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Babel and the Ancient Single Language of the Human Race

Copyright 1999 by G. R. Morton. This may be freely distributed so long as no changes are made and no charges are required. (home.entouch.net/dmd/babel.htm)

    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:

Y chromosome and mtDNA variation in linguistically diverse peoples of Tanzania: Ancient roots and ancient clicks. A. Knight1, P.A. Underhill2, H.M. Mortensen1, A.A. Lin2, D. Louis1, M. Ruhlen1, J.L. Mountain1. 1) Department of Anthropological Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, CA; 2) Department of Genetics, Stanford University, Stanford, CA.

“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**

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?

Linguistics

 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)

sound   meaning
papa    father
mama    mother
kaka    brother/uncle
ku      who
ma      what (ma is used in Mandarin as a question indicator)
pal     two
akwa    water
tik     finger
kanV    arm
boko    arm
bunku   knee
sum     hair
putV    vulva
cuna    nose    smell
KamV    squeeze
parV    fly

(the capital V represents a vowel whose original pronunciation is unknown)

Ruhlen states:

        “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 original form 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 (C), 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

d->z
g->k
k->g
p->f->h
k->x->h
k->?
d->z
t->d
t->th->s
i->y
u->w

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:

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
Nalu            te                      finger      pronunciations)
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
Tarahumara      sika                    hand
Mazatec         cika?a                  alone
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
Tagnani         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.

Aq'wa ‘water’

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.

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 branch 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 branch

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. (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.

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