Friday Forum: Genesis 11:6-9 “Confounding the Language of the Earth”

Discuss: Genesis 11:6-9
6 And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.
7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.
8 So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.
9 Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

I have a question. Does anyone know what the earliest languages were upon the earth?  If so, please feel free to enlighten us all.
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About JA Benson

Joanna entered the world as a BYU baby. Continuing family tradition, she graduated BYU with a degree in Elementary Education and taught for several years. Growing up in Salt Lake County, her favorite childhood hobbies were visiting cemeteries and eavesdropping on adult conversations. Her ancestral DNA is multi-ethnic and she is Mormon pioneer stock on every familial line. Joanna resides in the Southeastern USA with her five children ranging in age from 8 to 24. Her husband passed away in 2009. She is an avid reader and a student of history. Her current intellectual obsession is Sephardic Jewish history, influence and genealogy. She served as a board member for her local chapter of Families with Children from China. She is the author of “DNA Mormons?” Summer Sunstone 2007 and “Becoming Hong Mei`s Mother” in the Winter Sunstone 2009

15 thoughts on “Friday Forum: Genesis 11:6-9 “Confounding the Language of the Earth”

  1. I am definitely not an expert, but I do know the oldest family of languages is the “Afroasiatic” languages, which includes Biblical Hebrew, ancient Egyptian and Akkadian.

    The largest family of languages is the Indo-European, which we all speak.

    Is it possible the “lost 10 tribes” adopted Indo-European languages as they spread throughout the world? I have no idea. I hope an actual linguist can shed some light on the subject.

  2. Ok Geoff, If those are the oldest languages, have linguists pinpointed the first language? If so, would it predate the tower of Babel? In other words is the Tower of Babel language still with us today in some form, or do we know what langugage it was?

  3. I’m not a linguist, but this is an interesting question. I’m pretty sure early church leaders have stated that the Adamic language was spoken before the Tower of Babel “incident”. The early temple ceremonies were supposed to have parts that were in Adamic. So I guess that would be the oldest language from a religious perspective, and I do not believe is spoken anywhere in the world today.

    Sumerian is mentioned a lot in the google search I did as a candidate for oldest known language.

  4. Presumably if the oldest languages we’ve studied are post-Babel, and if the confounding of the human language made it completely different than it was originally, then the Adamic language is nothing like the Semitic linguistic groups. Assuming I took this particular Bible account literally, I still couldn’t see God saying, “Welp, I’m going to confound your language, people of the Middle East. It’s still gonna sound roughly the same and share most of the same linguistic features, though, so just pretend it’s different. Except you people on the Korean peninsula, boy am I gonna confound YOUR language.”

    Given that the snippets of Adamic we have showing up in latter-day revelation convey a lot of meaning in very few syllables, I’d imagine Adamic is pitch-based like Chinese and conveys meaning in ways besides just pronunciation (e.g. pitch, cadence, etc.)

  5. I’d classify the confounding of the languages (along with most of Genesis 1–11) as etiological myth.

    It’s clear from the Jaredite story that something did happen, but Babel being the origin of all the diverse languages of earth isn’t it.

  6. Bro Jones- When we were in China I wondered the same thing. Chinese is just so different. So many different meanings in each word. A complete mystery to me.

    Doug-My oldest daughter Jie Jie agrees with you that you are right the Sumerians had the first language and writing form, cuneiform.

  7. I read an article ‘The Date of the Tower of Babel and some Theological Implications’ by Paul H. Seely:

    A few points that Seeley brings up is that Shinar (maybe Sumer) is the civilization of the Tower of Babel. The tower was constructed at the no earlier than 3500 BC. If this is correct, multiple languages were already upon the earth. So if Shinar or Sumer is correct than the phrase “the whole earth” was Southern Mesopotamia. THere are stories in the Sumerian culture that talk about a tower that is close enough to be the Tower of Babel.

    If Shinar is Sumer, there is a catch, in the language of Sumer was spoken for another 500 to 1,000 or so years after the Tower was perhaps constructed. Well enough time to finish the tower.

    Also from Paul h Seeley’s article: “story of Gen 11:1-9 as reflecting
    the fall of the Uruk culture c. 3000 B.C.; and, the confusion of language is just a
    way of saying that diverse ethnic groups took over after the fall of the Uruk cul-
    ture. Payne suggests that the upheaval was due to the influx of the Akkadians
    with their Semitic language into Sumer sometime around 3000 to 2500 B.C.
    The Akkadian language confused the Sumerian language and eventually dis-
    placed it. DeWitt suggests that the upheaval was due to the invading Elamites
    and Subarians in 1960 B.C. who put an end to the Sumerian civilization. ”

    So anyway it looks like the whole thing is as clear as mud, but interesting to read about. I suppose many of the stories in the Old Testament are mysteries of God. Sometimes we have to swallow the whole pie of our faith in God and His Word. I am ok with it. If the Tower of Babel as told in the scriptures is part fiction mixed with facts, God has His purposes; and He is God. Nuff said.

    Anyone else have anything to add? Mike?????

  8. Thanks for the reference, JAB. I’ll take a look at that. I’m acquainted with Seely’s other work, and I generally respect it. The fact this was published in the WTJ adds a level of credibility.

  9. It will be fascinating to link languages and ethnicities to the dispersal of the 10 lost tribes. I think that somehow the Indians of South India (ie, not the northern Aryans) have a link to one or more of the 10 tribes.

    I sincerely believe we will see a huge influx of Asian Indians into the church in the coming 10 years, not just in India, but in the US too.

  10. It will be fascinating to link languages and ethnicities to the dispersal of the 10 lost tribes. I think that somehow the Indians of South India (ie, not the northern Aryans) have a link to one or more of the 10 tribes.

    I sincerely believe we will see a huge influx of Asian Indians into the church in the coming 10 years, not just in India, but in the US too.

  11. I read a long, but fascinating paper a couple of years ago theorizing that the Romani/Gypsie people are a lost tribe of Israel.

    In Sephardic traditions they believe that when Solomon sent out Hebrew pioneers to Tarshish, he sent both Benjamin and Judah tribes. So if you are Sephardic Jew you might be Benjamin too.

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