This is for Sealkin, I wasn’t thinking last night after 11 hours of writing. I do have something that makes the basic claim of Babel that we spoke one language true. Here it is
This is in answer to Sealkin’s question last night. After writing for 11 hours yesterday, I wasn’t thinking in my answer. Yes, I have something that makes at least part of the Babel story valid–we seem to once had a common language.
Many Christians and non-christians alike have questioned
the reality of the Tower of Babel or ignored it altogether. Indeed, other
than in young-earth literature it is difficult to find a reference to this event. Andrew White, in A History of
the Warfare between Science and Theology in Christendom, attacks the very idea of the story. Davis
Young omits it in his book, The Biblical Flood. Bernard Ramm in The Christian View of Science and
Scripture makes only the slightest reference to it. Obviously, this story causes some concern or
embarrassment among Christian apologists who steer far from it.
However, since this event is in the Bible one must face the question of whether it is a real event or if it is merely an allegory. During the past decade some evidence has been developed which does support one aspect of the story–the contention that the entire human race once spoke the same language. Merrit Ruhlen (not a creationist) points out much of this data in his book, Merritt Ruhlen, The Origin of Language, (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1994). These are from some posts I made to the ASA listserv and TheologyWeb:
Within the past decade some linguists have found evidence of a former unity among languages. Not all linguists accept this data, but Joseph Greenberg (one of the foremost linguists of this century who produced the classification of African languages now in use) and Merritt Ruhlen have argued for much wider connections among the languages.
First, I would also point people to my article Morton, G. R. (2002) “Language at the Dawn of Humanity,” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, 54(2002):3:193-194. This discusses some work presented at the 2001 meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics, There are two click languages Sandawe and Hadza, which are spoken by two groups which were believed to be related, although for years linguists had noted that the languages themselves seem very very distant in spite of sharing the same characteristic of having click sounds included in the language. Alec Knight, Joanna Mountain and colleagues analyzed the Y chromosomes of the two groups and found that these two groups were genetically the most distant pair of populations on earth. In other words, their last common ancestor was as long ago as 100,000 years. The abstract says:
A. Knight1, P.A. Underhill2, H.M. Mortensen, A.A. Lin, D. Louis, M. Ruhlen, J.L. Mountain,“Y
chromosome and mtDNA variation in linguistically diverse peoples of Tanzania: Ancient roots and
"We analyzed genetic variation in 122 “unrelated” individuals from the vicinity of Lake Eyasi in north-central Tanzania, to recover aspects of population history and human evolution. Representatives of the four linguistic phyla of Africa were studied, including 50 Hadzabe (or Hadza) foragers. We present a Y chromosome phylogeny derived from unique event polymorphisms (UEPs). We also present Y chromosome microsatellite variation within UEP-defined clades, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) fragment polymorphisms, and nucleotide sequences of both mtDNA control region hypervariable segments. When compared to other African population data, our results reveal elements of prehistory relevant to the evolution of anatomically modern humans, including migration, gene flow, and language. We were able to distinguish recent gene flow from ancient demographic signatures. Hadzabe are strongly differentiated from other groups, have high genetic diversity, and exhibit comparatively great genetic distance from the !Kung of southern Africa, suggesting great antiquity for click (Khoisan) languages.
end of abstract
This was also reported in Science News, Oct. 27,2001.
What they concluded was that these two groups of people shared a common genetic and linguistic history 100,000 years ago but went their separate ways in both areas. The data seems to indicate that one of the earliest human languages belongs to the click family (Khoisan family).
Now that data demonstrates the likelihood of language at least 100,000 years ago, not the 60 kyr of Hugh Ross’s view. And the anatomical data seems to indicate that mankind was speaking at least 3 times longer. Theology and apologetics simply must deal with this issue. But are there other connections?
One of the ways such connections are found is in the same sound being used in different languages and language families (cognates). The words that appear most stable across language family boundaries are those which are very essential or personal or relational. The data listed below, while not proving the Tower of Babel story does support the original contention that mankind did speak one language which is one of the claims of the Bible.
I will discuss only two words, water and finger(aqwa and tik), but there are lots of other words that unite the world’s languages.
These include (Ruhlen p. 105)
mama mother kaka brother/uncle
ma what (ma is used in Mandarin as a question indicator)
cuna nose smell
(the capital V represents a vowel whose original pronunciation is unknown)
" Another striking resemblance among the world’s language families is a word whose original meaning was probably ‘finger’ (though it has evolved to ‘one’ and ‘hand’[=‘fingers’] in many languages), and whose originalform was something like tik. I first became aware of the widespread nature of this root at a public lecture that Greenberg gave at Stanford in 1977, in which he mentioned three roots that were widely distributed around the world: tik ‘finger,’ pal ‘two’ (which we will look at in the following section), and par ‘to fly.’ As you no doubt noticed in your examination of Table 10, no less than eight of the twelve families show traces of tik ‘finger,one,’ namely, Nilo-Saharan (B), Niger-Kordofanian ©, Afro-Asiatic (D), Eurasiatic (G), Dene-Caucasian (H), Austric (I), Indo-Pacific (J) and Amerind (L) " ~Merritt Ruhlen, The Origin of Language, (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1994), p. 115
Linguistic symbols and evolution of sounds
? sounds like tt’s in bottle when pronouced like by a cockney in London. I need to point out the sound changes that linguists have found
Linguists look at sounds and how they change and then compare cognates from different languages looking for a pattern. This is illustrated by the following data regarding African languages: You can scroll the boxes below to see all the words
Language sound meaning Fur tek one Maba tek (tuk) one Nera dekk-u one Dinka tok one Berta diikoni one Mangetu t'e one Kwama seek-o one t changed to s Bari to one Jur tok one Twampa de? one Komo de one Ruhlen states, "In 1972 the American linguist Edgar Gregersen presented substantial evidence connecting two of Greenberg's four African families, Nilo-Saharan and Niger-Kordofanian. One of the pieces of evidence he offered was Niger-Kordofanian forms that appeared cognate with the Nilo-Saharan forms just cited." ~Merritt Ruhlen, The Origin of Language, (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1994), p. 115-116 **Tik, Finger/One** **Niger-Kordofanian family** Fulup qsik~sex finger (~ separates variant pronunciations) Nalu te finger Gur dike one Gwa dogbo one Fon dokpa one Ewe deka one Tonga tiho finger Chopi t'ho finger Ki-Bira zika finger Ba-Kiokwa zigu finger **Afro-Asiatic family of North Africa** Oromo toko one West Gurage tegu only one Yaaku tegei hand Saho ti one Bilin tu one Tsamai dokko one Nefusa tukod finger Hausa tak only one Gisiga tekoy one Gidder te-teka one Logone tku first **Eurasiatic family** **Indoeuropean branch** Indoeuropean root deik Latin dig-itus finger Latin indeks forefinger English toe toe Old English tahe toe Latin Decem 10 **Uralic branch** Votyak odik one Zyrian otik one **Turkic branch** Chuvash tek only, just Uighur tek only merely Chagatai tek only, single Turkish tek only Turkish teken one by one Korean tayki one, thing Old Korean tek 10 Ainu tek hand Ainu atiki five Japanese te hand Chuckchi- Kamchatkan itygin paw-foot **Eskimo-Aleut** Upik tik-iq index finger Inupiaq tik-iq index finger Inupiaq Tikkuagpaa he points to it Attu tik-laq middle finger Attu atgu finger Attu tagataq one **Dene-Caucasian** Rai tik(-pu) one Nung thi one Tibetan (g-)tsig one **Yeniseian branch** Ket tek finger Punpokol tok finger Kott tog-an finger **Na-Dene branch** Haida ta with the fingers Tlingit t-eeq finger Tlingit Tek one Eyak tikhi one Sarsi tlik one Kutchin (i-)Tag one Hupa ta? One Navajo ta? One **Austric family** **Austroasiatic branch** Kharia ti? Hand Riang ti? Hand Wa tai? Hand Khmer tai hand Vietnamese tay hand **Daic branch** Li dlian finger Northern Li tlean,then finger Loi then,cian finger Tasmanian motook forefinger SE tasmanian togue hand Boven Mbian tek fingernail Digul tuk fingernail *Amerind languages** **North American Amerind Family** Nootka taka only Mohawk tsi?er Finger Sierra Miwok tika? Index finger Wintun tiq-eles ten Nisenan tok- hand Mixe to?k, tuk one Sayula tu?k one Tzeltal tukal alone Quiche tik'ex carry in the hand Karok tik finger,hand Achumawi wa-tuci finger Washo tsek finger Yana 'tgi- alone East Pomo bi'yatsukai finger Arraarra teeh'k hand Pehtsik tiki-vash hand Akwa'ala asit-dek one Nahua tiikia?a one Pima bajo cic one Mazatec cika?a alone Tarahumara sika hand Mangue tike one **South America Amerind family** Chibcha ytiquyn finger Chibcha Acik by ones Borunca etsik one Guatuso dooki one Shiriana ithak hand Ulua tinka-mak finger Paez teec one Cahuapana itekla finger,hand Jebero itokla finger,hand Qawashqar takso one Siona tekua one Siona teg-li five Canichana eutixle finger Yupua di(x)ka arm Uasona dikaga arm Upano tikitik one Aguaruna tikij one Murato tici hand Uru ti one Chipaya zek one Itene taka one Guamo dixi finger Katembri tika toe Yuracare tece thumb Kukura tikua finger Accaqwai tigina one Ocaina dikabu arm Mataco otejji one agnani etegueno finger Sensi (nawis)-tikoe one(finger) Cavinena eme-toko hand Botocudo (po-)cik one(finger) Botocudo jik alone ~Merritt Ruhlen, The Origin of Language, (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1994), p.115-119
I would add the example from the Sino-Tibetan family, Mandarin in which under the rule that d->z, the word for point is zhichu and the word for first is diyi.
Ruhlen presents a lot of data on three of the words which indicate a former connection. The word I am going to relate is water. The same sound is found over the world representing either water, or activities in and on water, including drinking, lakes, rivers, creeks etc.
Everyone has used the root ‘aqua’ as in ‘aquamarine’ and aquarium in Spanish the term is agua. In Latin aqua means water. There appears to be a root akwa or aqua which appears over and over in language family after language family with this sound associated with water, river/drink etc. I must emphasize that the table below is phonetic not proper spelling. The phonetic sounds are as follows x=ks or qs, the symbols ? , ) etc are my best representations of the phonetic symbols used in Ruhlen’s book. There is a difference between a single ) and a () pair, the pair represents the sound quality of the consonant.
Ruhlen postulates that the original word for water was aqwa. Some languages lost the first part and the word became qwa or kua and some lost the last part and the word became aq or ak. Some languages added parts. K’s changed to g’s or x’s according to normal rules of linguistic change. One could postulate that the word water came from a variation on the Ainu word for water Wakka, which then became watta or something like that. Anyway, here is some of the evidence for an originally single language among humans. Not all of the words make the case to this non-linguist, but there is enough similarity to make me take notice of what Ruhlen is saying. many of the words listed below have the q, k or ks sound in them. These sounds are made similarly by our mouths.
**Afro-Asiatic family** language sound meaning Janjero akka water Kaffa aco water Mocha ac'o water Gofa hacca water Shinasha ac'c'o water Badditu wat'e water Agaw aq water biln ?aq water Xamir aq(w) a drops of water Quara axu water Avia axu water Damot ago water Hadiyya wo?o water Tamboaro waha water Sidamo waho water Iraqw aha drink **Khoisan family of southern Africa** !O !Kung kau rain !Kung k''a drink !Kung kau rain !Naron k''a drink |Kam-ka !ke k''wa drink |Kam-ka !kekau rain ||Ng!Ke k''a drink ||Ng!Ke kau to rain Batwa k''a drink |Auni k''a drink Masarwa k''a drink |Nu||en k''a drink **Nilo-Saharan Family** Fur k)I rain Nyimang kwe water So kwe? Water Ik cue water Mangbetu equo water Berta k)I rain, cloud Kwama uuku water Anej agu-d cloud **Indo European Family** Latin ak(w)a water Hittite eku water Luwian aku water Palaic ahu drink Italian akkwa drink Provencal aiga water Catalan aigwa water Spanish agwa water Portuguese aqwa water Rumanian ape water Sardinian abba water Germanic ahwa river old Germanic manuscripts-modern German lost root Tocharian yok drink **Eurasiatic Family** Ainu Wakka water Ainu ku drink Japanese aka bilge water **Dene-Caucasian Family** Chechen aq suckle Burushaski hagum wet Newari kwo river Khaling ku water Kachin k(h)u water **Indo Pacific family** Awyu okho water/river syiagha okho water Yareba ogo water Yonggom oq water Ninggirum ok water **Amerind--native American** Yurok -'k(w) suffix indicating movement on water Quileute kwaya water Kwakwala yax thin liquid Bella Bella yug(w)a rain Snohomish q(w)a? water Squamish q(w)u water Squamish q(rw)et wet Nbisqualli ko water Nbisqualli okokwa drink Lkungen kwa water Lkungen q(w)aq(w)a? water Twana q)? water Twana yeq(rw) wash Shuswap kwo water Caddo koko water Caddo yoyakka drink Wichita kik'a drink Penutian branch Nass ak(j)-s water Twsimshian aks drink Tsimshian yaks wash Takema ug(w) drink Siuslaw inq'aa river Nez Perce k'u drink Molale ?uquns water Klamath joq' wash N. Sahaptin -tkwa go in water Wintun wak'ai creek Wintun yuqa? Wash Rumsien uk drink Yokuts ?ukun drink Lake Miwok kiik water Saclan kiko water Miwok kiky water Zuni k'a water Zuni k'I become wet Yuki uk' water Chitmacha ?ak- water Atakapa ak water Chickasaw oka? Water Hitchiti uki water Tetontepec uu?k drink Zoque ?uhk drink Yucatec uk' be thirsty Yucatec yok-ha river Kekchi u?ka drink Hokan branch Chimariko aqa water Kashaya ?ahq(h)a water Kashaya q'o drink North Pomo ?ahk(h)a water North Pomo k'o drink SE Pomo xa water S. Pomo ?ahk(h)a water East Pomo xak(h) wet Shasta ?atta water Washo asa water Karok ?as water Esselen asa(-nax) water Chumash aho water Seri ?ax water Seri Kiihk wet Yuma axa? Water Mohave aha water Yavapai ?aha? water Diegueno ?axa water Quinigua kwa water Tonkawa ?ax water Comecrudo ax water Tequistlatec l-axa? Water Central Amerind branch Otomi nk'a wet Cuicatec ku?u drink Tewa pokwin lake Tewa kwan rain South America Amerind Chibchan-Paezan branch Shiriana koa drink Chimila uk drink Binticua agan drink Allentiac aka water Andean branc Amerind Iquito aqua water Quechua yaku water Quechua hoq'o get wet Aymara oqo swallow Mapudungu ko water Genneken iagup water Yamana aku lake Macro-Tucanoan brach Cubeo oko water Bahukiwa oko water Bahukiwa uku-mi he is drinking Bahukiwa okobo rain Tucano axko water Erulia oxko water rain Barasano oko water Wanana ko water Yahuna okoa rain Auake okoa water river Equatorial branch Esmeralda kebi-axa let's drink Ayore oxi? Drink Kabishana aku water Amniape aku water Wayoro uru water Mekens iki water Guarani aki wet Guarani I?u drink Kamayura ?akim wet Kamayura I?u drink Quitemo ako water Uaraicu waka wash Terena oko rain Chipaya ax wash Guana uko rain Apurina iaka wet Amarakaeri iyako lake Macro-Carib branch Witoto hoko wash Yagua Xa water Taulipang ai?ku wet Macusi u-wuku my drink Macusi Aiku wet Waiwai woku drink Macro-Panoan branch Lule uk drink Guachi euak water Caduveo yakip(a) drink Suhin I-yoke drink Mayoruna waka water Mayoruna oakanu drink Culino Yaku water Culino waka river Amahuaco wakum water Amahuaco aiyaki drink Nocoman wakoja river Huarayo hakua wash Cavinena igi drink Macro-Ge branch Bororo ku drink Koraveka ako drink Fulnio waka lake Caraja axu lake Kamakan kwa drink Palmas goi water Apucarana (n)goyo water Delbergia ng)yo water Apinage inko water river Crengez ko water Cayapo ngo water Cayapo ikon drink Chavante ko water Cherente ko water Chicriaba ku water Aponegicran waiko drink Suya ikone drink
~Merritt Ruhlen, The Origin of Language, (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1994), p. 107-115
I would add the word from the Sino-Tibetan language, Mandarin, Kou ke which means thirst.
One other late edition here is that research reported July, 2004 noted that the word papa occurred in 700 out of 1000 languages which the authors studied. These 700 languages were from all different language families. In Mandarin, Baba means father. see http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99996188
So, I would say, that there very well may be linguistic evidence of a common root for these words throughout the world’s language. This is consistent with the Biblical assertion that humanity once spoke a common language. That being said, the thing wrong with young-earth views of this is that they place Babel far too late in history.
I don’t believe that this event was experienced by all the world’s population. Nothing really requires that view, that I can see. It is interesting, though, how widespread the sounds are.
When would I place the Babel event? I would guess between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago, before the second wave out of Africa. This second wave largely replaced the scattered older peoples like Denisovians, Neandrthals and archaic Homo sapiens. I think we speak languages from this second wave but they were split up.
While we may never find a site for Babel, we do have evidence of its primary claim that all humanity once spoke a single language.