Evolution of the Germanic Languages: A History by a Linguistic Scientist


(Henry Stoddard) #1

We often hear much about evolutionary creationism in relation to biology as well as the evolution of our planet or the universe. However, we do not hear often about the development of human languages, a science known as linguistics. It is a shame that no discussion is made on this topic since communication is so important in the lives of human beings. If we could not talk or use body language, it would probably be impossible to know what someone is thinking. This took me several days to compose; however, I did my best to write something worth reading. I hope others will be interested in the topic and take part. Everyone should be polite and take the subject seriously. As a theologian and linguist, I will begin with a quote from the Holy Scriptures of the Geneva Bible from sixteenth century England. Notice how the language has changed. After that has been done, I shall begin with history and science. I hope you can read this.

Genesis 11: 1-8 :sunny: Then the whole earth was of one language and one speache. And as thei went from the East, they founde a plain in the land of Shinar & there thei abode. And thei said one to an other, Come let vs make brycke for ftone ,and flyme had thei in ftead of morter. Alfo they faid, Go to, let vs build vs a citie and a tower, whofe toppe may reach vnto the heauen, that we may get vs a name, left we be Fcatred vpon ye whole earth. But the Lord came down to fe the citie & tower, which ye fonnes of men buylded. And the Lord faid & Beholde the people is one& thei beginne to do, nether can thei now be ftopped, from whatfoever thei have imagined to do. Come down, let vs go down, an that euerie one not perceiue an others fpeache. So the Lord fcatred them from thence vpon all the earth, and thei left of to build the citie .

This topic took a little while to complete, but it is now finished. The question is: Is the Tower of Babel a myth to explain the beginning of different languages or is this an indication that God has used evolution to begin the development of the tongues of the earth? I plan to discuss how the Germanic languages have developed using history, theology, which I have already done, and science. God bless and enjoy reading.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE GERMANIC PEOPLES AND LANGUAGES

I must begin with the dispersion of the Germanic peoples from what seems to me to be their original homeland. As you know the Germanic languages came from the Proto-Indo-European parent language, from which Celtic, Greek, Latin and many other European languages descend. The original Indo-Europeans are believed to have come out of Russia approximately five thousand years ago. It is believed that they lived somewhere around the Black Sea. Different branches of the Indo-Europeans settled in different parts in Europe, conquering the peoples who were already living there. It is believed by linguists that Basque in Spain is a language that existed in Europe before the arrival of the Indo-Europeans. Another Non-Indo-European language would be the Etruscan tongue in Italy. Other Indo-Europeans traveled to the south and east in Eurasia, some in Russia and others into India.

The ancestors of what I will call the Proto-Germans settled in eastern Europe and then moved into Scandinavia, i.e., Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. For unknown reasons, the Proto-Germans moved into Northern Germany, Holland and Belgium and conquered the native Celts there. According to Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, the Proto-Germanic language evolved into North Germanic, East Germanic, and West Germanic. North Germanic Languages include Danish, Norwegian and Swedish. Even though these are considered different languages, Swedish people can understand some Danish as well as Norwegian. There was only one East Germanic language that is now extinct: Gothic. There is a Bible Translation made for the Goths by an un-orthodox Christian monk. Some of the Gothic language was still spoken in the Ukraine as far as the eighteenth century. Gothic was spoken in the Lombard Kingdom of Italy as well as Spain. Eventually, Gothic became a dead language in Spain and Italy by around the eighth or ninth centuries. Vulgar Latin, descended from the Latin of Rome, became the languages in Spain and Italy. These developed into the dialects in those regions. Modern Spanish and Italian came from these. West-Germanic began to divide into numerous dialects up to the time when the Roman Empire came to an end in AD 476. These dialects have become in our own time known as Modern High German, the standard language of Germany, Austria and Switzerland and parts of Belgium and South Africa. Low German, spoken mostly in North Germany, Yiddish, a descendant of Middle High German spoken by many Jews throughout the world. Others include Frisian in Northwest Germany and Holland, Dutch in Holland, Flemish in Belgium, and English throughout the former British Empire as well as Scottish, a descendant of Northumbrian Old English. I must say that the genes of the Germanic tribes of ancient times have spread everywhere.

A COMPARISON OF ENGLISH AND GERMAN: WE ARE COUSINS AFTERALL!

History and science can show that the English and German populations are closely related. The Anglo-Saxons from Northern Germany conquered England from the Romans and the Celts in the fifth century AD. At that period of history, the Saxons in Germany and in England could still speak with each other. Even though that is no longer true without someone knowing the language of the other, the relationship of English and German can be seen in the following examples.

Modern English, Old English, Low German, and High German

I can go. Ic cann gan. Ik kann gehen. Ich kann gehen.

I could give more examples that would show my point; however, due to room here, I shall abbreviate my examples.

HOW DO LANGUAGES EVOLVE?

That is probably the $64,000 dollar question. I do not claim to be a biologist, even though I have a little knowledge of the subject. I would have to say that God caused our brain to grow and evolve to the point that human language came about. The next question is: does theistic evolution have to do with the language of human beings? I must say “yes.” Do history and natural causes help languages to change? The answer again is yes. Let’s take for example Danelaw, Church Latin, and Norman French. Around the eighth and nineth centuries the Danes influenced the language of Old England when they conquered parts of that nation and intermarried into the English. Pronouns such as “their, they, them” all came from the Danish and Old Norse languages. Latin mostly influenced English through the church. Due to room on the forum, I shall give one example: to adore, meaning to worship or love. To adore can be seen in the following Christmas Hymn: Venite adoremus . The Norman French, who were originally from Scandinavia, gave us words such as “war” and “amore.” Now the big question above. How do languages evolve? As I have already said, God is the beginning of this process. Does that mean that He did it at the Tower of Babel or would it have happened anyway? I say that it would have happened anyway. Languages make the world interesting, and the God of Israel and the universe caused it!

May God bless all of you and your growth in knowledge.

Books I would like to recommend are:
Alfred the Great and His Times: The Golden Dragon by Professor Alf Mapp, BA, LLD, Old Dominion University
Maryknoll Book of Peoples by The Maryknoll Society of the Roman Catholic Church
English Words from Latin and Greek Roots, by Dr. Ayers


(Andrew M. Wolfe) #2

I know you’re not done yet with the post, but if I may interject, you may find this post from Jesus Creed from a couple years ago to be worth considering: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2014/06/10/babel-as-ideological-critique-rjs/. It covers scholarship by J. Richard Middleton on the Babel narrative, that takes a different tack.

(P.S. The comments section features a longish comment written by someone with a similar pseudonym to mine here.)


(Henry Stoddard) #3

I find your article very interesting. I used the Tower of Babel Story mainly to illustrate that languages change. Since there is theistic evolution, God causes language development through the human brain. Did the Tower of Babel story actually occur? It is possible, but I am not sure that we should understand it that way. Language evolution would have happened anyway. I must say that I find it interesting that there are so many cultures and unique things in God’s world. I wish to say that I have finished on the article for now. I may discuss the study of language later and if you don’t mind, I would like to use your reference in that possible future article. I will mention your pseudonym. I also wanted to use this portion of scripture because it is from the Geneva Bible, an earlier form of Modern English. The word pseudonym comes from the Classical Greek. Pseud is the root for false and onym means name. I am sure you already know that. I wish to thank you for your information and taking part. I hope that others will find this topic interesting. I would have written more; however, I find I no longer have the energy I once had. If you are interested in language study, I would recommend the textbook and workbook of the English Words from Latin and Greek Elements by Dr. Ayers. I enjoyed it very much. There are also exercises in the workbook. God bless, Your friend Charles


(Andrew M. Wolfe) #4

Part of the reason why the Babel narrative’s interpretation isn’t discussed more here, I think, is that we’re dealing entirely in hypotheticals. The Babel narrative can never be falsified. With historical linguistics, the furthest we can go scientifically is to reconstruct the proto-languages of certain relatively well-understood major families like Indo-European or Afro-Asiatic. We imagine that these, in turn, arose from gradual processes of language change from earlier languages (rather than through a single catastrophic event), but proto-proto-languages cannot be reliably reconstructed at such an enormous time depth.

What this means is, the origin of language diversity is a question on which we must remain scientifically agnostic. Did it happen in a somewhat similar fashion to the Babel narrative, with Proto-Afro-Asiatic, Proto-Austronesian, Proto-Nilo-Saharan, Proto-Otomanguean, and all the rest starting from there? Science can neither confirm nor disconfirm. It can certainly state that if such an event did occur, it didn’t happen anywhere near Sumer or within the last 6,000 years, but that’s as far as it can go.

Because of this, I don’t think we’re likely to see a “Babel controversy” akin to what we’ve seen with Darwinian evolution. The origin of linguistic diversity is a question worthy of discussion in science-faith forums, but I think it’s one that is destined to the sidelines.


(Henry Stoddard) #5

Are you saying that as a linguistic scientist I should not be discussing that topic on BioLogos? Language is a part of the evolutionary sciences too. If someone were to remove the area of the brain associated with speech, he would be unable to talk; therefore, language is part of biology too. Hugh Ross of Reasons To Believe discussed linguistics as part of the biological process. Are you saying that he is more opened minded than BioLogos? I do not believe I like that idea. Language is related to biology too, my friend.


(Andrew M. Wolfe) #6

Far from it, my friend! I hope this post gets lots of engagement, and I personally would enjoy talking about it all day long. I’m just saying I don’t think it will ever become a big “to-do” in the Evangelical world like biological evolution has become, because there’s both less at stake and less clear conflict.


(Andrew M. Wolfe) #7

P.S. If you use any of my comments in future, please kindly do so entirely without attribution. I would prefer to be even more anonymous than I am. :slight_smile:


(Henry Stoddard) #8

I will mention nothing . I wish to thank you for your advice.


(Jo Helen Cox) #9

There are many beliefs associated with Babel that are not in the Biblical story. The Bible does not say these are the only people on earth or their’s the only language on earth. The story’s placement next to the flood story, and the interpretation of a global flood, imposes those beliefs upon this tiny story.

@Henry

I have never looked at the Geneva text. Ouch. It is like deciphering Beowulf. It makes me glad my first Bible was KJV. Makes me even more glad that people are still translating the texts into something I can read without a headache. I want to thank God for all those translators.


(Henry Stoddard) #10

Hello,

You should see the reprint of the Original King James Bible. The version of the KJV that we use today is the 1769 work of that great translation. Here is the KJV 1611 John 3:16 For God so loued ye world, that he gaue his only begotten Sonne: that whosoeuer beleeueth in him, should not perish, but haue euerlasting life.


(Andrew M. Wolfe) #11

I hadn’t thought of that… If we say perhaps there was a regional flood, could one also not take the approach of a regional Babel? After all, the word הָאָ֑רֶץ, translated as “the world” or “the earth” in verses 1, 8, and 9, is better translated “the land,” without importing our modern concepts of the planet or the human race.

This isn’t necessarily my own preferred reading, but it could be a faithful Evangelical reading.


(Jo Helen Cox) #12

I think theology took nine verses and turned the Flood and Babel into epics fit for Hollywood long before Hollywood existed. So yes, “regional” is a good way to see it.

I am in the process of finishing a book on Genesis 1-11 that lets nature interpret the texts instead of Greek philosophy (“Greek” here is used to encapsulate the non-Hebrew influences that Christianity accepted but which distorted our understanding of the original text.) I interpret the Babel story three ways. You want to be a reader to find my mistakes?


(Andrew M. Wolfe) #13

I’m not sure how many mistakes I’d be able to find, but that sounds fascinating! I’ll message you with an email address.


(Marvin Adams) #14

you have to be aware that at times prior to writing in order to convey information and ensure its transmission the “superlative” would have been used to ensure memory residence. Remember that some stories predate the existence of the written word and to memorise they would have been associated with gesticulation or dance. That is as well how the aborigines kept the story of the flooding after the ice age alive in their rituals.

To understand and transmit a thought you need a mental image that we have materialised in the word, a bit like the idea of life transmitted by the genetic code. Words paint pictures in your mind giving it more colour


(Marvin Adams) #15

Interesting question in the light of the way that the bible helped the German language along (see below) and how languages can form boundaries as much as help to build bridges. I guess some people think we have created God because of the idea being a word expressed in human language, so it opens a big can of worms indeed but an intriguing one as indeed it follows similar lines as biological evolution and genetics so it will be interesting to see how this pans out.

from https://www.goethe.de/en/spr/mag/20456023.html

STANDARDIZATION AND IDEOLOGY

There may be various reasons why a language becomes standardized, a process that can have a variety of consequences. Initially, it is a pragmatic question of people being able to understand one another over wider areas. The Bible translations of Martin Luther and Huldrych Zwingli, together with the success of the printing press, contributed to a process of standardization of the written language throughout the German-speaking world, thereby facilitating the dissemination of reformatory ideas. In nineteenth-century Germany, the fact that German became established as the national language allowed a homogeneous economic area to form.

In addition, language standardization often has an ideological dimension. In the case of German, this initially related to the idea – based on Johann Gottfried Herder – of a “state”, “nation” or “people” being inextricably linked to a particular “language”, a concept that emerged at the same time that dialects were being superseded by standard German. This was reinforced by the ideology of a unified republic that came about at the time of the French Revolution and was directed against both the dialects and the regional languages. In both cases, the standard or “state language” enjoys the status of being the sole “legitimate” variety; when speakers of sociolects, dialects, minority languages or immigrant languages have an insufficient command of this standard language, serious instances of discrimination can be the result, as for example happened in Latvia after the country regained independence in 1991.


(Henry Stoddard) #16

Mein Freund Marvin,

ich bin wirklich froh, dass Sie sich uns angeschlossen haben. Sie wissen wirklich viel von der Sprachwissenschaft, und was Sie geschrieben haben, ist so faszinierend. Moege der Herr des Universums Sie segnen. Auch muss ich sagen, dass ich den Artikel von Duden gerne habe.

Charles
Translation for the moderators. I am really happy that you have joined us. You know really much about linguistics, and what you have written is so fascinating. May the Lord of the universe bless you. Also, I must say that I like the article by Duden.


(Jo Helen Cox) #17

Oh, I get this. I believe there were probably many songs very similar to Gen 1. No clue if those were sung before or after the written form. But I suspect they all came after the revelation of the simplicity of our complex creation.


(Henry Stoddard) #18

I agree with you concerning your statement about the Hebrew word translated “the world” or “the earth.” It could be translated land. This might indicate a regional flood. The New Testament’s use of the Greek word implies the same thing in relation to taxes during the Roman Empire in Israel. It says that the whole world was taxed. Does that mean that the Aztecs were taxed? I do not believe so.


(Henry Stoddard) #19

Language is a wonderful gift from God. It is up to us to use it for good and not hate. :grinning:


(Marvin Adams) #20

the fact that the stories were written down in the book of Moses does not mean that they originated there as human memory goes back further than written records. this is why the aborigines tell the story of the end of the icege when the barrier reef was formed which is fascinating in its own right.