Language Origin MYTHS

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by one_raven, Nov 3, 2009.

  1. one_raven God is a Chinese Whisper Valued Senior Member

    Being that my Language Origins thread was hijacked (partially by me

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    ) I decided to start another one that is supposed to be about religious myths/legends/stories regarding the origin of language.

    I am well aware of the the story of the Tower of Babel and the various Mesopotamian stoies which preceed it.
    I am not, however, looking for different religious ideas of the cause of the divergence of language or the diaspora of people - at least not in this thread.
    What I am hoping for is some insight to the beliefs of the birth of language itself.

    The Greek and Roman Gods gave us everything - every human gift and trait - piecemeal. There MUST be a God who gave us language - or some myth about the birth of language.
    I also find it difficult to believe that the Native Americans don't have some myths regarding the formation of language.
    What God(s) gave us the gift of language?

    I posted two wiki links in the other thread, that I haven't yet had time to read, but will post here again:

    I did catch a glimpse of some encyclopedia article about Indra giving the gift of language to people, but I didn't have access to the article and I asked a few Hindu friends of mine and they were unaware of that story.

    Any insight?
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2009
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  3. madanthonywayne Morning in America Registered Senior Member

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  5. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

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  7. one_raven God is a Chinese Whisper Valued Senior Member

    I have heard that the Vedas were delivered to early humans from the Gods by way of bird-like songs. I brought this up in the discussion of Indra I mentioned.

    I have not read any attempt at explaining how this was supposed to have come about, however.
    I look forwward to checking out the links.

    It is certainly possible, but then, how could the Vedas have been understood?
    Are you saying that Vedic wisdom came from learning to translate bird language? :bugeye:
  8. Ophiolite Valued Senior Member

    That sounds cuckoo to me.

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  9. John99 Banned Banned

    like wow man...
  10. one_raven God is a Chinese Whisper Valued Senior Member

  11. Medicine*Woman Jesus: Mythstory--Not History! Valued Senior Member

    M*W: I've always been interested in the genesis of language. I read something many, many years ago (when I was a kid) that all language sprang from Phoenicia (don't know if this is true), but the book included a map of how language spread out like a fan from the Cradle of Civilization to the other parts of the world. In my travels, I've always found it interesting how language changes as you travel from place to place. I was fluent in German until I went from Frankfurt am Main to Munich. I couldn't understand Bavarian German! It's like that in America, too. There are so many dialects in Texas that you can tell what part of the state they are from. Houston has about four major dialects, and they all sound funny to me. When I first came to Texas, I was a Southern girl with a very Deep South dialect. The other kids made fun of me! I haven't completely lost my Southern dialect, and my kids who were born and raised elsewhere still make fun of my accent. It's just something I can't get rid of (nor do I want to). Having been in the military, I was able to learn other American dialects. Someone said a while back, maybe in another thread, that we don't speak English, we speak American. That is so true, and we should be proud of it.

    It makes sense that ancient humans imitated animal sounds. Maybe they did this to lure animals to the kill. I like this thread, and hope to learn a lot from it. Where would we be without being able to communicate?
  12. madanthonywayne Morning in America Registered Senior Member

    It would certainly be a logical way to invent words, simply imitate the sound the thing makes to refer to it. Over time, the sound used would become shorter and more stylized to increase efficiency. And other words for things that don't make sounds would soon follow. Next would come verbs, grammer, a real language.
  13. nietzschefan Thread Killer Valued Senior Member

    Sumerians believed the God Enki (Or Ea to Akkadians/Babylonians) taught humans the gift of language and civilization.

    He later "confused" it:

    Enki makes up one third of the Hebrew God YHWH, a direct rip of characteristics from Enki(Creator of Man), Enlil(The flood giver) and Anu(Lord of Heaven).
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2009
  14. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    * * * * NOTE FROM THE MODERATOR * * * *

    Please keep this thread on topic. It is not about the origin of language. It is about MYTHS about the origin of language. We already have a thread going about LANGUAGE ORIGINS.
    This is definitely a myth. Phoenician is a Semitic language; its closest living relative is Hebrew. The Semitic languages are just one branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family which also includes the Berber, Chadic, Egyptian, Cushitic and Omotic branches. Linguists do not all agree on this specific detailed breakdown but the point is that Phoenician and its relatives are members of a much larger group of more distantly related languages.

    Phoenician, Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic and the other Semitic languages have a common ancestor; none of them is the oldest, original language in this clade. And that common ancestor is at the level of the common ancestor of Ancient Egyptian and its close relatives. Both of those common ancestors, as well as the common ancestors of the other branches, have an even older common ancestor to which we give the ungainly name Proto-Afro-Asiatic. That is the original language from which all of the ancient and modern Afro-Asiatic languages are descended.

    At this point we run into the "ten-thousand year curtain." Languages change so much over the millennia that within ten thousand years absolutely everything can turn over: vocabulary, phonetics, grammar, syntax, even the basic world view of the speakers that guides the development of the language. That's the point beyond which it's impossible to tell whether two languages are related. Think of it as "the telephone game" writ large.

    My point is that we absolutely do not know whether the world's myriad language families are related to each other. So the hypothesis that they all sprang from a common ancestor cannot be proven or disproved. However, whether or not this is true, all language families are at least 10,000 years old, which takes them back to the Neolithic Era, far earlier than any civilization, Phoenician (ca. 1500BCE) or otherwise.

    Besides Afro-Asiatic and our own family, Indo-European, other families include:
    • Dravidian (the non-Indo-European languages of India)
    • Sino-Tibetan (includes Mandarin, Wu and the other Chinese languages)
    • Malayo-Polynesian (Hawaiian, Samoan, Tagalog, etc.)
    • Mongolic (Turkish, Mongolian, Uzbek, etc.)
    • Finno-Ugric (Finnish, Estonian, Sami or "Lapp," etc.)
    • Niger-Congo (many African languages)
    • Eskimo-Aleut
    • Na-Dene (about half the languages of the New World)
    • And many other families.
    Interesting experience. I've always found that as a foreigner my ears are not well enough tuned to detect the differences between dialects of a foreign language. People in Beijing and Sichuan speak two different dialects of Mandarin and they have great difficulty understanding each other until they spend some time together. I studied Beijing Mandarin (probably the only dialect that is formally taught) and had a girlfriend from Sichuan who could speak both dialects. Once I heard her talking with her friends from Sichuan in Sichuan dialect. After a few minutes I said, "Why are you lying to your friends? You know that what you just said isn't true and I'm standing right here." Her jaw fell to the floor, since she assumed I couldn't understand Sichaun. To me it just sounded like Mandarin with a funny accent--which is basically what it is.
    The definition of "dialects" is two variants of a language with significant differences in vocabulary and/or grammar (not just pronunciation) which are nonetheless mutually intercomprehensible. So English is the language; British English and American English are major dialects. So are Australian English and Indian English. There are variants within British and American English that are sometimes categorized as dialects, but it stretches the definition. The main difference is usually pronunciation, with a few idioms or slang words as well.

    Southern American, for example, differs from Standard American primarily in phonetics. It's arguably only an accent, not a dialect. The only difference in vocabulary that most of us could think of on the spur of the moment is the second-person plural pronoun "y'all" and its possessive case "y'all's".

    African-American Vernacular English or AAVE (or "Ebonics" to use the government's silly name that is used only in the halls of government such as its schools) is more of a true dialect, with differences in grammar from Standard American. However, it could also be argued that it's a cant--a deliberate variant crafted like a code to thwart understanding by outsiders--since these days most people who speak AAVE at home are perfectly fluent in Standard American when circumstances call for it.
    Parrots have a very complex vocal apparatus too, arguably even more complex than ours. They're famous for mimicking every sound in their environment. (If you want your husband to fix a squeaky door, get a parrot. Within a month he'll be making the same noise, only MUCH LOUDER.) Members of social species seem to enjoy making sounds, and the babies start by mimicking the ones they hear.
    We wouldn't be able to ask or answer that question.

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  15. Pandaemoni Valued Senior Member

    I suspect what you are remembering is that the Phoenician/Canaanite alphabet spread around the Mediterranean and became the basis for (or at least a strong influence on) the Greek and Roman alphabets.
  16. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

    Well I'm not sure if its a myth or not that language originated from bird song
  17. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Phoenicia was a prosperous coastal civilization with a huge merchant fleet that visited all the Mediterranean ports in Europe, Africa and Asia, and caravans that traveled east. Language follows the coin, not the flag, and the same applies to written language.

    The Phoenician phonetic writing system is technically an abjad, not an alphabet, because the symbols represent consonants and diacritical marks for vowels are an optional afterthought (if used at all--they're absent in Egyptian hieroglyphics). Abjads are a natural invention for the Afro-Asiatic languages, because vowels are not phonemic. E.g., in Hebrew there is only one word with the consonant combination k-sh-r: kosher, so leaving out the vowels creates no ambiguity or misunderstanding.

    More famously, tradition has it that since the Jews consider it blasphemy to say God's name aloud, the name YHWH was never written with its vowels so no one knows how to say it correctly. They arbitrarily pronounce it Yahweh, or Yave in Modern Israeli Hebrew, and we use the arbitrary Latin form "Jehovah." Apparently they're weak on probability theory and don't realize that they might have stumbled onto the correct combination of two or three vowels by chance.

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    The Phoenician abjad was the basis for the Aramaic abjad, from which the Hebrew and Arabic abjads were derived. (The Arabs subsequently began using some of the consonant symbols for vowels, transforming the abjad into an alphabet.) It was also the basis for the Greek alphabet. The Roman alphabet, now the most widely used in the world, was ultimately derived from the Greek, as were the Etruscan alphabet, the Germanic runes, the Cyrillic alphabet, and several other writing systems.

    The Phoenician abjad is also the source of the abugidas of southern and southeastern Asia, including the Brahmic scripts of India. An abugida is a phonetic writing system in which the primary symbols are consonants, but vowel marks are mandatory.

    The names of many phonetic writing systems were derived unimaginatively from a recitation of the letters in order. Greek alphabetos is from alpha-beta. Latin abecedarium requires no explanation. Abugida is the Ethiopian series and abjad comes from a lost Semitic language older than Arabic but represents the first four letters of classical Arabic.

    All phonetic writing systems are often called, imprecisely, alphabets. This even includes syllabaries, such as the two Japanese kana and the fanciful Cherokee script invented by Chief Sequoia, in which each symbol represents an entire syllable. Used this way, the word "alphabet" contrasts with non-phonetic writing systems such as Chinese han-dz, known more commonly by the Japanese pronunciation kanji, which we call by various names such as logograms or less precisely "characters." (Yes, I wrote han-dz in Yale rather than Pin-Yin han-zi because it represents the pronunciation more accurately.)
    Since we haven't managed to keep this thread on the topic of mythology, one of the most persuasive hypotheses I've heard is that humans first began imitating bird calls and other natural sounds for communicating from their hiding places during a hunt, without alerting the prey animals to their presence. Many African regions were still in the Paleolithic Era when "discovered" by Europeans and Asians, and many of the languages in those regions include clicks and other phonemes that are characteristic of hunting calls. Nonetheless Australia, much of Oceania and parts of South America and northeastern Asia were also latecomers to the Neolithic, and I have seen no reports that those phonemes also occur in their languages.

    I'll probably merge these two threads. It seems pointless to have them both in progress, with considerable duplication of information.
  18. one_raven God is a Chinese Whisper Valued Senior Member

    Please don't.
  19. one_raven God is a Chinese Whisper Valued Senior Member

    Why was this one moved too?

    I give up.
    Do what you want with it. I'll do my research on my own.
  20. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    This thread was moved because despite the title, virtually none of the content actually deals with mythology.

    Linguistics is not a very hot topic on SciForums. I probably write half of the posts on this board myself, in an attempt to provide answers to members' questions with at least a semblance of scholarship.

    I don't think you're going to find the information you're looking for on this website. The expertise is simply not here. Sorry.

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    Even more sadly, I don't think some of the answers you want are even known.
    • The technology of spoken language was invented at least ten thousand years ago.
    • There are a large number of language families, and there are no identifiable relationships between any two of them.
    • We can't trace the development of any spoken language or family back more than ten thousand years because all of its elements can turn over during that time.
    • Therefore we don't know how far beyond ten thousand years ago language was invented, and we don't know whether it was invented once or in multiple locations and eras.
    • It's likely that we will never be able to answer these questions because they didn't have tape recorders and words don't fossilize.
    But since at least one person cares, I won't combine the two threads.
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2009
  21. nietzschefan Thread Killer Valued Senior Member

    I don't think anyone is going to be able to give you stuff you can't find even on wiki.
  22. Gustav Banned Banned


    what's going on here? moved from where? are discussions being stifled now?
  23. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Settle down, Beavis.

    It was originally in Comparative Religion, where the action it was getting was almost all about linguistics, not mythology. I suggested that the Moderator move it over here, a logical home for it if it was going to be about the historical origin of language rather than the mythical origin. The discussion is hardly being "stifled" since it's getting more action now. It even still gets a few references to mythology.

    The number of SciForums members with expertise in mythology is comparable to the number with expertise in linguistics. I don't think the answer to either question is going to turn up on this website.

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