I recently expanded my earlier metrical version of the Genesis account of Babel to include some further points on the history of language from that point onwards and beyond the veil of Eternity. Hope you enjoy this and find it edifying.
The earth had once one speech o’erall. One tongue men used, to tell
From th’East to Shinar’s plain they came and settled there, to dwell.
Among themselves did they conspire “Bricks let us make,” said they
“To building stones them throughly burn and slime for morter lay.”
“Go to,” said they, “a city great, a tow’r to reach the sky,
We shall construct unto ourselves, our name to magnify
Lest scattered far abroad we be the whole earth’s face around”
They built the walls from bricks they’d baked and slime from lime they’d found.
The Lord looked down at Adam’s kin and saw their undertaking
He knew that left alone this would become mankind’s unmaking
Although still in his infancy, not yet a million souls
Mankind was learning things with which he’d score fatal own goals
Adamic language and long life allowed the human mind
To know and build technologies while immature and blind
The Lord said “See, this people is by language unified
Now can no thing their power restrain their will to realise”
“Now let Us unto them descend, their language to confound
That each the other’s speech and tongue no more may understand.”
And so the LORD did scatter them all o’er the earth from thence.
Their city no more could they build. Its name is Babel hence:
That there the LORD in mighty pow’r the earth’s speech did confound,
And He from thence did scatter them the whole earth’s face around.
For here the Lord unto each soul his single language giving
Ensured that man’s wish was to be with but close kindred living
And so each man his nearest took and from the crowd did flee
They lived alone until they spoke one tongue per family
The mother taught the babies hers, the father also learned it
The elder siblings got to add some features if they earned it
And families at length combined by dint of need to wed
So tribal languages emerged as Babel’s tongues went dead
And tribe fought tribe, and strong tribes grew, their tribal tongue promoting:
The structure ever simpler, the word-stock ever growing
And as they filled the earth and crossed each hill and vale and river,
Some tribes grew great and in due course their languages did sever
Through ice and fire and flood and marsh men walked and faced all dangers
To use all space this world allowed and grow to outnumber angels
And language families emerged that had one time been one
But once again they could no more grasp one another’s tongue.
One tribe, the seed of Abraham, in whom all would be blest
Got history and prophesy to cherish for the rest.
But man since Babel always sought to get back there again
To build the city, raise the tower and make himself a name.
To make the countries all one state and into Unions bind
And place a ruler over all, as blind will lead the blind
Each man who tasted power’s rush soon hatched the grand ambition
To subjugate all men to himself as slaves to his volition.
But rulership of this world here is but for its Creator.
It is reserved for God the Christ and He shall take it later.
For only Christ makes all things good: he’ll teach us what was missing
And speak to us in tongues of men, while angels throng to listen.
And when the Resurrection comes and all things be made new,
That ancient tongue shall sound again, the one that Adam knew.
The lives of men became too short to learn that perfect tongue
But it will be a joy to learn for the forever-young.
And so when we are healed in heart, bodies and minds restored
Again we’ll learn that language giv’n to Adam by the Lord.
On the Origins of Language Species (or: “We don’t know what’s right, except that the Bible‘s account of language origins must be wrong!”)
Way back over eight years ago now, on 26th January 2004, I wrote this article in talk.origins, free.christians and alt.fan.uncle-davey which kicked off no little furore, and got me labelled by Aaron Clausen, a talk.origins regular, as a “science-fiction writer” and “the most dangerous and mischievous kind of Creationist“. He called my account “nothing more than a piece of fiction. It’s like good science fiction, it weaves fact and fiction together in such a way as the improbable seems no more surprising than the probable.” He also wrote on 2nd February 2004 “To my mind, Davey, you are the most mischievous and dangerous kind of Creationist. … You even know the holes in the knowledge of the study of language, and you can use the terminology to great effect. People … seeing your essay, would likely fall for it hook, line and sinker. Because it mixes fact and myth so very well, you give it an air of plausibility.” That was in amongst admitting that he didn’t know any better answer to the origin of language families, and when I asked him what he would tell his kids on the subject if they asked him whether there was a polygenesis of language families or linguistic monogenesis, (this being the sort of thing they ask at the breakfast table in American skeptics’ households) he said he would tell them “we don’t know“.
It seems like even no explanation at all is better for these “knowledge-thirsty” evolutionists than the Bible’s one, if and whenever the Bible invokes supernatural intervention by God, as at Babel. And their counter to the perfectly reasonable claim, (straight out of atheist Conan Doyle, by the way) that if you cannot disprove a theory it must be true, is that that’s the ‘goddidit’ argument, also known as the “God of the gaps” argument. They think that by giving silly, mocking designations to the perfectly logical and consistent lines of thought that Christians have, they have somehow effectively dealt with them. Either that or they make out that the questions which we raise are invalid in some way. In all they do they are like lawyers who, having trouble with the evidence, use odd points of law to attack the procedure, so that justice and fairness and true rationale flee out of the window, pursued by the harrying hounds of unscrupulous rhetoric.
Obviously, I’m not out to deceive anybody or produce fiction or stir up mischief as Aaron Clausen claimed, but I really think that if someone knows the facts about where we are in the reconstruction of earlier languages, and doesn’t have a world view that excludes a priori the chance for God to work directly on the human mind, en masse, they will say that the explanation I gave, based on the Babel account of scripture, is just as valid an account of how we got to today’s languages as any other. Only prejudice against the possibility of such action by God is a reason not to acknowledge that I have offered a workable and valid theory, and one that reflects observable fact more clearly than such theories as would dovetail well with evolutionary views of the origin of man.
Anyway, the person who got me started is ‘Sloggoth’ and he/she is in the quotes.
Some of the following is quoted from the time, and some has been added since to improve the communication of the ideas.
Well, Uncle Davey, you’ve confused a lurker pretty well here. If youwould be so kind as to clarify: When you speak of linguistic evolution do you mean: 1) The evolution of the *capacity for language* in humans? Biologicalevolution must indeed be able to explain this. or 2) What everyone else means, i.e. change in language, such as thatwhich produced French and Spanish from Latin? There is no reason why a theory which deals with genetic change should address a purelycultural phenomenon, beyond explaining how it is biologically possible in the first place. or even 3) If one cannot trace linguistic evolution beyond the known families, (which probably arose at some time in the past that could very loosely fit the Babel account), then the Babel account is thereby not contradicted?
The way I see it is that what happened at Babel everyone received their own language. Evenhusbands and wives could not talk and little kids could not communicate withtheir parents. This meant that in order to have an established familylanguage, families needed to isolate themselves, and then they would alllearn the language of the mother of that family, as mothers are and alwayshave been the main one to teach the little children language. The mentherefore would also have needed to take their wive’s grammar and syntax, but the wife would in return take a lot of the lexicon from her husband, andin the process already the family language would become at oncegrammatically simpler but also lexically richer than the Babel exitlanguages each member spoke. We have the expression ‘mother tongue’ in almost every language but Welsh, which is like the exception that proves therule, exactly from this time, which was only one generation in the historyof man.
That’s right. There was only one generation from Babel in which individual languages became family languages. The majority of the languages that came out from Babel would have gone into disremembrance when that person dies. In some cases the vocabulary will have been loaned into the family language, and in most cases the phonetics will have influenced to some degree the family language. People who had no families and no successors therefore had their individual languages vanish probably without trace.
You see, this was the mechanism that would have driven people out of Babel into theirown place, so that they could quietly re- establish a common language withthose who meant most to them, their family, without linguistic interference from all the others who would come babbling over the horizon, preventingtheir children from achieving any linguistic competence.
Within a further forty years, that one language per family (already maybe only one fifth of thenumber actually made at Babel) was similar conflating and merging intotribal languages. The basic model would then be the family language of the most dominant family in the tribe. This process took longer than the family language process, as the new languages were being learned as foreignlanguages by all in the tribe but the dominant family. These dominantfamilies are the ancestors of the aristocratic families that grew up laterin almost every culture.
The tribal languages would have taken over from the family languages so thatby about four hundred years after Babel the single family language was asredundant and extinct as the single person language had been forty yearsafter the Babel event. But each of these tribal languages would have been a selection of grammars, phonologies and lexical materials that came out of the Babel event. We are told in scripture that God confused the language, which may suggest that he took things which were already in the Adamic language and mixed them up. However, my personal belief is that none of the exit languages had all of the material that was in the Adamic language. When given directly to Adam by God, this language was a perfect thought vehicle for the man that He had made, and to be able to be taught and used by future generations. In Isaiah 65v20 as well as in the early Genesis chapters we see indications that the original plan for the length of human childhood was 100 years, setting up for a lifetime of up to 1000 years. Up to the Flood we see nobody doing any “begetting” until they are over one hundred, that’s for sure. The language given by God originally would have been a rich language taking the full measure of 100 years to acquire from parents and enabling thought and worship on a level unparalleled by people living today. Because there were relatively few of them and the Flood was such a huge cataclysm, we cannot see any indications of the achievements they had made with this linguistic tool, but they must have been amazing.
Once we arrive at post-Flood times and you see in scripture the lives of post-Flood generations going down to below what would have counted as infant mortality before the Flood, people maturing already in the second decade of their lives and then expected to have finished their educations (one of the reasons why there is this conundrum that we barely use a fraction of our brains’ synaptic capabilities – they are still the same size as those brains were which held Adamic, but now our childhoods are too short to learn it properly anyway) so the Adamic language was probably already deteriorating – probably people started to use a debased, pidgin version of the old language at Babel, although as a Community they may still have possessed the totality of it.
So the size of the confounded languages were probably much smaller – it’s reasonable to suggest about 20% of the complexity and richness of the original Adamic language. Each individual language probably held a unique mix and match combination of about 20% of what was in Adamic, but shifted and confused so that Adamic could not be put back together again.
And of such languages, getting back to the story, tribal languages emerge within up to 400 years and we come to the rise of the supertribal language.
Some of these early tribal languages exist until today. Basque is a good example. It isn’t visibly related to other languages around it, it has simply been there, carried in a small tribe in enveloped in the Pyrenees, for thousands of years.
Other tribes conflated again into the supertribe, and the supertribe is where we find the original languages at the heads of the family trees thatwe can easily recognise. The Aryan supertribe spoke a language whose name wedon’t know, but we know it must have existed and we call it Proto-Indo-European. They themsleves could have called itYaspriyakis, Blurbnurb or something like that, or just “Smith’s Tongue”, for all we know. It was a supertribe,and as with all supertribes, it fell apart, with people who spoke it leaving and mingling with the languages of the substrate where they went, which weregenerally tribal, not supertribal peoples, and could not compete with them.
So we have a tendency for common grammatical elements to be seen, but a lot of different lexical stock from the borrowings. Even the supertribe itselfhad not been stable long when the emigrations started; some thought the wordfor ‘a hundred’ should be ‘kentum’ and others thought it should be ‘sati’.About all they could really agree on was the words for beech trees, snow,and about twenty other matters.
So the supertribal language was the turning point. From Babel to the supertribal period, maybe a hundred thousand languages got down to maybe ten thousand.After that time the supertribal languages started to have multipledescendents, and even some descendents had multiple descendents themselves,so that they replaced the exit languages being spoken by peoples like the pre-Celtic cultures of Ireland, and then many of those languages, like IrishCeltic, themselves became forced into a minor role or often made extinctaltogether, like Cornish, by more vigorous languages of their distantcousins, such as English.
In sum, if we have had six thousand years since Babel, one of those thousand has seen the rise of the linguistic supertribe, and the other five thousand has seen mainly supertribal languages disintegrating into the language families we know today (and others which have gone extinct with no trace). In some parts of the world smaller languages, even ones that have resulted from supertribal disintegration, have started to grow again into supertribal languages, so the whole ebb and flow described here is something which didn’t necessarily happen just once in that length of history.
Incidently, even broader groups than Nostratic have been proposed,including attempts to reconstruct words of Proto-World. Unfortunately the only one I recall at the moment is rather indelicate.
There’s every chance that we can guess at a word that was in the vocabularyof somebody who walked out of Babel, maybe in a sound-shifted or abbreviatedform. After all, all the material in every tribal or supertribal languagecame from someone or other’s Babel exit language. It’s not common forlanguages to invent words, so even ‘shit’ has good cognates in Greek. If wesay that ‘skata’ is closer to the Babel exit languages, because we can tell it didn’t go through theGermanic sound shifts which we know all about thanks to the Brothers Grimm, then we canassert with a good probability of truth that some rather powerful man or hiswife, with a penchant for talking about his or her bodily functions,received the ancestor word for ‘skata/shit’ in his or her personal languageat Babel. It is very interesting how reluctant mankind is to introduce linguistuc material out of nothing. Almost everything is a loanword or a calque or an omatopoeia, or a contraction of other words. Even on the internet existing language was massaged to create the terms we are now using worldwide over the last 25 years. Very little by way of truly random words have been used. Even the search engine “Google”‘ links from “go ogle” and “Facebook” comes from two very basic monosyllablic English words.
Anyway, this account, which has no shortage of fantasy in it as I am more than aware, and make no apology for in the face of the fantasy required to make a dinosaur drawing complete with colours and habits from a couple of bones, this being the sort of trick on which most people’s understanding of evolution seems to base, is consistent nevertheless with both on the one hand theobservable fact that we cannot get back any further than PIE or PFU, andfind further common ancestors, obviates the absurd and counter-intuitivenotion that language systems fairly equal in complexity could have evolvedin the human race at different times and places, but without the organs ofspeech of the races then changing so that an infant could not acquire aperfect accent in a non related system, and where we do not see easiergrammars compounding into harder grammars, but rather the reverse, and onethe other hand it is consistent with what scripture says about languageorigins.
And so, in conclusion, evolutionary science is at odds with what is known ofphilology, and the Bible is not.
By the way, in the rest of the original talk.origins discussion, it became apparent that the evolutionists have nothing to offer but rhetoric, and try to divert the uncomfortable topic onto archaeology, where they attempted to argue from negatives assuming that Babel hinges on the archaeological work of Babylon, when there is no reason at all to expect to find any traces of Babel and its tower. However large it was, it was doubtless less in terms of mass of fabric than the Berlin Wall was, and people recycled that in the space of a few months, let alone a few thousand years. If anything has changed, and any evolutionist has something to offer which is new, please go ahead and make your comments.
I remind evolutionists reading this article of their right of immediate and public reply on the bulletin board of this site, which as I said earlier is not edited or moderated except for things that are illegal and for spam.
I hope Christians are encouraged by all this not to believe that science has all the answers, it doesn’t. But as we see evolutionists, especially those who are only using the evolutionary fallacy as their charter for atheism or apostasy, will fill in the gaps between real science and their world view and then try to convince us that this philosophical putty of theirs is good science too.
(DJJ, based on material added to the old site usenetposts.com 29/4/04, original debate from Jan-Feb 2004, now with 25% added material)