Church of God, New World Ministries

The Origin Of Languages

How did languages originate, and why? Did men "learn" language by imitating animals? By reflex grunts from physical exertion? To warn fellow humans of danger? Or, is there yet another reason why we have so many varying languages?

The so called language experts have cracked languages undeciphered for hundreds of years. They have cut through ancient scripts and today understand Egyptian hieroglyphics, Babylonian cuneiform and Linear B of Crete.

But one question about language has never been solved! What is the origin of language?

Theory upon theory has been advanced. But none is satisfactory. No hypothesis has yet offered a logical explanation as to how, why, what and when language developed.

Years ago, Dr. Mario Pei, world-famous linguist and author states: "If there is one thing on which all linguists are fully agreed, it is that the problem of the origin of human speech is still unsolved" (Story of Language, p. 14).

He further adds a ring of finality to scientific research on the problem on page 20 of his book: "What are the chances that modern linguists, equipped with the powerful aids of present-day science, may one day break down the veil of mystery that enshrouds the origin of languages? Frankly, very slight."

Some of the theories of language origin bear imaginative titles: "the bow-wow theory" (language arose in imitation of the sounds of animals), “the yo-be-bo theory" (a series of reflex grunts), “the ta-ta theory" (vocal organs tried to imitate movements performed by other parts of the body) to mention only a few.

But Dr. Pei points out, "Against them stands one imposing fact. If they were true, language would have arisen as a series of isolated monosyllabic grunts, groans and wheezes, later refined and combined to form words. We might then expect to find such among primitive and backward groups. Such is emphatically not the case" (Voices of Man, pp. 20-21).

Years ago, the Linguistic Society of Paris had a bylaw which requires that anyone wishing to read a paper on language origin before the group be automatically considered out of order. Doesn't sound very optimistic, does it! This august body considers it a waste of time to research the matter further.

But why no research? Is linguistic science completely stumped by the question of speech origins? Certainly the theories advanced so far have been completely inadequate. Linguists are sure of this, if nothing else.

In reference to this point, Professor John P Hughes of St. Peter's College further adds: "But a word or two should be said in any serious linguist's work to counter the arrant nonsense of the this subject which is still circulated in Sunday-supplement science features. According to this pseudo-evolutionary foolishness, based on nothing but rampant imagination, language originated among our caveman ancestry when someone tried to tell the other speechless tribe about the wolf he has killed, and was forced to give an imitation of the wolf, or when he hit his thumb with the mallet while shaping a stone spear, so that ouch became the word for pain and similar fair-stories" (The Science of Language, p. 30).

Very strong words, those, and from a professional linguist. But others still maintain a blind faith that further research will surely solve the problem.

Although professional linguists admit their ignorance regarding where languages have come from, evolutionists and others cling to the belief that human speech has evolved over eons of time from grunts emitted by a once speechless creature. Is this belief logical? Can it be proved?

Logically, the most primitive peoples would have the simplest languages; the most civilized, the most complicated. This would be true, assuming that the ability to talk had evolved. But this is not the case: "Human culture necessarily demands the ability to speak. All languages of today are equally complex and equally adequate to express all the facts of the speaker's culture, and all can be expanded and modified as needed. There are no 'primitive' languages, but all languages seem equally old and equally well developed. There are also, as has been said, no human beings without language." (Encyclopedia Britannica)

In the same context this world famous encyclopedia states that "human culture necessarily demands the ability to speak." This presents a further problem. It is believed that language developed as a result of culture. Yet how could culture have developed until the language was already adequate for its needs?

Let's take a look at the "primitive" languages of primitive peoples. Dr. Homburger, director of African Linguistic Studies at the Sorbonne, in discussing the vocabulary and syntax of the Negro African languages, made this comment: "the modern Negro African languages represent a language which is not primitive, but has abstract words, nominal and verbal forms" (The Negro-African Languages p. 78).

A look at the Bantu languages, as an example, illustrates Dr. Homburger's remarks. These languages tend to classify nouns into different categories, such as inanimate, animate, abstract, etc. There are 8 noun classes in Swahili. Just as every noun in Latin or German is masculine, feminine or neuter, so every noun in Swahili is in one of these 8 categories. But Swahili has the simplest noun forms of the Bantu languages. Some have 26 noun classes!

The American Indians, north of Mexico, were culturally limited when Columbus stepped ashore at San Salvador. But their speech was something else again. "Contrary to the prevalent notion, the vocabularies are rich and their grammatical structure is systematic and intricate. Owing to the wealth of derivatives, it is difficult to estimate the number of words in any American language; but it is certain that in every one there are a couple of thousand of stem words and many thousand words, as that term is defined in English dictionaries. The complexity of grammar is often great" (Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico,)

There are numerous accounts in American archives telling of the spell binding eloquence of Indian orators.

You would hardly think there could be a more culturally limited people than the Australian aborigines. Most anthropologists would put them very near the bottom of the cultural development list, if not at the bottom. But if we judged an ethnic group's development by language alone, we in "advanced" cultures might find ourselves taking a back seat.

"Our Australian verb rivals and excels the Greek and the Sanskrit, for it thus has four futures, and , for time past, it has three forms, marking the past time as instant, proximate, and remote. Corresponding to these tenses, there are nine participles, each of which may be used as a finite verb. Besides an Imperative mood and a Subjunctive mood, there are reflexive and reciprocal forms, forms of negation, forms to express continuance iteration, imminence, and contemporary circumstance. And in Australian, this copiousness of dictionis is not confined to the verbs: it shows itself also in the building up of other words” (An Australian Language, edited by John Fraser, p. xlvii). Now, that is a complex language!

According to evolutionary theory, language began very simply and gradually evolved the grammatical complications of number, case, tense, gender. But the exact opposite is true: languages tend to simplify. An examination of the history of practically any language shows this.

A notable example, of course, is the English language. The original Old English or Anglo-Saxon possessed a system of noun declension almost as complicated as Latin or Russian. Today this has almost disappeared, except for a few pronouns and the adding of an(’) to show possession. Other elements of grammar have simplified in a similar manner.

German, the Romance languages, Scandinavian languages and others have followed the same pattern as English. "The languages of the more civilized groups appear to be more complex and involved the farther we go back into their history, and tend to simplify as we approach their modern stage." They were once quite complex but "some of them, like Chinese and English, then went through a historically attested process of simplification and reduction to a more analytical-monosyllabic structive” (Voices of Man, p. 21

Chinese? Did you see "Chinese” in that quote? That's interesting because the Chinese maintained one of the leading cultures for millennia. Yet their language is very simple. You might say it is the ideal "primitive" speech in many ways. It has almost no grammar; some have even gone so far as to state it has none, and only a small vocabulary of monosyllables.

What more need be said! The more advanced a people becomes, the simpler its language. But some of the most backward and undeveloped cultures have very complicated and complex modes of speech. It’s enough to drive a linguistic evolutionist to distraction!

Can you imagine it? Here, according to evolutionary imagination, might be a "primitive" people living in jungle huts containing practically none of the gadgetry we consider essential; but we find they have no difficulty in evolving an intricate grammatical structure.

But if linguists admit their studies haven't provided the answer, who does have it? Is there a source somewhere, perhaps overlooked by linguists and evolutionists, that claim to give the real solution -- a key that will unlock the riddle of languages?

There is a source, which in recent times has been laid aside and assumed to be unscientific. Yet, it has never been proved unscientific. And it does claim to hold the key to the origin of languages. If we are conscientiously to present all the arguments on this subject, we cannot ignore this basic document, the account found in the book of Genesis chapter 11.

Here is recorded the story of the Tower of Babel and the dividing of tongues or languages. Read the account for yourself. The narrative is short and simple, giving only the barest details. But it brings to mind two important points:

  1. Speech was divided suddenly into many different, fully developed languages, the ability to talk, according to this account, did not evolve gradually from a state of speechlessness. This conforms to what research has proved, that the original languages were advanced, completely developed and intricately organized.

  2. The various nations arose out of those scattered abroad from Babel, and logically would have some account or legend (though perhaps garbled) of this division of language.

Now, notice some shocking parallels. Many languages are related to one another, making up language families. Such widespread languages as English, German, Russian, and the other Slavic languages, the Scandinavian dialects (except for Finnish), Hindu, and Romance languages all form the Indo-European family. Arabic, Hebrew, and certain African languages are classified in another group. And so on. The number of estimated language families varies around 100, depending on who is doing the estimating.

According to this Biblical account, different language groups were suddenly created at one time, each independent of the others. Of course, we are to understand that dialects later diverged from the major groups and developed into different language subgroups. For example, one ancient Teutonic tongue gave us such diverse modern-day language as English, German, and Dutch, while Latin is now represented by several Romance tongues.

And, what is the consensus of modern linguists? They generally agree that the different major language families or groups are not, on the whole, related. Each arose independently of the others. Only a very few hold to the monogenesis theory, that they all developed from one "primitive form of speech.

So Genesis 11 agrees with what the latest linguist research has proven to be true!

Why is it that similar accounts of the Tower of Babel and the confusion of tongues are found around the world, many of them recorded centuries before missionaries ever brought a Bible into those areas? Unmistakable narrative of the Genesis 11 event are found in Assyria, Babylon, Sumeria, and Greece, among the Toltecs and the Cholulans.

The Chinese, the Hindus, and the Persians tell us of the divisions of speech by a Supreme God. The Estonians and the Irish and the American Indians tell us of the same thing.

And were the ancient Hebrews such good prognosticators they anticipated modern linguistic theories by several millennia? Or is it possible that the story of Babel is an accurate historical summary of what did happen? Are these traditions mere Universal Coincidence?

Let's acknowledge the facts. The theory of the evolution of languages is unproved. For languages to have universally developed independently from complex to simple forms, as they have done, is in itself, directly contrary to evolutionary thought.

In fact, no acceptable theory has yet been propounded which can satisfactorily answer why man even has the faculty of speech, or language, if there is no Creator.

Those holding to the evolutionary postulate dismiss this account as myth, without examination. They choose, rather, to reject it, and cling blindly to a theory which leaves them speechless on the origin of languages. Let’s NOT deny the obvious, God’s WORD provides the answer to the Origin of Languages.

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