were to teach the infant, then it would be bilingual). Thanks very much for the elucidation, Davey / Viktor!
Your idea that people selected each other out of intelligibility of speech I cannot really assent to. God makes it clear that nobody woke up that morning understanding anyone’s speech. That’s why families had to spread out over the earth. Once this happened, you got families first speaking a family language and then tribes would combine based on expediency or because one would dominate the other. Women were not given in marriage by early man based on romantic notions like being able to understand the other, or loving the other, these were largely transactions done to hold tribes together. Women were also frequently taken by force from the weaker tribes. So you ended up in a relatively short time with not many of the Babel exit languages. Each one is a language family today – nobody came out of Babel speaking OCS or OHG. A bit of Adamic was left in the language of each of them, and you can sometimes catch glimpses of Adamic when languages as disparate as English and Japanese show up deep structures that are the same, like the past tenses in d/t. Also found in Hungarian by the way and a number of other places, while the “l” ending of the Slavic past tense calls to mind the production of the changed state by the particle 了in Mandarin. But these tiny glimpses is all there is of it in Earth. It may well be available in heaven, I rather think it will be.