I heard a story last week that I found really interesting, but I can’t find an account of it in English (or even a written account in French). I was wondering if anyone knew of/had links for the account of Michael Scot in, I think, the 13th century, working for Frederick II.
The story, if I’m not mistaken, was that Frederick asked Michael Scot to decipher the origin of language, or to find the oldest language in the world, so what he did was kidnap three babies – one arab, one jewish, one christian – and raise them together. They were never taught language, and Scott observed the system of sounds they created amongst each other. He came to the conclusion that Arab was the oldest language in the world.
Anyone know about this?
Wikipedia mentions several such experiments in their article on the origin of language.History contains a number of anecdotes about people who attempted to discover the origin of language by experiment. The first such tale was told by Herodotus, who relates that Pharaoh “Psamtik” (probably Psammetichus I) caused two children to be raised by deaf-mutes; he would see what language they ended up speaking. When the children were brought before him, one of them said something that sounded to the pharaoh like bekos, the Phrygian word for bread. From this, Psamtik concluded that Phrygian was the first language. King James V of Scotland is said to have tried a similar experiment; his children were supposed to have ended up speaking Hebrew. Both Frederick II of Prussia and Akbar, a 16th century Mughal emperor of India are said to have tried a similar experiment; the children they tried these experiments with did not speak
I don’t think there is any scientific validity in these reported experiments.
The second article (about 1/2 way down) on this page is about King James V’s experiment - it mentions Frederick II’s in passing…