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  Topic: Ham's Museum Gets Linguistics Wrong, Too, in other news, dog bites man< Next Oldest | Next Newest >  
Arden Chatfield

Posts: 6657
Joined: Jan. 2006

(Permalink) Posted: July 01 2007,19:15   

A pretty good dissection of the details here.

The museum's claim:

The Bible claims that God created a number of human languages at the Tower of Babel "according to their families". Nineteenth-century linguists argued that languages evolved slowly, one by one. Today, linguists recognize languages fall into distinct "families" of recent origin.

You have to read the whole article for proper background, but I see this as the primary explanation of how the fundies got all confused this time:

The third possibility is the most interesting one: whoever is responsible for the text on that Creation Museum display might actually have read about recent controversies on establishing language families, and they might have misinterpreted the claim that after enough time has passed (10,000 years is commonly mentioned, as the roughest of rough estimates) it is likely to be impossible to support a hypothesis of relatedness among languages. Among historical linguists and in the popular press, the controversy has focused primarily on the claims of the late Joseph Greenberg and his follower Merritt Ruhlen about much more ancient language families, extending perhaps even to what Greenberg once suggested as "Proto-Sapiens" (see e.g. here for a Language Log post on the subject). Historical linguists' skepticism about such claims stems from the fact that, after some thousands of years have passed, it is likely that too little systematic evidence -- in the form of corresponding sound/meaning pairs of words or other morphemes -- will remain, and without such evidence no hypothesis of relatedness can be tested. We see the decay of the crucial evidence in all well-established language families, and it is certain that more time will mean more decay. A few years ago I posted comments on changing pronoun systems, showing among other things that the words for `I' in three Indo-European languages, though ultimately related, have changed so much in 4,000 (Latin) and 6,000 (Russian, English) years that their connection is no longer recognizable. This sort of example can easily be multiplied, for any language family.

But if language families can't be established beyond a few thousand years, does that mean that all language families arose within the past few thousand years? No, of course not, and that's where the Creation Museum's creators might have misinterpreted the linguists: no one, but no one, believes that an inability to find adequate evidence to support a hypothesis of distant linguistic relationships translates to the non-existence of distant linguistic relationships, including very ancient language families. It is certain that many modern language families are subgroups of more ancient families, but that their historical links are beyond the reach of the well-tested and validated methodologies. It is even quite possible that all human languages arose from a single ancestor. If they did, that ancestor must have existed many thousands of years ago. Twenty-first-century linguists, like nineteenth-century linguists, believe that languages diversify slowly -- that a language family arises when two (or more) subgroups of a single speech community become partly or entirely separated and then, because language change is unpredictable, their dialects inevitably change in different ways, until they have split into separate languages. Depending on external factors such as relative isolation from each other and contacts with unrelated languages, the process of language split might take 500 to 1,000 years. That is, it is gradual. And then you have a language family: a parent language, no longer spoken, and two (or more) daughter languages, split from their common parent.

You may remember that last year AFDave made some witless remark about how 'linguists agree' that after the tower of Babel, all languages divided into something like eight or 12 families. It goes without saying that Dave couldn't provide a reference for that, but based on this, it looks like this is yet another pseudoscientific meme that's been making the rounds of the Creationist world.

"Rich is just mad because he thought all titties had fur on them until last week when a shorn transvestite ruined his childhood dreams by jumping out of a spider man cake and man boobing him in the face lips." - Erasmus


Posts: 927
Joined: April 2007

(Permalink) Posted: July 01 2007,20:04   

Remember, Portugese must be a bastard child of the French and Spanish "families".

I'm not the fastest or the baddest or the fatest.

You NEVER seem to address the fact that the grand majority of people supporting Darwinism in these on line forums and blogs are atheists. That doesn't seem to bother you guys in the least. - FtK

Roddenberry is my God.

  1 replies since July 01 2007,19:15 < Next Oldest | Next Newest >  


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