How many languages do you think are spoken across the globe today? Would you guess as many as a thousand? Even five thousand?
As of April 2013, the world’s living languages number 7,105!
Despite the effectiveness of Yahweh’s intervention at Babel, the world may be headed back toward a single common tongue. Linguists think that by the year 2050, ninety percent of the languages spoken today will be extinct.
An astounding event at the Tower of Babel over 4,000 years ago made language translation necessary today.
The History Book of the Universe records a remarkable series of events. Noah’s family disembarked from the Ark after the Great Flood (Genesis 6:1-9:19) around 2500 BC. God clearly instructed Noah and his sons to “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” (Genesis 9:1,7)
Did Noah’s descendants listen to God? No, the clan settled on the plain of Shinar. They made no attempt to spread out and fill the earth. On the contrary, they stuck together to build a Tower, defying God’s order to re-populate the earth. Yahweh therefore confused the language of the Tower builders to force them to scatter across the face of the earth (Genesis 11:1-9).
How Many Languages at Babel?
The historical record in Genesis does not say how many different languages Yahweh created at Babel. But there are hints in Genesis that He created one language for each family line.
These are the families of the sons of Noah, after their generations, in their nations: and by these were the nations divided in the earth after the flood. (Genesis 10:32)
This verse says the nations were divided by their families. The division was accomplished by scrambling the common language at the Tower of Babel as reported in the following chapter (Genesis 11:1-9). Thus apparently Yahweh divided the people by families, by giving different languages to different families.
There are about 70 family lines listed in the Genesis 10 Table of Nations. But not all family lines are listed. For example, five of the seven sons of Japheth have no progeny listed. One of Ham’s four sons has no sons listed. Three of Shem’s five sons have no sons listed. Shem’s son Arpachshad, his son Shelah, and Shelah’s son Eber are explicitly stated to have had other sons (and daughters) which are not listed in the Genesis 10 Table of Nations (Genesis 11:13-17).
The incompleteness of the Table of Nations is also indicated by the fact that large areas of the world are not included: sub-Saharan Africa, Northern Europe, most of Asia, Australia, and the Americas.
Thus there were probably at least 70 languages created at Babel–and likely a good many more–to separate all the family lines and distribute them across the earth. The result was that the new language groups separated and scattered over the globe, filling it with different nations and cultures.
As of April 2013, the world’s living languages numbered 7,105 plus many dialects. This figure is published by Ethnologue: Languages of the World (SIL International‘s catalog of languages). Ethnologue updates their estimate as formerly unknown languages are discovered and others die out.
Most of these languages have less than 1,000 native speakers. 94% of the world’s languages are spoken by only 6% of the world’s people. Linguists think that 90% of the languages spoken today will be extinct by 2050.
Ethnologue reports 136 distinct language families. The one with the most speakers is the Indo-European family with 436 distinct languages spoken by 46.8% of the world’s population. This family includes English, Spanish, German, Celtic, Russian, Hindi, Persian, Greek, Latin, and Sanskrit. Linguists say all came from a single source language called Proto-Indo-European.
The second most widely spoken language family is the Sino-Tibetan (also called Sino-Asiatic) family with 456 distinct languages including Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. Sino-Tibetan languages are spoken by 20.3% of the world’s population. Linguists believe all these languages also came from a single source, called Proto-Sino-Tibetan.
Hebrew and all the Arabic languages are in the Afro-Asiatic family. This is the fourth most widely spoken language family with 366 languages spoken by 5.8% of the world’s population.
When individual languages are statistically analyzed, Chinese has the most first-language speakers. Spanish and English are essentially tied for second. English has by far the most different countries with first-language speakers.
The Americas have first-language speakers in over 1,000 different languages. The USA alone has 420 different first languages, 214 indigenous languages and 206 immigrant languages. Half of these languages in the USA have less than 500 speakers each.
New Languages at Babel
Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Sino-Tibetan were probably two of the new Babel languages. Since the Table of Nations in Genesis 10 indicates people spread out over the earth by families, and since the Babel Scramble was the mechanism driving this dispersion, it seems likely that there were at least 70 new Babel languages created to match the number of family lines in the Table of Nations. Probably many more than 70 languages were created at Babel since not all the family lines are listed.
Hundreds of languages are known to be extinct as enumerated on this List of Extinct Languages. Many extinct languages are surely unknown and lost forever, including probably some language families.
Based on all these considerations, my guess is that Yahweh created around 150 new languages at Babel. There have been probably 10,000 different languages spoken throughout the 6,000 years of world history.
The Tower of Babel was a mammoth edifice. It was the site of a pivotal event of world history. Its consequences cascade down through the centuries to our own day. Have you ever struggled to learn another language, or to understand someone with a heavy foreign accent? Have you ever felt confused or bewildered in a place with an unfamiliar language? You can credit your rebellious ancestors at the Tower of Babel for causing your troubles.
Soli Deo Gloria.
This is the sixth post in the Tower of Babel series.
Read the prequels:
1. Tower of Babel & Language Translation
2. Tower of Babel – Where?
3. Tower of Babel – What Did It Look Like?
4. Tower of Babel – When?
5. Tower of Babel – Origin of Languages
Read the sequel:
7. Tower of Babel – Problem for Evolutionists
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©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
“contending earnestly for the faith”
“destroying speculations against the knowledge of God”
(Jude 1:3; 2 Cor 10:4)
Wednesday April 24, 2013 A.D.
Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words. And it came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.” And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. And they said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name; lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. “Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth. (Genesis 11:1-9)