Research Supports Biblical Description of Language Development

on February 9, 2008

Scientific American: “Running Dialog: New Languages Rapidly Spring from Old Ones” New research on the “evolution” of language supports the Bible’s description of all languages having appeared recently.

Researchers reporting in this week’s issue of the journal Science undertook a study to examine how long it takes for new vocabularies to enter languages as they spin off from one another.

According to the research, which focused on three of the world’s major language families (Bantu, Indo-European, and Austronesian), there is a burst of vocabulary alterations when languages split, but the burst then dissipates into gradual changes that build up over time. According to the researchers, this resembles genetic evolution.

Pagel cited the rapid rise of American English and the later rise of black American English as examples of the team’s hypothesis.

“It was very natural for us to wonder if a similar process [of evolution] happens in cultural groups,” team member Mark Pagel, an evolutionary biologist, said. “We treat the words that different languages use almost identically to the way we use genes: . . . [t]he more divergent two species are, the less their genes have in common, just as the more divergent two languages are, the less their words have in common.”

The study estimated, using language “genealogy trees,” that between a tenth and a third of language divergence results from vocabulary changes shortly after the languages split.

Pagel cited the rapid rise of American English and the later rise of black American English as examples of the team’s hypothesis.

Certainly, language families arose rapidly—instantaneously, in fact—when God confused human language at Babel. From that initial fracture have come the multitude of languages and dialects we hear today, in addition to the numerous languages now extinct. Applying this team’s identity-based theory of language divergence, we can imagine how, as the various people groups began departing (except for a few) from Babel itself, sub-groups would rise up and rapidly develop their own culture and languages, likely leading to nearly as many languages a few thousand years ago as there are today. In the few thousands of years since, languages—even within families—would have slowly worked out differing grammars, idioms, and pronunciations, resulting in the breadth of language we know now.



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