Evolutionists'/Atheists' Explanation of Languages

what is the most accepted theory among evolutionists and atheists about the origin of all these languages (as opposed to the christian belief about the tower of babel)?

Um, people living in different parts of the world talked to the people near them, and didn’t need to communicate with people outside their area, so grammar and vocabulary became different in different areas. Thus, German is more like Dutch than it is like French, all the major European languages are about equally different from any given Asiatic language, etc, with the furthest removed physically being most different. Generally.

Which languages are you asking about?

Just out of curiosity, do you know any Christians who believe that every human being in the entire world actually spoke the one same language before the tower of Babel incident?

It’s a typical fundie belief, just like Noah’s Ark and the 6,000 year old Earth.

Well, if you accept that humanity originated on one place, (or in this case, spread out from the landing place of Noah’s Ark) it would make sense for them to all be speaking the same language. The Tower of Babel story takes place not too many generations after the story of the Flood. I’m pretty sure Noah’s sons all spoke the same language :wink:

On the other hand, it would be silly to say that French and English and German all originated at the Tower of Babel. I imagine languages evolved over the centuries, just like they’re still doing.

have you ever heard of adam and eve? do you really think (if the story’s true) a father, mother, and 3 sons wouldn’t all speak the same language, and then all their (the sons’) kids?

Sure they would. But why should we suppose that over millions of years and hundreds of thousands of miles that innumerably disparate groups would maintain that language exactly as it was? Languages change very rapidly.

well, yeah, i can see that. maybe not all the languages originated there. i know there are links and overlaps between some languages such as spanish, french, and english, but there are some really weird languages (like all the african languages) that seem to have nothing to do with the other three.

Hundreds of thousands of miles?

Yeah, I can’t understand them moon-pioneers at all.

Anyhoo, even if you took a fundamentalist view and assumed humans had been wandering around for, say, 4500 years (after the mass die-off of the Great Flood), that is more than enough time for languages to morph and alter and evolve. Spellings only started to become standardized with the (relatively recent) advent of printing, and pronounciations only started to become standardized with the (even more recent) advent of broadcasting and audio recording. Before that, language shifted and evolved pretty much willy-nilly.

In any case, as an atheist and believer in evolution, I have no problem assuming that proto-homo sapiens communicated through a series of grunts and calls and screeches and whatnot (as most primates and other animals do) and for some reason, our brains were suited to form gradually more and more complex structures over the next 100,000 years or so, leading inevitably to “Louie, Louie, me gotta go.”

That’s not what I asked. I asked the OP if she knew people who truly believed this. Very different.

There are tens, maybe hundreds, of thousands of books on the origin, development and spread of languages. In western culture, the overwhelming majority of them are by Christians and Jews, presumably believing Christians and Jews. Some of them note the story of Babel, most do not.

The story is an instructive fable, no different from those of Aesop. It is not intended to have a literal meaning any more than Aesop’s talking animals do. It is intended to make you think, rather than prevent you from thinking.

Even if you accept the literal validity of the story, the world did not stop on that day. Languages have demonstrably evolved every second of every day since. We can see this in tediously great detail in the study of how Romance languages evolved from the language of Rome. You must use standard evolutionary theories to explain the state of language today, and they work as well as standard evolutionary theories of biology do: and they are equally supported by every thinking scientist and expert on the planet. The reasoning behind the two types of evolutionary descent is very similar and uses some of the same language.

Species develop from isolation; so do languages. Interbreeding creates variants; so does trade and migration. Catastrophes destroy species; so does war and cultural invasions destroy languages. New ecologies create new niches for species to exploit; new circumstances create new words for languages.

And no one stops there. Just as biologists (all working biologists are evolutionists) go back from today’s world to seek evidence both concrete - fossils - and implied - molecular, genetic, and physical similarities - to try to make a complete evolutionary chart of all species, so do linguists use physical evidence - written remainders - and implied evidence - the patterns of word use and grammar - to try to make a complete chart of language descent.

In both cases, Biblical inerrancy is simply ignored. Using the Bible on these subjects stops thought: once one has looked at what the Bible says, nothing more can be said along those lines. Science continues thought.

So gypsymoth3, the answer to your questions is that evolutionists and atheists, i.e. everybody, think that language came into being for some purposes of communication not yet determined, and then evolved into the present in ways exactly parallel to the ways that species have evolved into the present.

There is no effect on survival related to the particular language spoken, is there? So different languages among different groups are no problem.

And, if one group separates from another, like the British colonists in North America, their languages diverge as have British usage and US usage and Mexican Spanish and Spanish Spanish. Even the Walloons in Belgium use slightly different terms than the French who are right next door. Likewise the Flemish with the Dutch. With isolation and given time all of these languages continue to diverge.

Where do you see a problem?

One element to point out, though, is that the advent of computers may have fixed the English language in a way not previously possible. Computers following the ASCII standard are hard-wired for a 26-letter alphabet, and attempts to shift some letters around in the name of efficiency (i.e. creating a new character for “th”, a role that used to be filled by a character resembling a modern “y”, or dumping “c” and replacing it with “s” or “k” as required) are doomed to failure. Even adding accents and modifiers is a major pain-in-the-ass. My guess is that any new words added to the English vocabulary will have fairly simple spellings, and grammatical rules will become more relaxed. Overall, English will remain the easiest language to speak badly.

I’m not kidding, either. I had a professor once who gave the example of a Tribal chief explaining his problems to a visiting Queen Elizabeth. His grammer was pidgin-awful, but his meaning was rather easily conveyed because English doesn’t lend itself to complex structures involving the relative social ranks of the speaker and listener and superfluous crap like that. It’s a rough language, actually, but the best when you want to get things done, as opposed to just impressing people with your social skills (let French have that honour).

Cute animation on Latin alphabet evolution.

I’m curious as to why you specify both evolutionists and atheists in this question. Wouldn’t a more appropriate question be either “nonfundamentalist Christians” or linquists??

Anal Ecologist nitpick: Not Necessarily.