Eric hasn't quite figured out the way things work here at Language Log. He was wondering why he couldn't find any of the senior staff around the water cooler. The answer is, we only go there to gossip. Unlike the junior staff, who actually use it to get a drink, our spacious offices are equipped with bars. Who needs a water cooler when you've got spring water and single malt scotch?
Following up on "The comparative theology of linguistic diversity" (12/31/2007), Tracy Walsh has written to draw my attention to Isaac E. Mozeson, "The Origin of Speeches: Intelligent Design in Language". This book is apparently not a joke. The description on amazon.com's web site reads:
The Origin of Speeches begins by recapping the history of our views about the source of language. It then debunks the errors that infuse your dictionary, like those about how words in "unrelated" languages could only have identical sound and sense by "coincidence." It does so with both quality and quantity of data. The next chapters give anyone the skills to sleuth out the Edenic origin of any human word. One learns about letters that shift in sound and location, and letters that drop in and drop out. We discover how Edenics works much like other natural sciences, such as chemistry and physics. Like-sounding opposite words were certainly programmed, not pragmatically evolved.
According to the review by Richard D. Wilkins, "Examples are provided here in copious detail; many hundreds more English words and foreign cognates can be explored in the companion E-Word CD Dictionary." There's an Edenics website:
Here you will discover that ALL human words contain forms of the Edenic roots within them. These proto-Semitic or early Biblical Hebrew words were programmed into our common ancestors, Adam and Eve, before the language dispersion, or babble at the Tower of Babel -- which kickstarted multi-national human history.
In the Edenics FAQ, Mozeson claims (improbably) that "Since the 1990s M.I.T. Professor Noam Chomsky was behind attacks on The Word in academic journals, and even forced the editor of a chain of Midwest Jewish newspapers, The National Jewish Post & Opinion, to drop an Edenics column. Amazingly, this world-class linguist and anarchist had to write a negative review for Amazon.com where he put absurd words in my mouth."
Mozeson is also the author of "The Word: The Dictionary that Reveals the Hebrew Sources of English".
His theory seems to be that God was a sort of weak cryptographer, who didn't actually create any new languages after Babel, but simply mixed up the old ones ("letters that shift in sound and location, and letters that drop in and out") in ways that Mozeson has figured out how to decrypt.
This strikes me as crank etymology with a religious overlay, rather than a serious attempt at rationalizing the linguistic aspects of Genesis.
[Update -- Rosie Redfield writes:
The biological equivalent of Edenics is Baraminology - phylogenetic analysis of the evolution that's assumed to have happened since Noah's Ark. Wikipedia has the details.
It seems to me that Baraminology is closer to this. ]
[Update #2 -- John Brewer writes:
no discussion of the intersection between historical linguistics and Biblical study should be considered complete without a mention of the legendary 17th century or thereabouts scholar who determined that Eden was at least tri-lingual, with God speaking Swedish, Adam speaking Danish, and the serpent speaking French. Googling seems to attribute this to someone named Andreas Kemke. (I remember the theory, but not the name of the theorist, from my undergraduate days in the pre-Google 80's.) LL seems not to have referred to it previously (assuming I'm working the search feature correctly), but Sally Thomason discussed the Kemke Hypothesis in a 1994 post to something called Darwin-L.
I am particularly intrigued by the Wrathful Dispersion Theory because the scriptural account of Babel seems to be pretty much the only thing in Genesis prior to the birth of Abraham which does not appear to be in irreconcilable tension with the consensus of modern secular science (at least if you don't get hung up on the dating of the event, which of course may vary depending on which textual tradition for Genesis you think is authoritative). Not that the plain-of-Shinar account has been confirmed; rather the ultimate relationship, if any, between Proto-Indo-European and, say, Proto-Na-Dene remains at least as unexplained as the origin of language in the first place. It's not clear whether this is because historical linguistics hasn't achieved very much compared to geology, biology, astronomy etc etc etc or because its practitioners are more modest and thus more willing to 'fess up that they don't have sufficient data to answer certain very interesting questions and may never get to the point of being able to answer them.
By the way, there is a certain Christian tradition of understanding the gift of tongues recorded in Acts as a specific reversal of the unfortunate results of Wrathful Dispersion, which can be seen in some of the Eastern Orthodox hymns used on Pentecost Sunday, such as the konkation which begins (in one English translation) "When the Most High came down and confused the tongues, He divided the nations, but when He distributed the tongues of fire, He called all to unity."
Happy New Year!
And Faith Jones writes:
Isaac Mozeson reminds me of Izzy Cohen. This guy shows up on all kinds of listservs promoting the idea that idioms are based on mis-hearings of the Hebrew Bible, a string of Hebrew words, or in a pinch Aramaic ones. Who exactly is supposed to have mis-heard someone speaking Biblical Hebrew and assimilated these expressions into modern English--presumably a time-traveller of some kind--is not explained.
Here are some places where he expounds his theory. Google "Izzy Cohen idioms" to get lots more. Very good for a laugh.
I worked for a number of years as a Judaica librarian, and it was my observation that many people felt the need to promote Hebrew and/or Aramaic as a source for pretty much any language. This mania was certainly found among the highly religious, but many moderately observant Jews latched on to the language issue as well. It seemed to me at times the religious fervour they couldn't work up for the theology they invested instead in linguistics. This perhaps made them feel that the basis of their belief was scientific rather than superstitious. In the event it seems to amount to the same thing.
Over the past fifteen years there has been a large influx of Chinese immigrants into the Vancouver area, so large that the impact is quite noticeable. People comment that half the students at the University of British Columbia seem to be oriental. The most common family name in the Vancouver area is now Lee 李 (also Korean), followed by Wong 王, with Smith in third place. Chan 陳 is fourth. Chinese are now the largest ethnic group in a number of areas, and in many areas most of the stores have signs in Chinese. One such area is Richmond, the suburb near the airport, where over 30% of the population is Chinese-speaking. In Richmond, all of the top ten family names are Chinese.
Not surprisingly this has caused grousing by some of the Euro-Canadian population, especially Anglo-Canadians. The biggest complaint seems to be signage in Chinese, which they can't read and which gives the area a saliently East Asian character.
A while back I was visiting a Native (that is "American Indian") friend and we went to a computer and electronics shop in Richmond. Like other stores in the area, most of the signs were in Chinese and the staff were Chinese. We got to talking about the increased Chinese presence and the unhappiness it had caused in some quarters. He said:
I don't know who these white people are to be complaining. As far as I'm concerned, they're all illegal immigrants. But if I have to choose, I prefer the Chinese.
A few days ago, I described some of the linguistic and ethnic background of the current situation in Pakistan ("Language in Pakistan", 12/28/2007). The key point: the national language of Pakistan, Urdu, is now the native language of only about 7% of the population. It was imposed at the time of the 1947 partition of British India, by the leaders of the All-India Muslim League who established the new country of Pakistan. At the time, Urdu was mainly spoken by Muslims living in what is now India, several million of whom moved to Pakistan during the upheavals that displayed some 20 million people in both directions across the new borders. The decision to impose Urdu led directly to the secession of East Pakistan (as Bangladesh) in 1971, and caused almost as much unrest in Sindh.
This post gives some historical background on the development of Urdu during the previous four centuries.
The OED on Urdu:
A. n. Formerly, = HINDUSTANI n. 2; in recent use distinguished from Hindustani (the lingua franca) and designated as the official language of Pakistan.
1813 J. SHAKESPEAR Gram. Hindustani Lang. 1 The dialect most generally used in India, especially among the Muhammadan inhabitants,..is called Urdū (camp) or Urdū zabān (camp-language). 1847 W. YATES Hindustani Dict. Pref., The Hindustaní or Urdú is peculiarly the language of the Muhammadan population of Hindústán. 1872 BEAMES Comp. Gram. Aryan Lang. I. 39 By a curious caprice, Hindi, when it uses Arabic words, is assumed to become a new language, and is called by a new name -- Urdu.
The entry for Hindustani:
2. The language of the Muslim conquerors of Hindustan, being a form of Hindi with a large admixture of Arabic, Persian, and other foreign elements; also called Urdū , i.e. zabān-i-urdū language of the camp, sc. of the Mogul conquerors. It later became a kind of lingua franca over all India, varying greatly in its vocabulary according to the locality and local language.
Formerly called Indostan, Indostans (cf. Scots). By earlier writers sometimes applied to Hindi itself.
Under whatever name, Urdu came into existence in the 16th and 17th centuries, as a lingua franca spoken in the polyglot armies, courts and administrations of the Mughal conquerors, who (though nominally derived from earlier Mongol invaders) were basically persianized turks from Central Asia. The name Urdu comes from a turkic word meaning "tent" or "army", which is also the source of English horde. The OED's etymology for horde:
[Ultimately ad. Turkī ordā, also ordī, ordū, urdū camp (see URDU), whence Russ. ordá horde, clan, crowd, troop, Pol. horda, Ger., Da. horde, Sw. hord, It. orda, Sp., Pr. horda, F. horde (1559 in Hatz.-Darm.). The initial h appears in Polish, and thence in the Western European languages. The various forms horda, horde, hord were due to the various channels through which the word came into Eng.]
And for Urdu:
[a. Hindustani (Pers.) urdū camp (ad. Turkī ordu, etc.: see HORDE n.), ellipt. for zabān-i-urdū ‘language of the camp’.]
The official language of the Mughal court and administration was Persian, with Arabic as the language of the conquerors' religion. However, the native language of the region was a dialect whose standard forms came to be known as Urdu or Hindi, depending on whether it was written with characters derived from Arabic or Sanskritic models. As Bob King puts it ("The poisonous potency of script: Hindi and Urdu", International Journal of the Sociology of Language 150:43-49, 2001):
Sanskrit diversified regionally into the languages known as the Prakrits, from which the major languages of northern and central India derive: Bengali, Marathi, Gujarati, and Oriya, as well as Hindi and Urdu. Both Hindi and Urdu evolved from Khari Boli, a branch of Western Hindi (Madhyadeshi) spoken in the region of northern India known as Haryana, which includes the present-day capital of India, Delhi.
King describes the early historical and social context of Urdu:
Arab traders began traveling to India as early as the seventh century C.E. The riches and stories they returned with whetted the appetites of the more adventurous of their coreligionists, and by the tenth century Turko-Afghan Muslims were regularly invading northwest India in search of plunder and converts. By the thirteenth century Muslims were in control of most of northern India, and three centuries later the (Muslim) Mughal dynasty ruled with an iron hand all of north India down well into the Deccan (the Deccan plateau cuts a swath from west to east through central India). The impact of Mughal rule, its greatest emperor Akbar (1542-1605) in particular, on the course of Indian history and on all aspects of Indian culture was enormous -- and fateful.
Part of the historic legacy of that impact was linguistic and graphemic. Urdu arose as the everyday language of the Mughal Empire, whose official and administrative language was Persian. Urdu was the language of the princely courts such as Delhi and Lucknow. The designation "Urdu'' is not found until 1752, when the poet Mir gave it the name Urdu-e-Mu'alla 'courtly language' (Dittmer 1972: 48). The word "Urdu'' is of Turkish origin (ordu) and originally meant 'camp'. Thus Urdu arose essentially as "the language of the (army) camp.'' Because of its Mughal and therefore Islamic provenance Urdu had by 1600 C.E. diverged from its Hindi origins through extensive absorption of Persian and Arabic linguistic material: loan words, syntactic turns of phrase, a handful of phonemes borrowed from Persian, a certain precious "courtly style,'' a Persian cast to poetry and song. The ghazal, for example, a genre of song much admired in India by Hindus and Muslims alike, is Persian in origin.
It must be remembered that from roughly 1400 C.E. onward Persia was to those countries in its cultural orbit what France was to Europe during the reign of Louis XIV, and for a long time afterward. Persian ways set the tone in the ruling courts of Turkey, Afghanistan, and northern India. Persian culture and cuisine were highly valued. The Persian language was the language of diplomacy, of treaties, of art and beauty, of song, of love. Even after the British had assumed control of most of India, moving into a political vacuum created by the shrinking of the Mughal dynasty, they continued the use of Persian as the language of administrative records until the 1830s, when English became the official language of the Raj. The Persian language maintained a "high'' function in Indian Muslim life long after it had ceased to be anybody's first spoken language there. A favorite diversion -- opium was another -- of the last Nizam of Hyderabad, a Muslim-ruled enclave in the Deccan, whose reign was ended in 1948, was composing quatrains in the Persian language. His native language was of course Urdu.
In this context, an important Urdu literary tradition, based on Persian and Arabic models, developed in the 18th and 19th centuries. This took place at the same time as the British take-over of the subcontinent, and there came to be a significant connection between the British administration and the cultural development and spread of Urdu. King explains that
The British had introduced Urdu in the Perso-Arabic script as the language of the courts and administration in the Northwestern Provinces after the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857, and Urdu was mandated as the language of the Indian army in 1864. British officials were in agreement that Urdu or, as they had begun to call it, Hindustani should become the lingua franca of all India, at least of north India.
This seems to have led to a paradoxical situation, in which the Muslim elites were simultaneously more pro-British and more anti-English (language) than their Hindu counterparts. According to R. Powell, "Language Planning and the British Empire"
In the early 19th century the Hindu elites, who had been something of an under-class in the Mughal Empire, favoured English more than the Muslims, but wanted Hindi recognised to the extent that Urdu was. While Shah Abdul Aziz was describing English education as something 'abhorrent’ and 'improper’ for Muslims, the Calcutta bourgeoisie were organising the Hindu College (opened 1816) so that their own elite could acquire English language and literature and European science.
Later in the 19th century, Syed Ahmed Khan founded the Muhammedan Anglo-Oriental College, which became Aligarh Muslim University. According to his wikipedia entry,
... Sir Syed was suspicious of the Indian independence movement and called upon Muslims to loyally serve the British Raj. He denounced nationalist organisations such as the Indian National Congress, instead forming organisations to promote Muslim unity and pro-British attitudes and activities. Sir Syed promoted the adoption of Urdu as the lingua franca of all Indian Muslims, and mentored a rising generation of Muslim politicians and intellectuals.
One of his protégés was Maulvi Abdul Haq, known as Baba-i-Urdu ("father of Urdu"). From wikipedia:
Following the establishment of the Osmania University by the Nizam Osman Ali Khan, Asif Jah VII of the Hyderabad State in 1917, Haq moved to Hyderabad to teach and help build the university. All subjects at the university were taught in Urdu, and under Haq's influence the institution became a patron of Urdu and Persian literature and linguistic heritage. ... in 1930 Haq led the group in protest against a campaign by Indian nationalists to promote the use of Hindi as the national language of India. Haq became a fierce critic of Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian National Congress, the largest political party in the nation. Suspicious and averse to the Congress and the Indian independence movement, in which Hindus composed a majority of leaders and participants, Haq joined the All India Muslim League led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
After partition in 1947, Haq moved to Karachi as one of the millions of Urdu-speaking muhajirs ("settlers"), and
... re-organised the Anjuman Taraqqi-e-Urdu ..., launching journals, establishing libraries and schools, publishing a large number of books and promoting Urdu education and linguistic research. ... Haq also used his organisation for political activism, promoting the adoption of Urdu as the lingua franca and sole official language of Pakistan. He criticised the popular movement that had arisen in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) to demand the recognition of Bengali, stressing his belief that only Urdu represented Muslim heritage and should be promoted exclusively in national life. Condemning the 1952 Language movement agitations in East Pakistan, Haq was infuriated by the decision of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan to make Bengali a second official language.
More later, on the differences between Hindi and Urdu, and on the problems that Urdu apparently poses for literacy in Pakistan.
[For an interesting analysis of the political background,(before Benazir Bhutto's assassination) from the perspective of one of "the Urdu-speaking descendents of immigrants from India", see Salim Chauhan, "With or Without Musharraf -- A Mohajir's Perspective", 4/11/2007. His bitter comments about the "sons of the soil" are (I guess) directed at the feudal landowners who are still a dominant power in Pakistan -- as William Dalrymple wrote recently ("Pakistan's flawed and feudal princess", 12/30/2007):
Real democracy has never thrived in Pakistan, in part because landowning remains the principal social base from which politicians emerge.
The educated middle class is in Pakistan still largely excluded from the political process. As a result, in many of the more backward parts of Pakistan, the feudal landowner expects his people to vote for his chosen candidate. As writer Ahmed Rashid put it: 'In some constituencies, if the feudals put up their dog as a candidate, that dog would get elected with 99 per cent of the vote.'
And Chahan's mention of "[t]he Urdu-speaking collaborators, left at the mercy of the victorious Mukhti Bahini, ... 'stranded' in a hostile country and shamelessly abandoned by the very country which they supported" is a reference to the 600,000 or so Urdu-speaking ethnic Biharis who have been stranded as officially stateless refugees in Bangladesh since 1971, one of the many deeply depressing aspects of this region's recent history.]
To follow up on Mark's discussion of the story of the tower of Bab-El, I had a look at the Book of Mormon, which turns out to mention the story in passing in several places.
It also spake a few words concerning his fathers. And his first parents came out from the tower, at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people; and the severity of the Lord fell upon them according to his judgments, which are just; and their bones lay scattered in the land northward.
Now after Mosiah had finished translating these records, behold, it gave an account of the people who were destroyed, from the time that they were destroyed back to the building of the great tower, at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people and they were scattered abroad upon the face of all the earth, yea, and even from that time back until the creation of Adam.
Perhaps the most interesting part is the bit in the Book of Ether which mentions that the language of certain people was not "confounded", which presumably means that these people were allowed to retain the language that they had hitherto spoken.
Which Jared came forth with his brother and their families, with some others and their families, from the great tower, at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people, and swore in his wrath that they should be scattered upon all the face of the earth; and according to the word of the Lord the people were scattered.
And the brother of Jared being a large and mighty man, and a man highly favored of the Lord, Jared, his brother, said unto him: Cry unto the Lord, that he will not confound us that we may not understand our words.
And it came to pass that the brother of Jared did cry unto the Lord, and the Lord had compassion upon Jared; therefore he did not confound the language of Jared; and Jared and his brother were not confounded.
Then Jared said unto his brother: Cry again unto the Lord, and it may be that he will turn away his anger from them who are our friends, that he confound not their language.
And it came to pass that the brother of Jared did cry unto the Lord, and the Lord had compassion upon their friends and their families also, that they were not confounded.
There is also a reference to a language having become "corrupted", which presumably describes language change:
And at the time that Mosiah discovered them, they had become exceedingly numerous. Nevertheless, they had had many wars and serious contentions, and had fallen by the sword from time to time; and their language had become corrupted; and they had brought no records with them; and they denied the being of their Creator; and Mosiah, nor the people of Mosiah, could understand them.
Speaking (a tad belatedly) of English-only insanity (of the non-parodic kind), y'all might want to take a look at the mass of comments on my "Speak xkcd or die" from earlier this month (Dec. 6). I believe this is the most commentary I've ever gotten on a post (35 so far, several in just the past week or so). Almost certainly, many of these comments are the longest ever for one of my posts. And no doubt, several of these comments contain some very virulent vitriol (sorry, couldn't resist the alliteration). People really seem to care about this national language business, and folks like Fred Thompson are speaking right to them.
I haven't censored any of the comments, and so far I have also resisted any temptation to jump in and respond to any of them. Like the comic that was the subject of the post, I think each comment speaks for itself. But I will add here one overall response, a quote from Sally Johnson's excellent 2001 Journal of Sociolinguistics article ("Who's misunderstanding whom? Sociolinguistics, public debate and the media"), which I found via American English: Dialects and Variation (by Walt Wolfram and Natalie Schilling-Estes; see p. 212).
"It is not language per se, but its power to function as a 'proxy' for wider social issues which fans the flames of public disputes over language." (Johnson 2001, p. 599)
[ Comments? ]
Following up on yesterday's post "The science and theology of global language change", Cosma Shalizi writes:
I cannot, to my shame, recall whether the Qu'ran includes a version of the Babel story, but there is a famous passage where it seems to look favorably on this sort of diversity (49:13, Pickthall trans.):
O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. Lo! the noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Lo! Allah is Knower, Aware.
And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the difference of your languages and colours. Lo! herein indeed are portents for men of knowledge.
Arguably 11:118 is to a similar vein,
And if thy Lord had willed, He verily would have made mankind one nation, yet they cease not differing.
(Pickthall was an English convert, and self-consciously tried to make his translation sound like the King James Bible, which I find dubious but it's public domain now.)
See http://bostonreview.net/BR28.2/abou.html more generally.
I wonder, have these verses ever been used as the basis for language documentation, preservation or revival?
With respect to the Babel story, a bit of web searching turns up two koranic references to an unnamed impious tower, involving Pharaoh and Haman but not linguistic diversity. Sticking with the Pickthall translation:
28:38 And Pharaoh said: O chiefs! I know not that ye have a god other than me, so kindle for me (a fire), O Haman, to bake the mud; and set up for me a lofty tower in order that I may survey the god of Moses; and lo! I deem him of the liars.
40:36 And Pharaoh said: O Haman! Build for me a tower that haply I may reach the roads,
40:37: The roads of the heavens, and may look upon the god of Moses, though verily I think him a liar. Thus was the evil that he did made fairseeming unto Pharaoh, and he was debarred from the (right) way. The plot of Pharaoh ended but in ruin.
Marc van Oostendorp writes:
Obviously, the most famous story about linguistic diversity in the Bible is Genesis 11. But there was linguistic diversity even before they built the tower. Genesis 10 lists the children of Noah after the flood, and where they went to live. Gen 10:5 then says that they went there 'each with their own tongue, according to their clans in their nations'. I once read about a theological debate about this apparent inconsistency, but I don't remember what the outcome of this debate was.
For those people who believe in the New Testament, there obviously also is the story of Pentacost, when Jesus' disciples start speaking in tongues, and this is considered to be a gift of God.
David Eddyshaw writes:
I'm probably one of a rather small proportion of LL readers who actually *is* a Biblical inerrantist.
I can't see myself why believing the Babel story would entail denying subsequent changes in language. I haven't ever heard of anybody who did make this deduction, though I don't doubt there are some out there. (I know a really excellent surgeon, who is highly intelligent and incidentally one of the nicest people I've ever worked with, who believes that Heaven is a cube, based on a totally literal interpretation of the book of Revelation which I would have thought would have astonished the author of the book).
Come to that, as a Brit, I may well not be very like a typical American inerrantist. When I lived in Nigeria I used to know quite a lot of missionaries from the US, and found that in their terms I often counted as a dodgy liberal theologically (I appreciated the thrill).
FWIW there are quite a number of different attitudes to the Bible held by people all of whom would sincerely describe themselves as inerrantists. It's not always clear a priori what "counts" as an error, so denying their presence can amount to rather different things in practice. Evidently- parallel passages in Kings and Chronicles, for example, have (very) different numbers for sizes of armies; unless you magic away all such instances as convenient textual corruption, you have to accept that there are errors ("errors"?) which don't matter. In the UK at any rate, I've yet to meet anybody who truly maintained the contrary.
In practice, I've found that most people happily apply labels like "inerrantist" to themselves and blithely leave worrying about the details to theological geeks. It's a pretty standard trope in sermons that pretty few of us who claim to believe in Biblical inerrancy are all that familiar with the actual book in any detail. But mutatis mutandis, that applies to pretty much everybody outside their own areas of geekitude, I suppose.
Well, there's the same Occam's Razor argument as in the case of biological evolution -- some may find it odd to suppose that diversity (of languages or of species) is of two kinds, one natural and the other miraculous. If natural processes can create some languages and species, why not all? I guess that there's no problem here for those who think that the world mostly runs on naturalistic principles, with occasional divine interventions ad libitum.
Bill Poser writes:
M____ R_________ [someone who was in grad school with Bill] experienced a problem with the story of Bab-el when we were students. The orthodox believe that Hebrew was the first language. (God knows all languages, but the angels know only Hebrew, which puts paid to that Joan of Arc nonsense...) It seemed to her that the arguments for a relationship between Hebrew and Arabic were sound, but she wasn't sure that this view was consistent with the Torah: if Hebrew is the first language and existed prior to the sundering of languages at Bab-el, and if Arabic is one of the many languages resulting from the sundering, could there be a relationship between them? She was going to ask her tzadek. I don't know what answer he gave.
George Corley writes:
Reading your post Science and Theology of Language, I was reminded of a passing mention of linguistics buried in the Creation Museum -- which was recently built by Answers in Genesis to present archaeological evidence in the framework of the Biblical creation myth. The museum itself includes pseudoscientific explanations for everything from carnivorous animals to the disappearance of the dinosaurs and in the framework of that mythos while explicitly rejecting "Human Reason" (actually stating such in several displays) in favor of "God's Word".
The relevant panel is here:
The section includes a radial diagram of language families with Babel at the center, with the text:
The Bible claims that God created a number of human languages at the Tower of Babel "according to their families." Nineteenth-century linguists argued that languages evolved slowly, one by one. Today linguists recognize languages fall into distinct "families" of recent origin.
I'm sure you can see the fallacies of the statement rather quickly. Notably, the phrase "according to their families" does not appear in the Babel myth, but rather comes from the wrap up to the Flood story, describing the origins of different peoples and languages as originating from Noah's three sons.
The Creation Museum is, of course, among the most extreme creationist organizations there are. I don't think there's any mention of the Babel theory among more moderate Christians.
Sally Thomason discussed the Creation Museum's linguistic theories last summer -- see "Creationist Linguistics", 8/1/2007. As she suggests, the panel's theory seems to be that all the distinct language families -- between whom no relationship can be proved, due to the inevitable decay of evidence with time -- originated at the babelian dispersion, with further subdivision by natural evolutionary processes since then. This seems analogous to the view that some taxonomic level of plants and animals (genera? famlies? kingdoms?) was created by the intelligent designer, with finer distinctions evolving by darwinian means. I guess that creationists do believe something of the sort, though perhaps it's that the species level was created, with subspecific variation evolving by natural processes.
[Update: Matthew Watson has drawn my attention to this discussion, which basically confirms in a more detailed way the theory that "each distinct language family is the offshoot of an original Babel 'stem language' which did not arise by change from a previous ancestral language".]
It's Bring a Friend to Work Weekend (BaFtWWe) here at Language Log Plaza, and I decided to bring two friends, my UCSD colleagues Andy Kehler and Roger Levy. They've both been dying to meet some of the senior writing staff, but nobody seems to be around. (Funny, since it was a couple of members of the senior staff who told me about BaFtWWe in the first place. Hmm.) Anyway, while I was running around trying to find Mark, Arnold, either of the Geoffs, Bill, Sally, Roger, or anyone at all really, I left Andy and Roger by the water cooler, which we've recently equipped with a recording device in order to capture the unique conversations that so often take place there. Here's an expurgated transcript of Andy and Roger's conversation which I thought Language Log readers might enjoy.
|Andy:||I just saw this headline on the FoxNews website.
Woman whose diamond ring vanished while she made fudge for bake sale turns up inside piece of the candy she soldThis can only mean that the woman showed up inside the candy, and not the ring, right? Yeesh.
|Roger:||According to Whitney Tabor it can also mean the bake sale turned up inside the candy...|
|Andy:||That's pretty funny. Somehow that parse didn't jump out at me as much as it does in the "the coach smiled at the player tossed the frisbee" cases.|
(notices the recording device; leans in) (Background if this is opaque to any of you: people read the above sentence more slowly than one in which "tossed" is replaced with "thrown", which, according to Whit Tabor, is because "the player tossed the frisbee" is an allowable sentence, even though an incremental parser should know it can't be one in this particular syntactic context.)
[ Comments? ]
Some of our satirists need to go back to Sunday school. Dennis Baron writes ("U.N. proclaims 2008 the International Year of Language", 12/30/2007):
While the rest of the world lines up to support the U.N.’s International Languages Year, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Dr. Zalmay Khalilzad has announced that America’s participation remains problematic. The Bush administration is claiming that languages were theories, not scientifically-proven facts, and the president himself recently affirmed his belief that God created English in just six days and promised to veto the use of federal funds to teach language evolution to impressionable children.
But surely those who believe in biblical inerrancy accept that the bible treats linguistic differences as facts, e.g.
Neh.13:24 And their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews' language, but according to the language of each people.
Esth.1:22 For he sent letters into all the king's provinces, into every province according to the writing thereof, and to every people after their language, that every man should bear rule in his own house, and that it should be published according to the language of every people.
Pss.81:5 This he ordained in Joseph for a testimony, when he went out through the land of Egypt: where I heard a language that I understood not.
Isa.36:11 Then said Eliakim and Shebna and Joah unto Rabshakeh, Speak, I pray thee, unto thy servants in the Syrian language; for we understand it: and speak not to us in the Jews' language, in the ears of the people that are on the wall.
Jer.5:15 Lo, I will bring a nation upon you from far, O house of Israel, saith the LORD: it is a mighty nation, it is an ancient nation, a nation whose language thou knowest not, neither understandest what they say.
Ezek.3:6 Not to many people of a strange speech and of an hard language, whose words thou canst not understand. Surely, had I sent thee to them, they would have hearkened unto thee.
And most important, the world's different languages (presumably including English) were not part of the original six days of creation, but were ginned up much later, in Genesis 11:
 And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.
 And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.
 And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter.
 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.
 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.
 And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.
 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.
The international movement to teach this history in the public schools is known as "Wrathful Dispersion Theory". Or, rather, it might be know by that name, if it existed -- the status of linguistic instruction in our schools is so anomalously low that no one has felt the need to create such a movement
This all leaves me uncertain what the theology of linguistic diversity might be, for those people to whom such things matter. On one hand, the creation of diverse languages was a punishment, not a reward or an example of divine bounty, so eliminating all the world's languages in favor of English might be seen as a good thing, restoring the world to a state closer to the creator's original plan. On the other hand, linguistic diversity is a divine punishment for human technological presumption, and who are we to interfere?
While we're on the subject, I've often wondered whether it's consistent with biblical inerrancy to believe that new languages (such as English) have continued to evolve after the Babelian dispersion? And if so...
In any case, it's lame to mock the fundamentalists without maintaining a modicum of biblical consistency.
One of Baron's digs at our current president did make me laugh, though I've never been a fan of the Bushisms industry in general:
Reacting to a New York Times report that Marvel Comics has just released a bilingual Fantastic Four comic book, the president also told reporters in a Rose Garden press briefing that the United States would not be a signatory to any multinational treaties attempting to reverse global language change. He urged everyone living in the United States to speak English, not Spanish, and, demonstrating his commitment to make English America’s official language, he resolved to begin learning English right away.
During George W. Bush's first term, I wrote to the folks at MoveOn.org to suggest that their name, coined in response to Republican exploitation of Bill Clinton's extramarital peccadillos, ought also to be applied to W's linguistic practices. But there are a few good Bush language jokes, just as there were a certain number of good Clinton sex jokes, and this is one of them.
Matt Hutson writes:
My older sister used to be chastised by my parents for, like, saying "like" too much, when she was younger. Over Christmas, I realized how much she, you know, says "you know." I wonder if she simply replaced "like" with "you know" at some point many years ago. (She is an extrovert, by the way, perhaps hence not saying "I mean.")
Matt is following up on an earlier on-line conversation about personality, gender and filler phrases ("News flash: the biggest users of 'like totally' are middle-aged men", 8/18/2007; "I mean, you know", 8/19/2007 ).
I still don't know anything about possible correlations between personality types and choice of fillers; and I don't have anything helpful to say about possible trade-offs among fillers, though there's an interesting literature on functional similarities and differences in such phrases. But I can contribute a quick Breakfast Experiment™, based on LDC Online's collection of English Conversations, to show that there's general tendency for people to use "you know" somewhat more often in their middle years:
of "you know"
The age categories are pretty crude, and not optimized to find differences in any particular variable, so a 28% increase between the "20-39" and "40-59" categories is striking. If we took the time to break out the age effect without grouping into pre-defined bins, the magnitude would probably be even greater.
Of course, Matt is talking about perception of individual differences, which might be very far from the group norms. But what he perceives as his sister's filler-phase trajectory is qualitatively congruent with the overall generational pattern, at least as shown in this apparent-time snapshot.
Interestingly, the general tendency of older women to talk more like younger men (see "Young men talk like old women", 11/6/2005; "Busy tongues", 12/31/2006; "What men and women blog about", 7/8/2007) is confirmed again in this case:
Here are the counts in tabular form:
of "you know"
of "you know"
It seems to me that there's something going on here, in the effects of age and sex on linguistic variables, that's worth following up further. We've seen a similar general pattern in use of uh and um, where men use uh more than women, and older people use uh more than younger people, while men use um less than women, and older people use um less than younger people; in amount of talk, where males talk more than females, and older people talk more than younger people; in web-log vocabulary choice, where Schler et al. 2006 found that
Regardless of gender, writing style grows increasingly "male" with age ...
and now in the conversational frequency of you know.
This is reminiscent of the general tendency of the male/female opposition to line up sociolinguistically with informal/formal and lower-class/higher-class oppositions. For linguistic variables that are changing rapidly, we also expect to see male/female lining up with older/younger because women tend to lead most changes. However, it seems very unlikely that any of the variables discussed here are involved in such secular trends.
We might also connect this pattern with the general tendency in our culture, where feminine identity tends to be culturally marked (though biologically the default), and the degree of marking stereotypically decreases with age. But in the case of uh and um, the degree of gender differentiation seems to stay the same across age, although its effects change systematically in ways that see older women and younger men behaving similarly.
[Caveats: Other demographic variables (like education, and geographical region) are not necessarily balanced across sex and age classes in the data given above. And the differences by sex in number of you knows may be partly attributed to the small sex differences in word count per conversation -- see "Gabby guys: the effect size", 9/23/2006.
And as always, we're talking about modest group differences in overlapping distributions of individual characteristics, not qualitative differences in platonic archtypes -- though it remains difficult to find ways to talk and write that aren't misleading in this respect, and (perhaps therefore) deeply problematic for most of us to avoid sliding into conceptual confusion.]
The Christmas double issue of my favorite magazine, The Economist, has enough bad puns in the headlines and subheads for the various features to fill a box of British traditional Christmas crackers. (They always contain a little slip of paper with a bad pun to read out to the assembled Yuletide company. "How does Santa Claus like his pizza? Deep pan, crisp and even!". And everyone groans to show that they know the words to "Good King Wenceslas".) The baddest subhead in the whole issue? A matter of taste; I'm sure "From mutiny to bounty" (over a story about ending staff discord and acquiring new resources at the World Bank) will appeal to some. But my vote goes to the translinguistic punning contents-page subhead for an article about the genetics of wine grapes. There is a dispute among theoretically-inclined wine experts, you see, somewhat akin to the division between nativists and empiricists in the matter of language acquisition. French winemakers tend to think that the special mix of soil and climate found in the particular territory where the vineyard is located — an environmental factor — is the key determinant of wine quality. But some heretics are saying that the innate characteristics of the grapes are overwhelmingly more important. Already they have mapped the genome of pinot noir. The Economist subhead: "The war on terroir." Everyone groan to show that you know French.
The Malaysian government has not backed down on its attempt to restrict the use of the term Allah to the Muslim god, so the Roman Catholic newspaper The Herald has filed suit against the government. The Sabah Evangelical Church of Borneo has filed its own suit against the government, which has blocked the importation of religious children's books containing the word.
Republican Presidential hopeful Fred Thompson provided a stunning example of the stupidity of the English-only movement during a campaign stop in Iowa a few days ago, noted by Ed Brayton over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars. He assigned partial blame for the mortgage crisis to illegal immigrants, who, he alleges, get themselves into mortgages that they cannot afford because they lack sufficient knowledge of English to understand the terms, saying "A lot of them couldn't communicate with the people they were getting the mortgage from". He cited no evidence for this claim; to my knowledge there isn't any. Indeed, I wonder how many illegal immigrants are in a position to buy a home.
In the same exchange he agreed with a questioner that "it's sickening" that "everything is in Spanish" and said that English should be made the national language. That makes a lot of sense: if immigrants are causing problems through their lack of knowledge of English, make sure that they have even less opportunity to communicate by reducing the use of other languages. I like him better on Law and Order.
Update: Reader Nancy Jane Moore points to this report on how illegal immigrants are often good risks for mortgages.
The American Dialect Society's vote for Word of the Year is fast approaching, bringing an end to the WOTY season here in the States. In the UK, a Word of the Year is selected annually by Susie Dent, word expert on the popular game show Countdown and author of The Language Report. This year her choice was footprint, as in carbon footprint. That's an eco-friendly word with international appeal, but last year's choice was a head-scratcher for most people outside of Britain: bovvered. Now LeftPondians will finally be enlightened about the source of this puzzling word, with the US premiere of "The Catherine Tate Show" on BBC America tonight. In the show's comedy sketches, Tate skillfully inhabits various personae, including the teenager Lauren Cooper, who responds to any inconvenience with her now-famous catchphrase, "Am I bovvered?"
As the New York Times review explains, fully appreciating the show often depends on "a nuanced sense of cultural distinctions, familiarity with the latest British slang, and the ability to understand it when it is uttered rapid-fire in Ms. Tate’s signature singsong style." Still, that shouldn't scare off American viewers, especially those curious about the state of British English today. As an appetizer, here are some video excerpts from the show that are particularly rich from a linguistic perspective.
Though Lauren is an expert at slinging her own idiosyncratic slang, she can get tripped up by a trendy Americanism:
In a reversal of expected conversational roles, Tony Blair turns the tables on Lauren:
Lauren ain't bovvered in French either:
And finally here's another of Tate's regular characters, eager office worker Helen Marsh, showing off her (faux-)translating skills: