Creationist Wisdom #748: The Linguist

Today’s letter-to-the-editor appears in the Kingman Daily Miner of Kingman, Arizona. It’s titled A different take on the theory of evolution. The newspaper has a comments section.

Because the writer isn’t a politician, preacher, or other public figure, we won’t embarrass or promote him by using his full name. His name is followed by “Lieutenant Colonel, USA (retired),” and we think he’s now a financial planner, but that doesn’t qualify for full name treatment. His first name is Mark. Excerpts from his letter will be enhanced with our Curmudgeonly commentary and some bold font for emphasis. Here we go!

I was raised in a family that honored Darwin (macro-evolution).

Something doesn’t sound right. In fact, that’s the way a creationist would imagine a godless evolutionist is raised. Then he says:

My beloved mother began teaching me about vestigial organs when I was six years old. It was the only thing I ever heard growing up, at home or in any kind of formal education.

BWAHAHAHAHAHA! Yes, that’s how children are indoctrinated into Darwinism. After that he tells us:

I began the study of linguistics in the autumn of 1968. After nearly 50 years I can tell you, I still love linguistics.

That’s nice. Where is Mark going with this? You will soon see. He continues:

One day as an adult I read an article by a linguist who proposed a theory I had never considered. He suggested if Darwin were true, then language must have evolved from a grunt and a groan into the extraordinarily complex system of syntax, grammar and vocabulary which we speak today.

After 50 years of studying linguistics, Mark never even thought about the origin of language? Let’s read on:

And if that were true, he continued, logically there must be evidence that somewhere, at sometime, in some place there once was a primitive language. After 50 years in linguistics I can tell you, for certain, there is no such evidence.

Ancestral humans who communicated only in grunts and groans didn’t leave much evidence behind, other than their fossils or some stone tools, nor should we expect any — certainly nothing about their language. We found articles supporting Mark’s view of things, but they’re all at creationist websites — for example, this one at ol’ Hambo’s AIG: Is There Any Such Thing as a Primitive Language? Then Mark abruptly moves to another issue:

Darwin also suggested we evolved from sapiens.

BWAHAHAHAHAHA! Here’s more:

At least we can still observe sapiens running around Earth. Man is not cross-fertile with any of them, which suggests we are not the same species.

[*Groan*] Mark doesn’t even know what species he is. But he’s certain of one thing: He ain’t no kin to no sapiens! Another excerpt:

But, alas, there are no primitive languages. Never were. Never will be.

The remainder of the letter claims that:

Essentially, English is a dialect of ancient Hebrew. Go figure.

Obviously, Adam & Eve spoke Hebrew. No grunts and groans. So there you are, dear reader. Make of it what you will.

Copyright © 2017. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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43 responses to “Creationist Wisdom #748: The Linguist

  1. Huh, I had an uncle who communicated almost exclusively in grunts and groans. I don’t think our linguist friend gets out much.

  2. You’ve got to admire a cunning linguist

  3. Ganf wins the Internet!

  4. This has to be a Poe.

  5. Michael Fugate

    Poe, I was just thinking the same thing. On the other hand, he could have taken the standard course in creationist apologetics which requires constructing a “bio” which includes a past life as an atheist and acceptor of evolutionary theory – no matter what his or her childhood was actually like. Somehow always going to church and believing in YEC is not deemed as useful as a tool for evangelism.

  6. Parenthetically, if the editor permits, there are about 4,000 Hebrew cognates in modern English. The average person has an active vocabulary of somewhere between 4,000 and 6,000 words in his or her native language.
    Essentially, English is a dialect of ancient Hebrew. Go figure.

    Go figure indeed. I figure he’s making a joke or is very very confused.

    As a retired linguist, I was startled by this strange progression of “logic”, so I paused to try and figure out if this was meant as a humorous play on Poe’s Law. Apparently the confused colonel didn’t realize that the 4,000 Hebrew cognates in modern English meant that one had to skim the entire English lexicon to amass that total. Nobody claims that they are the same 4,000 words as those found in the average English speaker’s active vocabulary—-unless that average speaker happens to be a Borscht Belt comic from the Catskills. (Once again I date myself as a dinosaur from the 1950’s.)

    Obviously, those “Hebrew cognates” in the English language came by two routes: (1) Most are “Bible words” which started entering our language when translations like the King James Bible became popular in England’s pulpits. These imported words included sabbath, Jubilee, and Hallelujah. (2) A much small set of cognates came to us through Yiddish. However, Yiddish is not really a Hebrew dialect per se. It is a German dialect with a lot of Hebrew loan words. It would be interesting to count the number of Yiddish words which have come into vernacular English by means of Jewish comedy writers, with Seinfeld episodes heavily responsible. How many first year Hebrew students have made a vocabulary flashcard for the verb “to know” by citing “Yada. Yada. Yada.”?

    Obviously, seeing how these imported Semitic words came into the English language well after our language was well established, I find it very hard to take the colonel seriously. I’m just not sure if the colonel is taking himself seriously.

    The colonel says, “But, alas, there are no primitive languages.” Yet, his letter to the editor comes awfully close to one. (Oops. Burn! Sorry.) He says, “At least we can still observe sapiens running around Earth.” Is he confusing “sapiens” and “simians”? Perhaps he speaks a nearly extinct language once made famous by Norm Crosby? (I’ve already recklessly exceeded my limit of archaic pop culture references from the Johnny Carson The Tonight Show era. Sorry.)

    Call me The Unknown Linguist. (With that quip and a brown paper bag on my head, I finally managed to update my obscure pop culture references by at least ten years.)

    Yes, my academic career has finally come to this. Kids, don’t let this happen to you!

  7. In close proximity in the book of Genesis to the Noah’s Ark story is the tower of Babel story. In short God mixed up the languages because the humans were building a tower to heaven. One would assume that no new languages would have developed since then, but of course many languages developed within the span of recorded history. While Babel doesn’t get much creationist press (maybe because it is even more absurd than the Noah story) they both are equally laughable.

  8. I have to say that no one should misjudge the quality of the officer corps because of Mark, a retired Lieutenant Colonel. He may be one of those with that rank who failed to achieve promotion to full Colonel after three consecutive promotion boards considered him, and was thus required to retire early. It’s how the under-performers are squeezed out. That’s not true of all retired Lt. Colonels, of course. Many retire early in order to pursue opportunities in civilian life. But I suspect Mark is one of those who was, as they say, passed over.

  9. Michael Fugate

    But isn’t the Babel story a parallel to the created kinds story of Genesis? Every new language is a specially created kind unrelated through descent to any other language kind? God created (macroevolution of) language groups and then humans (as that “other” intelligent designer) created (microevolution within) subgroups?

  10. Michael Fugate

    My case in point regarding my earlier comment – look at the bio of the latest author on ENV….
    http://ratiochristi.org/people/brian-miller
    It is the perfect apologetics credentials – lost and then found.

  11. Well I no for shore that he ain’t no kin to no “sapien!”

  12. The only thing the Lt. Colonel “… ever heard growing up, at home or in any kind of formal education” was about vestigial organs? What military academy did he attend? Could be a Poe, but I guess he’s right about one thing: I searched Google for recordings of humans talking 150,000 years ago and got no results.

  13. Mark is a supposed linguist but no mention of the work of Noam Chomsky and biolinguistics? Not even a rebuttal? Must of have gotten his degree from a Bible College and didn’t even realize it!

  14. I am also hoping that the breaking news Betsy DeVos has been confirmed for Education Secretary is also just a hoax.

    Please tell me that is fake news!

  15. If someone has studied linguistics for 50 years, they should show signs of knowledge about languages. One might have come across how modern English is a descendant of Anglo-Saxon, and classified as an Indo-European language, while Hebrew is an Afroasiatic language (Semitic branch) with a strikingly different grammar and vocabulary. English is more like Russian and Greek! One might recognize the word “sapiens” as a borrowing from Latin!

  16. Michael Fugate

    Reading a Bible passage and studying an academic subject are not necessarily synonyms….

    As a colleague once told a student who was struggling to understand a scientific paper, “son, you can read it like you do a comic book.”

  17. While Babel doesn’t get much creationist press (maybe because it is even more absurd than the Noah story) they both are equally laughable.

    Considering that the Noah story is a massive three chapters of text and the Babel pericope is just nine verses long, I would expect a significant difference in emphasis. More importantly, Young Earth Creationists don’t consider the public’s acceptance of the Babel story as urgent as the Noah story. And because the Noah story closely relates to the Creation story concerning the YEC narrative of all biological life on earth, it is completely logical that the Babel story would be treated as more secondary to the Young Earth Creationist agenda. (Relative degrees of “absurdity” have nothing to do with it—although that passing remark was most likely tongue in cheek.)

    Nevertheless, I think I recall that Babel will be the focus of Ken Ham’s next project for the Ark Encounter campus. Whenever I hear of his planned “Babel World”, I start imagining an animatronic experience where wealthy fundamentalists on vacation immerse themselves in an ancient post-flood environment but soon find themselves either imprisoned by feuding warlords or are unable to escape enslavement by an ancient Mesopotamian king who wants to build the first “Trump Tower”.

    SPOILER ALERT: The role of Ken Ham will be played by Malcolm Mcdowell. Unbeknownst to son-in-law Bodie Hodge and son Steve Ham, Ken Ham decides that neither potential heir apparent is Young Earth Creationist enough to succeed him—so The Great and Magnificent Ham-I-Am decides to create his own shortcut to “eternal life” by building an animatronic version of himself. The final scene involves throngs of YEC tourists running for cover and the Ark itself being launched on the Ohio River and floating its way to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico. (Of course, anything beyond that is left to the sequel.)

  18. (Of course, if you think that that sounds completely absurd, you should see what $150 million has already built.)

  19. Michael Fugate

    Ken Ham recreates “Quantum Leap”?
    http://www.nbc.com/quantum-leap?nbc=1

    Ken time travels back and takes up the bodies of noted scientists, atheists and heathens to ensure the world is a dumber place.

  20. The “linguist” overlooked the most obvious and stunning piece of historical fact: early humans were taught to speak by aliens, specifically Martians.

    I offer you exhibit A:

    Martian – Ack! Ack! Ack. Ack. Ack!

    Early human – Ook! Ook! Ook. Ook. Ook!

    QED

  21. For some reason I found this letter especially disheartening on both a micro and macro level. It says nothing positive about the good lt. colonel, someone to whom one might think a degree of education and success has befallen, but who has chosen ‘to reject the evidence of (his) eyes and ears’ and give free rein to his wilful ignorance. It also worries me that maybe 2016, with its triumphs for racism, ignorance, stupidity and sexism, may not turn out to be such an horrific aberration as one initially hoped. Alternative facts and general mendacity appear to be everywhere one looks. Where does it end? Are we really getting to the stage where ‘in a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act’. This letter does nothing to improve my general concerns about the future of the human race.

  22. This letter actually explains a lot about the army.

  23. Ross Cameron

    In a long life, it never ceases to amaze me how the human brain has this extraordinary capability for self-deception. Reasoning can take you wherever you want to go. And back to reality if you`re so inclined. 🙂

  24. Linguistic creationism (I call it “Babel linguistics”) fascinates me. It exists, but it doesn’t get much attention, since there are *no* creationists in the field of linguistics that I’ve ever heard of, and it’s an obscure area of science for the general public.

    On a historical basis, the notion that all linguistic diversity came from Babylon around the year 2,000 BCE is utterly ludicrous. I can see why most creationists want to avoid drawing attention to that topic.

    I’m no expert in the evolution of language, but if I’m not mistaken, there has been some research linking our musical sense to the early development of language.

  25. I don’t mean to kibitz, but this guy has a lot of chutzpah to say we use words of hebrew origin in everyday language. It’s just not kosher. Can I get an amen?

  26. “The role of Ken Ham will be played by Malcolm Mcdowell.”
    Third Prof, you’re a pervert.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0080491/?ref_=nv_sr_1

  27. Poe. That paragraph above vestigial organs is a complete giveaway.

    I strongly suspect that the writer is well aware that both Darwin and Charles Lyell cited the evolution of languages as a model for biological evolution. We now know that model to be even more exact; random drift leading to speciation, meme transfer by word borrowing, and, if you consider something like the relationship between the Germanic origins of English and its Romance accretions, something almost like symbiosis

  28. When he claims English is a Hebrew dialect, Mark is probably influenced by “Edenics”, the grand idea of American lecturer Isaac E. Mozeson. His project is to derive all languages from Hebrew. We will have such bizarre “etymologies” as English “direction” supposedly being derived from the Hebrew term for “road”, _derekh_.

    http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/books/150768/examining-edenics

    He may extend this to other languages as well. Swedish _vag_ “road” (the cognate of English “way”) is to Mozeson an obvious cognate of _derekh_ as well. Don’t you see how? Well, D has evidently dropped out, R has been changed to V and the KH has become a voiced G.

    Seriously. This is how Mozeson’s “etymologies” work. It’s in a list here:

    http://www.edenics.net/tower-of-babel.aspx

    I once looked at an “etymological dictionary” produced by Mozeson. The introduction was partly self-congratulatory, partly whining because Mozeson’s great insights weren’t recognized by the scholarly community. He claimed, in almost so many words, that it is ANTI-SEMITISM that keeps linguists from admitting that of course all languages are derived from Hebrew.

    Mozeson made light of the actual Indo-European proto-language, reconstructed by scientific methods. It was to him some kind of racist, anti-semitic construct put forward to deny Hebrew its proper place in history. Mozeson intends to vindicate the Tower of Babel story by insisting that everybody spoke Hebrew before Babel and that God simply produced a series of “garbled” versions of Hebrew. They can still be recognized as such, but you have to look really, REALLY hard, of course. Then you can see how Swedish “vag” comes from _derekh_, for instance.

    In fact, the whole thing is very much like creationism, only applied to linguistics instead of biology. The “researcher” starts with the Absolute Truth of some Bible text as his fixed axiom, and then tries to find evidence, however far-fetched, to fit the preconceived conclusion.

    And then we have a lot of whining about how biased and blind OTHER researchers are, because they reach quite different conclusions by not taking into account supernatural interventions in history.

  29. There’s a lot of it about, e.g. http://israelect.com/reference/WillieMartin/LANGUAGE.htm One group claims that the British are the ten Lost tribes: B’rit – covenant; ish – man; the British are the people of the Covenant

    Can’t argue wth that

  30. It is probably impolite to point out that “Covenant Man” or “Man of (the) covenant” should be _ish b’rit_ in correct Hebrew.

    _B’rit ish_ would mean “a man’s convenant”.

  31. Yes, that’s the absolute emmes

  32. Paul Braterman says: “One group claims that the British are the ten Lost tribes”

    I’ve encountered that before. Wikipedia has a write-up on them: British Israelism.

  33. James B Theuer

    Colonel Angus (USA Ret.) is quite the cunning linguist indeed.

  34. On a historical basis, the notion that all linguistic diversity came from Babylon around the year 2,000 BCE is utterly ludicrous.

    Indeed, that is absurd. However, even the Young Earth Creationists tend to draw more from the Babel pericope (Genesis 11:1-9) than what it actually states:

    Nothing in the Genesis text claims that all linguistic diversity in the entire history of Homo sapiens sapiens on planet earth came from the Tower of Babel incident.

    (1) Once again we must notice that ERETZ (“land”, “nation”, “region”) should not be read anachronistically as “planet earth.” The story explains that at that time all Adamic people in the land/nation spoke a single language, and that, after the incident, language uniformity in that land was no longer the case.

    (2) The story states that the Babel incident caused the dispersal of the Adamic people from that one place to many places, that is, “upon the face of all the ERETZ/land.” (We can cite multiple contexts in the Hebrew Bible where “the face of all the ERETZ” clearly does NOT mean “throughout planet earth” or even “throughout all of the lands (plural)”—no matter how much TRADITION and our western mind urges us to force “universality” into the Biblical text.)

    I’m simply pointing out that it is all too easy to draw more from the story than what the ancient Hebrews saw in the story. To them, the Babel incident was about a rebellious people proudly refusing to obey God and scatter widely as they were commanded to do. The story explains how God forced them to disburse. The story doesn’t claim that no other factor in the history of mankind explains today’s diversity of human languages.

    If ancient Mesopotamians could witness how modern readers tend to deeply dissect the Genesis stories and to notice contradictions or ambiguities in the texts, they would accuse us of “thinking too hard” and even “missing the point.” Obviously, we can’t help ourselves! It is our culture. It reminds me of my oft-mentioned conversation with the Hindu colleague who had PhDs in mathematics & physics and yet had no difficulty believing that the earth rested on the backs of four elephants as his Hindu religion and philosophy tells. Somehow, in his mind and worldview, there was no contradiction between his religion and his science. In ways that I still don’t understand, in his mind the “Hindu reality” and the “material reality” were in perfect harmony. To me, his thinking was one of compartmentalization and cognitive dissonance. Yet, one of my departmental colleagues who was one of the world’s top comparative religion scholars (who also had an undergrad degree in microbiology, if I recall) told me that my western mind explained why I “didn’t get it” and also why I would never be one of the world’s top comparative religion scholars. Fortunately, I understood just enough of his field to appreciate why my analysis was wrong and his was more likely accurate. I also think it is very difficult for us today NOT to read more into the Genesis stories than what the ancients intended. Perhaps a good analogy would be to read Aesop’s Fables as a treatise on animal behavior and ecosystems.

    Likewise, the Tower of Babel story is another episode in the story of man’s rebellion against the God of Israel. In this instance, God’s “tactic” involved confusing human communications. Any “linguistic lessons” drawn beyond that would cause the ancient Hebrews to roll their eyes at our cluelessness. Similarly, succeeding as an anthropologist working in the field today–or even a Bible translator–requires us to at least temporarily shed our western mindset. “Integration and harmonization” of all available evidence and knowledge is a presuppositional methodology which so often sets us up for failure when trying to understanding other cultures and their texts.

    Of course, it helps us considerably if we can try to read the Genesis texts without the many tradition-based Christian rather than Judaic assumptions we bring to each story.

  35. Are rthere any non-biblical (I really mean pre-biblical, but the dating of Genesis is itself IMO so uncertain) versions of the Babel story? And how much time of day should we give suggestions that the Tower of Babel was a ziggurat?

  36. There is a book which gives samples of how the peoples of a couple of centuries around the division between BCE and CE understood the Bible.
    James L. Kugel
    The Bible As It Was
    Belknap Press, Harvard U. Press, 1977 0-674-06940-4

  37. Prof. Tertius, I must protest that you are perhaps also reading it anachronistically. Pointing out that the Hebrews had no concept of “planet Earth” doesn’t get you off the hook for the fact that when the story opens with “The whole world had one language and few words,” the author of that passage probably indeed meant to tell a tale about the whole world. His intention to provide an etiology for language is further reinforced by his suggestion that the original language was simpler. This is the overwhelming consensus of scholars, and it is a flimsy apologetics tactic to choose whatever synonym will get you out of a tight spot. (Aha, “whole world” must just mean “all the land of Babylon” here! Take that, Bembridge scholars!) I’m not saying that’s your intention, but it’s tendentious exegesis.

    “I’m simply pointing out that it is all too easy to draw more from the story than what the ancient Hebrews saw in the story. To them, the Babel incident was about a rebellious people proudly refusing to obey God and scatter widely as they were commanded to do.”

    You too draw more from the story than what is there. The Babel story says nothing about the people being rebellious, proud, or “refusing to obey God”. They simply want fame and to avoid being scattered — neither is a moral transgression in the Bible — but Yahweh confounds their language in order to scatter them when he sees how competent they are, and that “nothing they intend to do will be impossible for them” (Gen 11:6). That’s literally the reason for scattering them.

  38. Indeed: Genesis 11:6 The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.

    Genesis 3:22 And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”

    So He orders humanity not to develop their moral sense because that undermines his monopoly, and then frustrates the people at Babel because he feels threatened by their technological achievements.

    I don’t think God comes out of this very well. He seems to be very easily threatened by competition.

    I’ve been familiar with these verses for over 70 years, but seem to be understanding them now for the first time.. There are people here I respect who have a high opinion of God, and I would like to know how they respond to my horrible heresies, for which there must surely be ample precedent.

  39. I suggest that one read the first few chapters of Genesis. If the only one that you have access to is the King James Version, that will do, for this is just an exercise.The important thing is to read what it says, not interpret it as saying what you remember being told. I’m not going to say that what you come up with is better than what Biblical scholars with understanding of the cultures of the Ancient Near East can, just that it is as reliable as what your standard preacher tells you.
    For example, where does the water come from? What does “according to its kind” mean?

  40. You also have to wonder what the Jewish scribes themselves who wrote or passed on these odd stories thought about God.

  41. The simplest explanation for the persistence of these stories is that they are appreciated for what they are, not as if they were in a genre of a different culture. They are not modern science, history or philosophy.

  42. Darwin also suggested we evolved from sapiens.
    At least we can still observe sapiens running around Earth. Man is not cross-fertile with any of them, which suggests we are not the same species.

    This idiot apparently thinks “sapiens” is a synonym for “apes.” Nor, of course did Darwin ever state that humans were “the same species” as apes; he was, for instance, perfectly aware that there are different species of apes.

    Even creationists should be embarrassed by this level of ignorance.