Three Myths about the Origin of Language

September 7, 2015 |

By Sarah-Claire Jordan

 babel towerThere are countless theories about the origins of human language, even if many linguists and scientists in the past have claimed the search for the seed that human language grew from to be a fruitless one. However, this did not stop different cultures from trying to explain the fact that human language exists at all, and why everyone doesn’t speak the same one. In general, the stories talk about a time when all humans spoke the same language, and then due to whatever circumstances, were scattered and began to speak different languages. Here are just a few of them:

  1. The Tower of Babel

Possibly the most well-known myth, at least where Judaism and Christianity are common, is that found in the Hebrew Bible, specifically in Genesis. At one point in history, according to the story, everyone who survived a flood brought on by God’s wrath spoke the same language, and settled in a land known as Shinar. There, they decided it would be a great idea to start building a tower as high as the heavens. God didn’t particularly like that, so he cursed everyone working on the tower by making it so their speech wasn’t intelligible to one another and dispersed them all across the globe. Later, the city the tower was built in was named Babel, and thus the tower became the Tower of Babel. According to this story, then, the reason there are different languages in different areas of the world is because of this language confusion and dispersion of the population.

  1. The Hindu World Tree

According to one Hindu myth, there was once a very tall tree that grew out from the very center of the earth. It was called the “World Tree” or “Knowledge Tree”, and grew so tall that it almost reached the heavens. The tree decided that it would keep growing so that its head would be in heaven and its branches on the earth, so it could make all humankind gather under it and prevent them from ever separating. The god Brahma discovered the tree’s intentions and as punishment for it being so proud, he cut off all of the tree’s branches and scattered them all over the earth. Where each branch fell a Wata tree began to grow, and with it a new language and culture for humankind.

  1. The Death of Wurruri

An aboriginal tribe from southern Australia has a rather gruesome myth regarding why we don’t all speak the same language. The story goes that there was once a very obnoxious old woman named Wurruri who enjoyed walking around with her walking stick and using it to render useless the fires around which people slept. One day, she died, and the news spread throughout the land, much to the delight of those who she had plagued in her lifetime. They all came to see her body, and one group began to eat the flesh of the corpse. They immediately began to speak a particular language and wandered off in a specific direction. The next group ate what was inside the woman’s intestines, and began speaking a different language and wandered off in a different direction. The last group ate the intestines themselves, and started to speak a third language and wandered off in a third direction. Thus, the different aboriginal tribes and their languages were a product of eating a different body part.

These stories tend to emphasize the idea that, before people started speaking new languages, everyone was living in harmony. It is true that language barriers can be a problem, especially when it comes to global business. At Alpha Omega Translations, these barriers are eliminated with ease and professionalism through translation and interpretation (in person or over the phone), plus desktop publishing to perfectly localize your final product.

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Category: Foreign Language

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