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  1. #1
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    Babel or Babble?

    Here is an article from the Economist (http://www.economist.com/node/18557572)

    The origin of languages without a common root is as divisive as the subjects of Evolution and Creation. One would expect that from the Evolution perspective, there must be a link to all languages from a common ancestor. Some will argue that Evolution begins from the first cell, even though how the first cell evolved has not been possible to explain. The Tower of Babel story gives a very easy answer (in that God did it) to the origin of many languages which do not appear to have a common root and yet there common features in the culture of the people with different languages. Such things as the identification of the Astrological signs and worship of pagan gods.

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    The evolution of language
    Babel or babble?
    Languages all have their roots in the same part of the world. But they are not as similar to each other as was once thought
    Apr 14th 2011 |From the print edition
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    WHERE do languages come from? That is a question as old as human beings' ability to pose it. But it has two sorts of answer. The first is evolutionary: when and where human banter was first heard. The second is ontological: how an individual human acquires the power of speech and understanding. This week, by a neat coincidence, has seen the publication of papers addressing both of these conundrums.

    Quentin Atkinson, of the University of Auckland, in New Zealand, has been looking at the evolutionary issue, trying to locate the birthplace of the first language. Michael Dunn, of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands, has been examining ontology. Fittingly, they have published their results in the two greatest rivals of scientific journalism. Dr Atkinson's paper appears in Science, Dr Dunn's in Nature.

    Travellers' tales

    The obvious place to look for the evolutionary origin of language is the cradle of humanity, Africa. And, to cut a long story short, it is to Africa that Dr Atkinson does trace things. In doing so, he knocks on the head any lingering suggestion that language originated more than once.

    One of the lines of evidence which show humanity's African origins is that the farther you get from that continent, the less diverse, genetically speaking, people are. Being descended from small groups of relatively recent migrants, they are more inbred than their African forebears.

    Dr Atkinson wondered whether the same might be true of languages. To find out, he looked not at genes but at phonemes. These are the smallest sounds which differentiate meaning (like the “th” in thin; replace it with “f” or “s” and the result is a different word). It has been known for a while that the less widely spoken a language is, the fewer the phonemes it has. So, as groups of people ventured ever farther from their African homeland, their phonemic repertoires should have dwindled, just as their genetic ones did.
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    To check whether this is the case, Dr Atkinson took 504 languages and plotted the number of phonemes in each (corrected for recent population growth, when significant) against the distance between the place where the language is spoken and 2,500 putative points of origin, scattered across the world. The relationship that emerges suggests the actual point of origin is in central or southern Africa (see chart), and that all modern languages do, indeed, have a common root.
    That fits nicely with the idea that being able to speak and be spoken to is a specific adaptation—a virtual organ, if you like—that is humanity's killer app in the struggle for biological dominance. Once it arose, Homo sapiens really could go forth and multiply and fill the Earth.
    The details of this virtual organ are the subject of Dr Dunn's paper. Confusingly, though, for this neat story of human imperialism, his result challenges the leading hypothesis about the nature of the language organ itself.

    Grammar or just rhetoric?

    The originator of that hypothesis is Noam Chomsky, a linguist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr Chomsky argues that the human brain comes equipped with a hard-wired universal grammar—a language instinct, in the elegant phrase of his one-time colleague Steven Pinker. This would explain why children learn to speak almost effortlessly.
    The problem with the idea of a language instinct is that languages differ not just in their vocabularies, which are learned, but in their grammatical rules, which are the sort of thing that might be expected to be instinctive. Dr Chomsky's response is that this diversity, like the diversity of vocabulary, is superficial. In his opinion grammar is a collection of modules, each containing assorted features. Switching on a module activates all these features at a stroke. You cannot pick and choose within a module.
    For instance, languages in which verbs precede objects will always have relative clauses after nouns; a language cannot have one but not the other. A lot of similar examples were collected by Joseph Greenberg, a linguist based at Stanford, who died in 2001. And, though Greenberg himself attributed his findings to general constraints on human thought rather than to language-specific switches in the brain, his findings also agree with the Chomskyan view of the world. Truly testing that view, though, is hard. The human brain cannot easily handle the connections that need to be made to do so. Dr Dunn therefore offered the task to a computer. And what he found surprised him.

    Place your bets

    To find out which linguistic features travel together, and might thus be parts of Chomskyan modules, means drawing up a reliable linguistic family tree. That is tricky. Unlike biologists, linguists do not have fossils to guide them through the past (apart from a few thousand years of records from the few tongues spoken by literate societies). Also, languages can crossbreed in a way that species do not. English, for example, is famously a muddle of German, Norse and medieval French. As a result, linguists often disagree about which tongues belong to a particular family.
    To leap this hurdle, Dr Dunn began by collecting basic vocabulary terms—words for body parts, kinship, simple verbs and the like—for four large language families that all linguists agree are real. These are Indo-European, Bantu, Austronesian (from South-East Asia and the Pacific) and Uto-Aztecan (the native vernaculars of the Americas). These four groups account for more than a third of the 7,000 or so tongues spoken around the world today.
    For each family, Dr Dunn and his team identified sets of cognates. These are etymologically related words that pop up in different languages. One set, for example, contains words like “night”, “Nacht” and “nuit”. Another includes “milk” and “Milch”, but not “lait”. The result is a multidimensional Venn diagram that records the overlaps between languages.

    Which is fine for the present, but not much use for the past. To substitute for fossils, and thus reconstruct the ancient branches of the tree as well as the modern-day leaves, Dr Dunn used mathematically informed guesswork. The maths in question is called the Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) method. As its name suggests, this spins the software equivalent of a roulette wheel to generate a random tree, then examines how snugly the branches of that tree fit the modern foliage. It then spins the wheel again, to tweak the first tree ever so slightly, at random. If the new tree is a better fit for the leaves, it is taken as the starting point for the next spin. If not, the process takes a step back to the previous best fit. The wheel whirrs millions of times until such random tweaking has no discernible effect on the outcome.

    When Dr Dunn fed the languages he had chosen into the MCMC casino, the result was several hundred equally probable family trees. Next, he threw eight grammatical features, all related to word order, into the mix, and ran the game again.

    The results were unexpected. Not one correlation persisted across all language families, and only two were found in more than one family. It looks, then, as if the correlations between grammatical features noticed by previous researchers are actually fossilised coincidences passed down the generations as part of linguistic culture. Nurture, in other words, rather than nature. If Dr Dunn is correct, that leaves Dr Chomsky's ideas in tatters, and raises questions about the very existence of a language organ. You may be sure, though, that the Chomskyan heavy artillery will be making its first ranging shots in reply, even as you read this article. Watch this space for further developments.

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by David M View Post
    Here is an article from the Economist (http://www.economist.com/node/18557572)

    The origin of languages without a common root is as divisive as the subjects of Evolution and Creation. One would expect that from the Evolution perspective, there must be a link to all languages from a common ancestor. Some will argue that Evolution begins from the first cell, even though how the first cell evolved has not been possible to explain. The Tower of Babel story gives a very easy answer (in that God did it) to the origin of many languages which do not appear to have a common root and yet there common features in the culture of the people with different languages. Such things as the identification of the Astrological signs and worship of pagan gods.
    Except the Tower of Babel story is a myth. There were myths of the Babel story from Sumeria before the Bible even adopted that story.

    http://www2.seminolestate.edu/asalmo...of%20Babel.htm

    The Biblical story adapts earlier stories. The following source, near geographically to the writers of the book of Genesis, is from Sumerian documents dating back to about 3,000 B.C.E.


    "In those days, the lands of Subur (and) Hamazi, Harmony-tongued (?) Sumer, the great land of the decrees of princeship, Uri, the land having all that is appropriate(?), The land Martu, resting in security, The whole universe, the people in unison (?) To Enlil in one tongue [spoke]. ... (Then) Enki, the lord of abundance, (whose) commands are trustworthy, The lord of wisdom, who understands the land, The leader of the gods, Endowed with wisdom, the lord of Eridu Changed the speech in their mouths, [brought (?)] contention into it, Into the speech of man that (until then) had been one." ("The Tower of Babel." Journal of the American Oriental Society).


    http://www.rejectionofpascalswager.n...yth.html#babel


    Second, the story is pre-scientific in the extreme. Note that the people wanted to built a tower than actually reached “unto heaven” (Genesis 11:4). Also note that God came down to look at the tower (Genesis 11:5). It is obvious that the reason why God confounded their language and scattered them was that he was afraid these people might actually reached heaven! As William Harwood notes:

    A modern god, knowing the distance even to the nearest star would laugh at such an enterprise, but the Yahweh of 920 BCE could hardly be blamed for being as ignorant as his biographer. [1]


    And this contradiction in the Babel story is a real doozy. http://www.rejectionofpascalswager.n...yth.html#babel


    The myth about the Tower of Babel is told in Genesis 11:1-9. There the story is told of the decendents of Noah who settled in the land of Shinar (Babylonia) and decided to build a tower that was to “reach unto Heaven” (Genesis 11:4). God defeated their purpose by confounding their languages and scattering them over the face of the earth.

    First let us point out a contradiction here. Genesis 11:1 mentioned that there is only one language and a few words. Yet only one chapter earlier (10:5) the following statement is made:

    Genesis 10:5 (see also Genesis 10:20 & Genesis 10:31)
    From these the coastland peoples spread. These are the sons of Japheth in their lands, each with his own language, by their families, in their nation.
    When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace - Jimi Hendrix


  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by L67 View Post
    Except the Tower of Babel story is a myth. There were myths of the Babel story from Sumeria before the Bible even adopted that story.
    Hello L67

    Dating of other documents is a dispute that is ongoing. If it is finally found that the documents you refer to are found to post date the Tower or Babel, that would validate the point I have made. The Tower of Babel as a fact of history would have travelled with the people who had their language changed. So we would expect to see the Tower of Babel story in different cultures with different languages. Not all but at least some.


    It is another subject, but Joshua's 'longest day', was observed on the opposite side of the earth by people with different cultures and different languages as the 'longest night'. If you regard the 'longest day' as myth why do we have this marked split and and why do not people on the opposite side of the world have the same story of a 'long day'? We have opposite accounts of a 'long day' or ' long night' which is geographically correct to when the event took place. We do not have a mix of 'long day' or 'long night' stories in all parts of the world.

    All the best

    David

  4. #4
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    No-one is coming back with an explanation as how so many different languages without a common root came about by Evolution.


    In another thread I clicked on a link given by L67 to a webpage dealing with human evolution.

    On the page there was a reference to languages, which I thought I would make the subject of a post in this thread. Here is what was said on the webpage;
    http://www.sbs.utexas.edu/levin/bio2...humanevol.html

    Diversification of languages parallels strikingly the evolutionary process, although the underlying processes are different. Languages, like new species, arose in isolation accumulating more and more differences over time.

    This is not a good explanation for how languages without a common route came to be. The site is telling us languages arose in isolation, but it is not telling us that there is no common route to those languages. It is saying the languages evolved in the way all species have evolved and although many became isolated and continued to evolve along different paths, they had to come from a common origin (the first cell). The site is telling us that language evolved in the same way. What the site doe not tell us is that there are tens of languages with no common root.

    Either an explanation has to be given and accepted as to how many languages without a common route have evolved, or such statements should be struck from these websites. This is the Evolution brainwashing subtly telling us things as thought they were facts, but in actuality Evolution has not explanation.

    On the list of origins not explained by Evolution we have:

    1. The origin of Matter (the fundamental atomic particles or the energy from which mass comes)
    2. The origin of the first cell
    3. The origin of multiple languages without a common route.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by David M View Post
    Here is an article from the Economist ([url]http://www.economist.com/node/18557572[/url)

    The origin of languages without a common root is as divisive as the subjects of Evolution and Creation. One would expect that from the Evolution perspective, there must be a link to all languages from a common ancestor. Some will argue that Evolution begins from the first cell, even though how the first cell evolved has not been possible to explain. The Tower of Babel story gives a very easy answer (in that God did it) to the origin of many languages which do not appear to have a common root and yet there common features in the culture of the people with different languages. Such things as the identification of the Astrological signs and worship of pagan gods.
    Hello David

    I find it interesting that the evolutionist has an "Out of Africa" theory that closely resembles that of the Babel dispersion. There is no definitive answer to the multiple language reality without adding many more years to that dispersion 4500 years ago.

    Here's Wiki's explanation:

    "The origin of language in the human species has been the topic of scholarly discussions for several centuries. In spite of this, there is no consensus on the ultimate origin or age of human language. One problem makes the topic difficult to study: the lack of direct evidence." (After reading this line about the "lack of direct evidence" I had to chuckle at the irony of such a statement) Consequently, scholars wishing to study the origins of language must draw inferences from other kinds of evidence such as the fossil record, archaeological evidence, contemporary language diversity, studies of language acquisition, and comparisons between human language and systems of communication existing among other animals (particularly other primates)".

    I don't see how the fossil record would help nor the primitive grunts of apes & chimps (with no progress toward speech I might add). The oldest human writings further confirm that there was already a diversity of language. It is just one more "evolutionary magic act" similar to the Cambrian Explosion that requires a far reaching man-made invention to account for the "miraculous transformation" from primitive life to highly advanced creatures within the earliest layer.

    Perhaps if our closely related chimp-apes could've learned to write over their hundreds of thousands of years, they might have provided an excellent illustration, or at least, left us a clue. Maybe they are simply "lacking the genes". But that doesn't make sense since they are so close to us genetically having only a 1.6% difference according to some. Must be that tiny percentage actually translates into a much larger genetic gap than assumed. The difference must be in the "Junk" eh?

    John

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