Re: Did man originally speak a single language?

Moorad Alexanian (alexanian@UNCWIL.EDU)
Sun, 01 Nov 1998 15:25:34 -0500 (EST)

At 01:47 PM 10/31/98 -0500, George Murphy wrote:
>Glenn R. Morton wrote:
>> The Bible says that there was an original language that all men spoke.
>> Within the past decade some linguists have found evidence of a former unity
>> among languages. Not all linguists accept this data, but Joseph Greenberg
>> (one of the foremost linguists of this century who produced the
>> classification of African languages now in use) and Merritt Ruhlen have
>> argued for much wider connections among the languages. One of the ways
>> such connections are found is in the same sound being used in different
>> languages and language families (cognates). Ruhlen presents a lot of data
>> on three of the words which indicate a former connection. The word I am
>> going to relate is water. The same sound is found over the world
>> representing either water, or activities in and on water, including
>> drinking, lakes, rivers, creeks etc.
> An interesting post. I am also not a linguist & don't even play one on TV,
>but my father was a classical philologist, so I picked up some of the
>warnings against "false etymologies" &c. A few comments -
> 1) One would expect such relationships if humanity had a unitary origin,
>apart from possible connections with Gen.11 - in which we are given no
details about
>the extent to which the tongues were confused.
> 2) A detailed list such as in your post is helpful but is to some extent
>overkill. We know that the Romance languages are derived largely from
Latin, so
>similarity of Portugese, Rumanian &c words doesn't really add evidence.
The same would
>be true of some other language families.
> 3) It's interesting that neither Hebrew (mayim) nor Greek (hydor) has
>words for water that fit the "aqua" pattern. Maybe there are rarer words
which do.
> 4) English "water" & a lot of other northern European common terms for the
>substance (German Wasser, Irish uisce, Russian voda &c) can be connected
with Sanskrit
>udan & appear to go back to an original Indo-European root, whose Latin
derivative is
>unda, "wave". Why some Indo-European languages "chose" a water-related
word & some
>an aqua-related one as their primary term is one of the interesting
questions in such
> 5) The fact that one can relate "water" to the Latin word for "wave"
shows that
>there _may_ be connections between a word for water in one language and a
>related" word in another. But it often doesn't work. A primitive word for
>probably couldn't be analyzed in modern scientific fashion into "lots of
water moving
>together". In many languages there is no connection - water/river,
>hydor/potamos, mayim/nahar &c. Thus relating words for anything but just
plain water to
>aqua may be a bit of a stretch.
> (My Hungarian-American doctoral advisor told me the curious fact that the
>sentence "The train is coming" sounds the same in Hungarian & Finnish. But
>because "The train" in Hungarian sounds like "is coming" in Finnish & vice
>George L. Murphy

In Armenian the word for water is "chur" which I do not see how it fits with
"aqua" either.