I don’t think I’ve seen this question in the forums. There are posts related to the Tower of Babel and language, but I’m interested in English specifically.
I support evolution and I’m looking for feedback for an idea I have to debate the issue. Instead of arguing endlessly, I want to play Devil’s advocate and concede the point (ie. Creation/ID/whatever is wonderful, explains everything, etc.) and then ask about the Creation of the English Language English, the third most spoken language in the world; the most prevalent language of the Internet; the lingua franca of international politics, commerce, science, entertainment; the language with more Bible translations than any other; and the language we’re using in this forum: What about its creation?
Who, when, where, how and in what form was it created?
I’m interested mostly in responses from creationists or ID supporters, since I figure most evolutionists would do what I would do if faced with this question: pull down an anthropology or linguistics textbook and be satisfied with the answer there.
So anyway... Was it created by God or human? If human, was it one human or lots? Was it all at once or over a period of time? When did it start? Is it still happening? If God, when? Did He come to Medieval England to give it to the English? Was it at Babel? Were people speaking English in ancient Mesopotamia? Why no record of English back then? Was it like Old English, Modern English or something else? Did it derive from a Germanic precursor? Was that by design? Whose design? Was it purposeful or unconscious design? Does language design happen today? Can you or I act to create language?
Just a note of clarification. I've found that a lot of people think that Shakespeare writes in old english. You know, like "the olde tyme" signs you see.
Old English refers to the period of english language history that looks like this: Hwæt! wē Gār-Dena in geār-dagum þeod-cyninga, þrym gefrunon, hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon Oft Scyld Scefing sceaþena þreatum monegum mægþum, meodosetla ofteah egsode eorl. Syððan ærest wearð feasceaft funden, he þæs frofre gebad weox under wolcnum, weorðmyndum þah oðþæt him æghwylc þara ymbsittendra ofer hronrade hyran scolde gomban gyldan. Þæt wæs god cyning!
Half of it is some standard introductory linguistics and the other half is very bizarre pseudoscience. This passage in particular really bothers me:
"In fact, I think it is misleading to talk about any ‘evolution of language.’ Changes in language come about mostly from humanity’s inventiveness, innate creativity, and flexibility, not from random genetic mutations filtered by selection."
Obviously evoking ID here. But my question is WHICH humans and when and where? Is there a big conference every ten years in England to determine what changes to make to the language? Can I make some changes now?
If they're honest, they have to admit the changes made are NOT consciously directed by the speakers (intelligent or not) And if that's true, then I think you might as well say that they ARE random changes -- and incidentally "mutation" is just another word for change. So if you can accept that the aggregate of many of these random mutations can transform one language to a completely different language (the average English speaker today cannot understand Old English), then it can account for any and all language change.
And then how different is that from biological evolution?!??!
There really is no (a)sexual reproduction in languages that I'm aware. I know there are cases where languages somewhat combined--such as Norman French + Old English = Middle English, but I'm not sure if these would count.
Also, is there a selection field with which to remove unsuccseful words? What makes a word succesful--the number of people who use it? Are adverse words actively removed?
There really is no (a)sexual reproduction in languages that I'm aware.
No, but relevant to the idea of "macroevolution", the language spoken by a population does change through the accumulation of small changes, and when populations become separated for a long length of time the languages will evolve in different ways. This allows one to develop principles that allow one to develop phylogenic trees, and, in fact, the general histories of the Indo-European languages are pretty much uncontroversial (although that can't be said for some ideas about the details), and similarly for the Afro-Asiatic Family, the Niger-Congo Family, and so forth.
As far as I know, the division of the world's languages into several large families aren't disputed by creationists -- perhaps they believe that Proto-Indoeuropean and Proto-Sino-Tibetan and the others were the original languages "created" after the Babel fiasco. But what is interesting is that the very same techniques that allow us to group the languages into a phylogenic tree showing the genetic relationships (and also used in Textual Criticism to group extant copies of pre-printing press manuscripts into similar genetic relationships) also end up grouping the biological species into a very similar, and, in fact, more detailed hierarchical classification. To me, the implications are obvious....
Computers have cut-and-paste functions. So does right-wing historical memory. -- Rick Perlstein
English has undoubtedly changed over time. However, much like post-Flood biological evolution, post-Babel linguistic evolution has only occurred within the divided kinds created there (Gen. 11:9).
English is a good example, in fact. Only 2.4% of world languages make use of the interdental fricatives (the 'th' sound). In the OE text shown in the post above, we see the same sound (represented by þ,ð), which demonstrates that English has always possessed the key characteristics that deﬁne its kind, even if there has been slight changes within.
Languages can add words, such as English did during the Middle English period from French, but only words that posses the characteristics of that language's kind. Imagine if you saw a dog that had all the characteristics of a human. It would not be improbable to assume that that 'creature' would be accepted into the human kind because of the similarities that it shared. Speaking of biological creatures, however, can be a bad example, since there would never be any cross-kind similarities because we know they were all created from separate kinds (Gen. 1–2), and have remained separate throughout history. But with languages, we know that they were all created from one language (Gen. 11:6), and we see that reﬂected in that some of them share similar features. So, when words mimicking English features are found in French, it's not unlikely that they could be assimilated into the language, provided there was some sort of physical contact between the two languages (such as in the French invasion of English).
I'm sorry for derailing this topic a little bit, but I can't help being reminded of what Hovind has to say about language.
"Probably, after the Flood, the Tower of Babel took place. God put them into different language groups. They spread out. Those that spoke French went one way. Those that spoke German went a different way. Those that spoke Spanish went a different way." - Hovind
Um, if you don't know, French and Spanish both evolved straight from Latin. That's why they are called Romance Languages.
Owing to the deficiency of the English language, I have occasionally used the academic jargon generator to produce phrases that even I don't fully understand. The jargons are not meant to offend anyone or to insult anyone's intelligence!
I'm more than a little astonished that you can call the changes from our Modern English and going back further to Old English and earlier "slight changes". As I said before a Modern English speaker wouldn't be able to make neither heads nor tails of OE.
I would really appreciate a bit more detail then, relating to my first post. It sounds like you believe that English ...metamorphosized? (I don't know what word you prefer) from a language that was created at Babel. What was that language? Was it Indo-European? German? Old English? I'm really interested in knowing what you think the progression was. When did we first see what we call Old English?
Incidentally, do you believe that post-Babel changes can be explained for the most part by natural processes (i.e. conscious agents rarely act to create changes?)
We simply cannot know, but it is unlikely to have been anything with which we are today familiar.
As I said before a Modern English speaker wouldn't be able to make neither heads nor tails of OE.
This is one of an interesting question, and I, of course, agree. The thing is, however, if a newborn child were placed into an OE setting, he could learn the language with no problems. We know that all humans are descendent from a single man. Interestingly enough, humans all share a common gene that allows for us to acquire language 'naturally'. But, just as the gene is one derived from the original man, so to must be the language a language derived from the original language. This, then, makes even more sense when we realise that all humans can learn any language if born in any part of the world. This is because all languages have the same base (Gen. 11:1), and all humans have the same genetic predisposition to that base (Gen. 9:1).
This information, of course, only makes sense if we recognise that all languages have a single common origin, that all humans have a single common origin, and that the split between the language lineages must have happened after the split in the human lineages. In other words, this information all makes sense in light of what the Bible tells us to be the truth.