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).
Language: A Problem for Evolutionists
Research so far indicates that the world’s languages came from at least 136 different original languages (see 6. Tower of Babel – How Many Languages?). No one has ever been able to show how any two of the 136 different language families could develop from a common source.
This is a huge problem for evolutionism. How could so many different languages have evolved independently? No evolutionist claims to have an answer. If speech had evolved, then one would expect to find that all languages belonged to a single language family. But they most definitely do not.
Even rabid evolutionist Richard Dawkins admits,
“Nobody knows how [language] began. There doesn’t seem to be anything like syntax in non-human animals and it is hard to imagine evolutionary forerunners of it.”
(From Richard Dawkins, Unweaving the Rainbow, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1998, p. 294.)
It’s even less likely that mankind “evolved speech” in multiple places simultaneously. It boggles the mind to imagine it happened even once, much less many times.
Moreover, to “evolve speech” by itself is useless. You would have to simultaneously evolve the ability to hear sound and evolve the ability for the brain to interpret the meaning of the sounds. The systems to produce speech and to hear and interpret it would have to be developed incrementally by random mutations in such a way that each mutation provides a survival advantage, for evolutionism to be true. It’s clearly impossible to evolve language capability little by little.
Physically language interchange is astonishingly complex, involving tongue, mouth, throat, vocal chords, ear, nerves, and the speech and auditory centers of the brain. Each and every part of the entire system has to be fully functional in order for language to be of any use.
Some evolutionists claim language evolved from animal grunts, going from the very simple to the increasingly complex. But this is completely contrary to the way we see languages morph in the real world.
Language Change Contradicts Evolution
Historically language changes go in the wrong direction to be evolution. Languages always change from the complex to the simpler, never from simple to complex. Languages actually devolve over time, losing information and complexity.
For example, languages lose vocabulary over time. The Romance languages have lost many words from their ancestor Latin. English has lost 65–85% of the original Old English vocabulary.
Not only do languages lose vocabulary over time, but they also lose grammatical structure. Grammatical inflection is the modification of a word to communicate tense, mood, voice, person, number, gender, and case. Conjugation is inflection of verbs; declension is inflection of nouns, pronouns, and adjectives.
In the Indo-European language family, Sanskrit, classical Greek, and Latin all used to have numerous declensions to indicate case, gender, and number. These languages also had many conjugations to indicate tense, voice, number, and person for verbs. But languages that descended from Sanskrit, classical Greek, and Latin eventually lost much of the original inflection.
English is the most wide-spread Indo-European language today. English has also lost a great deal of its inflection. It is a far simpler language than in its original form.
The clear trend among languages is devolution. Languages simplify and lose complexity and content over time.
“The evolution of language, at least within the historical period, is a story of progressive simplification.” (Albert C. Baugh, A History of the English Language, 2nd edition, Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc., 1957, p. 10.)
“The so-called primitive languages can throw no light on language origins, since most of them are actually more complicated in grammar than the tongues spoken by civilized peoples.” (Ralph Linton, The Tree of Culture, Alfred A. Knopf, 1957, p. 9.)
Language Complexity in Distinctive Cultures
Some of the most primitive societies have very complex grammar. For example, the Tuyuca language of Columbia and Brazil with under 1,000 speakers has between 50 and 140 noun classes (grammatical genders). Verb conjugations must include endings that specify how the speaker knows what he is saying — whether he witnessed it, learned it from someone else, assumed it, etc.
The Bora language of Peru has more than 350 grammatical genders for nouns. This is the most of any language so far discovered. American students used to be tormented by Latin’s six cases for nouns. What if they had to learn Estonian? The Estonian language, spoken by 1.1 million Estonians, has 14 cases riddled with exceptions and irregularities.
Language complexity is not limited to grammar. The Ubykh language, whose last native speaker died in 1992, had 84 distinct consonant sounds, the most of any language without click consonants. Yet it had only two vowels. The Ubykh people lived along the eastern shore of the Black Sea before Russians forced the entire tribe to migrate to Turkey in the 1860s. In English, verbs agree with the subject. In Ubykh, the system of verb endings shows agreement of the verb with the subject, direct object, indirect object, and benefactive object.
Berik is spoken in eastern Papua, New Guinea. Its system of verb prefixes and suffixes specify the time of day something happened, the size of the verb object, the number of objects, where the action took place, and the gender of the people involved in the action. All this information is contained in a single word — the verb and its affixes.
See Tongue Twisters: In search of the world’s hardest language for many examples of extreme language complexities in grammar, word formation, speech sounds, and syntax.
Languages of the World says,
“The general sense is that there are no languages that are much simpler, more primitive than others. And most certainly “linguistic sophistication” does not correlate with technological sophistication. It is simply not true that languages of technologically advanced peoples are more complex than those of technologically primitive peoples. Quite the opposite is often true: standardized languages of large empires are simpler because they are learned by masses of second language learners and because writing and standardization keep them from changing too quickly.”
(See What language is the most complex?)
Evolutionist George Gaylord Simpson admitted that evolutionists have no idea how languages evolved:
“Many other attempts have been made to determine the evolutionary origin of language, and all have failed. … Even the peoples with least complex cultures have highly sophisticated languages, with complex grammar and large vocabularies, capable of naming and discussing anything that occurs in the sphere occupied by their speakers. … The oldest language that can reasonably be reconstructed is already modern, sophisticated, complete from an evolutionary point of view.” (George Gaylord Simpson, The Biological Nature of Man, Science, Vol. 152, 22 April 1966, p. 477.)
However, Biblical creationists know the answer to the question posed above: “How could so many different languages have evolved independently?”
The answer is that languages did not evolve into existence. They were created by God at the Tower of Babel and have since morphed into thousands of different languages.
Language is one of the fundamental gifts of God to man. Without language man could do very little. There would be no study of science or religion. There could be no contemplation of big questions like “Where did we come from?” Most of the arts, entertainment, business, research, and communication fields would be empty without language.
Yet the multitude of languages has necessitated untold amounts of work and generated numerous human conflicts. Linguistic diversity has been a major impediment to the spread of the Gospel and to communication of the written Word of God. This labor and difficulty stretching over four millenia is all because of mankind’s sin at Babel.
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 seventh 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
6. Tower of Babel – How Many Languages?
Read the sequel:
8. Tower of Babel – Origin of People Groups
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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 May 8, 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)