On my article “On the Origin of Speeches” defending a literal Biblical understanding of the origins of languages, one reader, Everett, wrote a Comment:
This judgmental event of the confusion of tongues makes me wonder how individual persons could maintain pair bonds and keep their families together. If so that right after forgetting the adamic language and gaining unique replacements for every single person, i don’t see how a family could understand one another and stay whole unless the respective languages they spoke were similar enough to permit comprehension. Or else, if the languages/dialects were provided at random, how could a husband speaking Turkish, for example, attempt to communicate with his Welsh-speaking wife? Also a man in love with a girlfriend speaking gibberish may be forced to find a different woman to marry who speaks a language within his language family.
I think that this theory of every person receiving his/her own language apart from an ordered dispensation to unite families seems a little implausible, and perhaps detrimental to society ever reforming after Babel.
I for some reason found this in my feed again and wrote a new answer, and then saw that I had made an earlier answer back in 2016. I would now therefore like to make a new article combining the best of the old and new answers, which essentially say the same hing but focus on different aspects of the question.
It’s an excellent question.
First it is fair to point out that there were not any language families then. This came about only much later. Hundreds and hundreds of years later. Hence finding a new partner with one’s own language family just wasn’t an option.
It says in the Bible that they could not understand “one another”. Not “one family another”. So if we are going to place faith in a Biblical account (which so-called rationalists baulk at anyway) then it seems at least consistent to believe what it tells us in each detail given rather than make up our own version of it.
if you find your nearest family members do not understand you and vice versa but there are people outside who do, then sure, the marriages will be attained because the couple don’t understand each other and each can find others who do understand them.
If you are in a situation so dramatic that you suddenly understand nobody, not your nearest and dearest and nobody outside either, then the panic really starts to set in, only tempered by an awareness that everyone is in the same boat.
Now remember that humanity was not that populous at the time. Probably we are within a dozen generations or even half a dozen from Noah even allowing for the possibility that Genesis didn’t intend the generations to be complete and taken chronologically literally (which begs the question why the life times of these early fathers of humanity are even recorded for us). And so in the Biblical context we have people numbering probably not more than ten thousand or so, at this point. They had all no doubt heard of Noah who lived a long time after the Flood and might even have still been around at this point. So they knew that they had been supposed to fill the earth. They simply had started to regard that with skepticism and done their own thing instead, but on seeing such a supernatural disaster upon them, and each marked out as co-responsible by the fact that his or her language was no longer shared by another living soul and the only one left to talk to was God, would this not refocus them on what they had heard about God and disregarded, namely the command to go forth, multiply and replenish the earth?
Well you can’t replenish the earth without grabbing your wife and family and heading off in a unique direction. So that’ll be what they did.
Only if you cannot understand anyone at all do you need to grab the people you love closest and flee the nucleus. If families already understood each other the need to scatter would be obviated. You go with your wife to a remote location so that you can set about trying to learn how to communicate with her again.
The sight of other families heading off will have shown the slower of mind what to do, until only a remnant remained in the city.
The city which may have gone on to be Babylon, or it may be somewhere else and Babylon named just in memory of that older other place. Either way Babylon as a centre of sin is a Leitmotif of scripture from Genesis right through to Revelation.
Remember though that we are not really dealing with Turkish and Welsh. Both these languages have come a long long way from their respective ancestor languages coming out of Babel. God tells us he confused their language. I take this to mean that the initial Adamic language was perfect and rich, designed for people who wouldn’t be dying after 70 years but living eternally. Mortal, sinful man had probably already degraded this, and what God did was to scramble, sample and permutate sounds, structures and vocabulary out of the initial language into the single person languages.
That would be like getting dealt an individual hand of linguistic cards out of an Adamic deck. Your groping attempts to understand wife and children were in this analogy an exercise of putting cards on the table and agreeing what structures, sounds and vocabulary would be selected for the family use. The wife being the main raiser of the children would be the dominant influence, hence we say mother tongue to this day, whereas the strongest man, even having adapted his own language to that of a compromise favouring his wife, would have been in a position to dictate the tribal language once tribes formed which would have started happening within a few generations. And eventually you would get supertribes with languages like PIE (I don’t believe in Nostratic but PIE no doubt did exist but for only a couple of generations at best before it started breaking up and the opposite direction of linguistic development began. The one we know and love from seeing how Latin gave us all the Romance languages, etc. But this has to be understood as the reverse swing of a pendulum initially pushed the other way at Babel.
God knew that the love of people to each other would be stronger than the effort needed to learn or teach a language. Were this not so, no baby would learn to speak. Society was always going to reform by the same token, but this kick-started the flowering of many societies and cultures and was a wonderful act of creation by a loving God, who even in His chastisements presents opportunity and blessing.
Were there some who could not cope with this? Who simply locked themselves in a room and rocked themselves to oblivion? Probably yes. But probably not the majority. Even if it had been the majority, it would not matter as they died off and their space on earth taken by the descendents of such who understood what the punishment had been for, who understood that their God had spoken, did not need to ask Him to speak again but just gone on with it like Geoff Boycott, putting in the runs and delivering Bablexit.