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Posted: 22 June 2007 09:10 AM   [ Ignore ]
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At the risk of being labelled a religious bigot again (heh), it has always struck me that people who criticise those who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible always cite scientific evidence such as evolution, paleontology, carbon dating, etc.

I’m wondering if the fairly recent mapping of language families and the clear relatedness of languages has ever been used to counter the Biblical Tower of Babel account of language diversity.

I remember reading about ‘independent’ languages which haven’t yet been connected to larger groups eg Korean, Basque, Ainu, Japanese, the Finno-Ugric class, though
these may have since been allocated places. Are there any scholars who would cite these as evidence that the Babel story works? I can’t see how but I’m open to suggestions.

Have linguists ever bearded creationists or other fundamentalists in the language-family regard? It seems unlikely. Many people do not know the science of linguistics exists and are often uninformed about the nature of language. I saw a couple on TV who had adopted a Chinese orphan and their well-meaning friends were asking them if it would grow up speaking Chinese as well as English so I can’t see Larry King hauling in a linguist to shed light in a debate with literalist Christians, say. There must be other interesting accounts in other religions about the origins of language, too, I’d imagine.

To return to the ‘young earth’ idea, even if precise language-family mapping doesn’t go back beyond 6000 years (is this right?), completely credible if theoretical ‘proto’ parent languages surely do?

(Disclaimer: All this comes in the spirit of intellectual enquiry, but only within reason)

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Posted: 22 June 2007 09:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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There is the “field of study” known as Edenics, which claims Hebrew is the original language and attempts to trace all words in all languages to Hebrew roots. (Other versions posit an “Adamic language,” similar to, but distinct from Hebrew as the original.) The tin-foil hat crowd who engage in this theorizing are pretty much left alone by linguists. I’ve never seen anything attempting to explain subsequent language development in light of Babel, but I haven’t really looked and I’m sure that such crayon-scribbled manifestos are floating about if you take the trouble to search for them.

I would posit two reasons why such a crackpot theory of linguistics has not garnered the attention that creationism/intelligent design has:

1) Linguistics is not generally taught in public schools. Students might get a brief survey of material about Indo-European languages in English class, but nothing like the coverage of biology. So there isn’t a public issue on which to hang the controversy.

2) What really chaps the hides of creationists isn’t just that evolution contradicts the Bible; it’s also that it challenges the chauvinistic idea that humans are superior. There is disgust at the thought that we shared ancestors with “lower” animals. This is absent in the linguistic theory.

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Posted: 22 June 2007 10:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Can we please not turn this into yet another “make fun of religion” discussion board?  Thanks.

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Posted: 22 June 2007 11:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Hear, hear.

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Posted: 22 June 2007 11:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Fair plea, LH (and Lionello), but I think it’s interesting to see what arguments the Creationists put forward to explain linguistic diversity, not least to be prepared if you ever meet a Creationist linguist in a bar or on the bus ...

For the argument that only the Tower of Babel can explain the current linguistic state of the world, see here, which specifically denies that enough time has passed for all today’s world languages to have evolved:

The source of the different languages cannot be explained in terms of evolution, though the various dialects and similar languages within the basic groups are no doubt attributable to gradual diversification from a common source tongue. But the major groups are so fundamentally different from each other as to defy explanation in any naturalistic framework.

For an explanation of world population, and by inference, world language descent, based on Genesis, see for example here, which claims, conventionally, the Indo-Europeans as the sons of Japheth, but then gets its linguistic knickers in a twist by going with Genesis and saying the Hittites were sons of Ham, which would make them speakers of Hamitic (today Afro-Asiatic) languages - and then goes further and makes Ham not only the father of the Indo-European Hittites, but the Chinese and Native Americans as well ...

The sons of Ham: Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan ... Canaan became the father of Sidon his first-born, and Heth, and the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites ... (Genesis 10:6-20)

...  Heth is the father of the Hittite nation… The Hebrew form of this word, Hittite, is Khettai and from this comes the word Cathay, which many of you will recognize as an ancient name for China. Certain of the Hittites migrated eastward and settled in China. Also, another name in this list, the Sinites, is linked with China ... The Sinites migrated eastward until they came into Western China, where they founded the ancient Empire of China and gave their name to the land ... The Sinites are the people who settled the Americas in prehistoric days and became the ancestors of the Eskimos and Indians who, to this very day, betray their Mongoloid ancestry.

Still, if the Native Americans are related to the Hittites through Canaan, that would explain all those Indo-European cognates that supposedly turn up in Western Canada ...

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Posted: 22 June 2007 11:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I heartily endorse what LH and Lionello said.

If venomousbede is really wants to know whether linguistics has been invoked in refutation of Biblical inerrancy, I suggest he Google on “Biblical inerrancy” linguistics, which turned up this book, among lots of other relevant discussion.

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Posted: 22 June 2007 12:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Can we please not turn this into yet another “make fun of religion” discussion board?

I concur on general principle, but in the specific case I see nothing wrong with using this board to discuss and criticize half-baked linguistic theories. Just because the person promulgating such theories is doing so from a religious basis does not make them immune from criticism. A crock is a crock, whether it be religious or secular.

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Posted: 22 June 2007 01:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I concur on general principle, but in the specific case I see nothing wrong with using this board to discuss and criticize half-baked linguistic theories. Just because the person promulgating such theories is doing so from a religious basis does not make them immune from criticism. A crock is a crock, whether it be religious or secular.

I couldn’t agree more.

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Posted: 22 June 2007 08:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Languages do not have to be unrelated to be mutually unintelligible just as different species do not have to be unrelated to have been separately created. 

If divine intervention were to suddenly cause you to only speak and understand Old English at your job site, you would have a hard time coordinating efforts with your fellow workers.

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Posted: 22 June 2007 09:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Well, well, well.  So that’s what they mean when they say lines of communication have broken down in UK workplaces.

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Posted: 23 June 2007 03:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Languages do not have to be unrelated to be mutually unintelligible just as different species do not have to be unrelated to have been separately created.

Eh?

I can see that’s in English, but I’m afraid I don’t understand the second part of that sentence at all, nor how it is linked to the first part.

I don’t, however, think I want an explanation ... I suspect it would be ultra vires for this forum.

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Posted: 23 June 2007 05:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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I understand what Myridon means by the second half of his statement, but getting in to it is, I believe, beyond the purview of this forum.  Welcome, Zythophile.  Love your screen name.  Hoist one for me.

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Posted: 23 June 2007 09:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Just thought of another example linguists have provided: when cuneiform was fairly recently deciphered some of the then-contemporary historical stuff it described didn’t conform exactly to later OT royal lineages and historical accounts. This could also be factored into the debate.
It’s fascinating what is revealed - a sort of linguistic DNA-profiling no one anticipated would ever emerge.

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Posted: 23 June 2007 09:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Now we’re starting to get off topic. The historical basis of Biblical accounts is definitely out of bounds for this group. Whether or not cuneiform records comport to Old Testament accounts is a historical question, not a linguistic one.

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Posted: 26 June 2007 07:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Welcome, Zythophile.  Love your screen name

Thank you, twice - I am conducting a campaign to get zythophile, zythophilia and zythography, all currently non-dictionary words, used at least as much as oenophile, oenophilia and oenography (there’s another google hit for each word for a start ...)

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