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Hezy Laing, "Examining Edenics, the Theory That English (and Every Other Language) Came From Hebrew", The Tablet 10/31/2013:

What if one day, instead of speaking hundreds of different languages, all of humanity suddenly began speaking the exact same language? More incredibly—what if we already do? A new movement called “Edenics” makes the claim that modern day English is simply a derivative of biblical Hebrew. In fact, the proponents of this theory say that all human languages are simply offshoots of Hebrew and claim to have thousands of examples to back them up.

The "What is Edenics?" page at edenics.org traces the idea back to Genesis, and the modern movement back to 1894, but identifies the founding document of the movement as a work published by Isaac Mozeson in 1989:

The Tower of Babel scenario of the Biblical account in Genesis 11 posits that all people spoke the same language before the Lord confused human tongues. Up until the nineteenth century it was common knowledge that the pre-Babel tongue was the language of the Bible, Ancient Hebrew and the language of Adam and Eve. Even in colonial America, Hebrew was so revered that the first dissertation in the New World, at Harvard College, was on Hebrew as The Mother Tongue. The Continental Congress nearly made Hebrew the language of the new republic, as much to break away from England as to reaffirm America’s status as the new Promised Land.

Post-Darwinian thinking dealt harshly with the lexicography of Noah Webster, whose dictionary offered “Shemitic” (Semitic) origins for many English and European terms from Germanic, Greek or Latin initial sources. It was thought that Asians, Africans and Semites evolved from separate monkeys than did the Aryans, and so these foreign tongues could have no extensive relationship to that of the different (thus superior) Indo-Europeans who dominated from Ireland in the West to India in the East.

Silent challenges to the racist and anti-biblical status quo were made by Englishman Arthur Hall in 1894 and American Simon Perlman in 1947. Their privately issued books linking English back to ancient Hebrew were too small and too flawed to make a dent in the academic linguistic community. After a decade of research came Mozeson’s The Word: The Dictionary That Reveals the Hebrew Source of English (first published by Shapolsky, NY in 1989) offering 22,000 English words linked back to Hebrew.

I seem to have stumbled into the role of Designated Persecutor, by answering an email from the journalist Hezy Laing back in July. He asked me to comment on the standing in the field of Mozeson's claims, and also to evaluate the specific etymologies Eye: Ayin; Fruit: Feyrot and Wine: Yayin. Laing also takes some quotes from an old LL post, "The origin of speeches: Wrathful dispersion for real?", 12/31/2007.

As one indication of Laing's journalistic practices, consider his attribution to me of the judgement that Mozeson's work is "a joke":

For an obscure scholar with an abstruse theory, the ferociousness of the attacks against Mozeson seems disproportionate. His work has been called in academic and popular circles “a joke,” “pseudo-science,” “farcical regression,” “a disgrace,” “idiocy,” “blaringly ignorant,” “ludicrous,” and even “dangerous.”

What I actually wrote: "This book is apparently not a joke."


  1. Jonathan said,

    November 1, 2013 @ 7:32 am

    Byron, describing Don Juan's mother, writes:
    " She liked the English and the Hebrew tongue,
    And said there was analogy between 'em;
    She proved it somehow out of sacred song,
    But I must leave the proofs to those who 've seen 'em;
    But this I heard her say, and can't be wrong
    And all may think which way their judgments lean 'em,
    "T is strange—the Hebrew noun which means "I am,"
    The English always use to govern d–n.' "

    That was published in 1819; was this idea around then?

  2. Victor Mair said,

    November 1, 2013 @ 7:45 am

    Back in the days before e-mail, I had extensive postal correspondence with Isaac E. Mozeson, the author of The Word: The Dictionary That Reveals the Hebrew Source of English, and I have that book in my study. Among the blurbs on the back are these:


    "The Word is a challenge to linguists. The parallels traced seem beyond the range of coincidence, and call for a reexamination of our etymologies. Etymon (truth) must be the quest."

    Dr. Joseph T. Shipley, author of The Dictionary of Word Origins and The Origins of Words


    "What I have seen of Mozeson's work suggests a far wider sharing of the world regarding the monogenesis of language and the primacy of Near East culture."

    Professor Louis Feldman, Chairman of Classical Language and Literature Departments, Yeshiva University


    Mozeson asked me for a quote that he could use for publicity purposes. In a long letter to him dated May 16, 1990, I offered him the following:


    Mozeson's work, being of such grand scope, is prone to errors of fact and interpretation with regard to certain languages that he cites. For example, all of his references to Chinese are to Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM) which has diverged radically from the sounds of Middle and Old Sinitic. It would have been far more appropriate for him to cite other Sinitic languages such as Cantonese or Taiwanese which preserve the ancient sounds much better. Still more applicable would have been one of the reconstructions of Old Sinitic that have been proposed by scholars during this century. Although these reconstructions remain in need of further refinement, they are already much closer to the actual pronunciation of Sinitic around the year 1000 B.C.E. (the latest possible time period that would be relevant for theories which advance some sort of Sino-Hebraic connection) than MSM. Indeed. Mozeson would easily have found hundreds more "sound-alikes" using reconstructed Old Sinitic instead of MSM pronunciations….


    I don't think that Mozeson ever used that quote from me.

  3. Sockatume said,

    November 1, 2013 @ 8:24 am

    He reminds me of the gentleman up in Sheffield who is convinced that every vaguely life-like shape seen in a meteorite or in atmospheric dust is in fact an extraterrestrial creature that has reached the Earth. Pattern matching is a wonderful thing. Generating hypotheses to test those patterns, is apparently a bit more rare.

  4. Jeff Carney said,

    November 1, 2013 @ 8:39 am

    The Velikovsky of linguistics.

  5. Nick Zair said,

    November 1, 2013 @ 9:24 am

    A further indication of Laing's journalistic practices:
    'English is a West Germanic language brought to Britain by German invaders some 1,500 years ago. German in turn comes from Latin, which is an Italic language derived from Greek and Phoenician. These, in turn, belong to what is known as the Indo-European superfamily of languages.'

  6. Nick Zair said,

    November 1, 2013 @ 9:37 am

    'And Mozeson can cite a number of leading academics who support somewhat related theories. These include Michael Astour, author of Hellenosemitica; Martin Bernal, author of Black Athena; William Worrell; French scholar Albert Cuny; Danish scholar Hermann Moller, and others.'

    That would be the Albert Cuny who died in 1947, according to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Cuny) and the Hermann Moller who died in 1923 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermann_Moller). Though doubtless 'leading' in the earlier 20th century, they have arguably fallen behind the pack in recent years

  7. Bill Walderman said,

    November 1, 2013 @ 9:40 am

    A relationship between "wine" and "yayin" may not be entirely far-fetched. According to Chantraine, Dictionnaire etymologique de la langue grecque, s.v. οἶνος, the word for "wine" in various languages throughout the Mediterranean region, including Latin "vinum," whence English "wine", may not be of Indo-European origin, and the Hebrew word may be derived from the same non-IE source as Latin "vinum".

    Of course, that doesn't mean that the English word is derived from the Hebrew word.

    [(myl)My email response to Hezy Laing on this point:

    As for "wine", there may be a connection, but even if there's a connection, the direction is not clear:

    Old English wín = Old Frisian, Old Saxon, Middle Low German, Middle Dutch wîn (Dutch wijn), Old High German, Middle High German wîn (German wein), Old Norse vín (Swedish, Danish vin), Gothic wein < Old Germanic *wīnom, < Latinvīnum, the source also of the Balto-Slavonic (Old Church Slavonic vino, Lithuanian vỹnas) and Celtic words (Irish fín, Welsh gwîn). Latin vīnum is primitively related to Greek ϝοῖνος, οἶνος wine, οἴνη vine, wine, Albanian vēne, Armenian gini, which according to some scholars are all derived from a common Mediterranean source, while according to others prim. Armenian *woiniyo (Armeniangini) is the immediate origin of the Greek, Latin, and Albanian words; the nature of the connection of the Indo-European words with the Semitic (Arabic, Ethiopic wain, Hebrew yayin, Assyrian înu) is disputed. Latin vīnum is primitively related to Greek ϝοῖνος, οἶνος wine, οἴνη vine, wine, Albanian vēne, Armenian gini, which according to some scholars are all derived from a common Mediterranean source, while according to others prim. Armenian *woiniyo (Armeniangini) is the immediate origin of the Greek, Latin, and Albanian words; the nature of the connection of the Indo-European words with the Semitic (Arabic, Ethiopic wain, Hebrew yayin, Assyrian înu) is disputed.


  8. Avery Morrow said,

    November 1, 2013 @ 9:46 am

    I must object to the slandering of Andreas Kempe [sic] and other medieval scholars in the post on the old blog you linked to here. The true story can be found in this article:


  9. Sally Thomason said,

    November 1, 2013 @ 9:53 am

    @Nick Zair — that quote from Laing is hilarious! Please, can you give us a source for it?

  10. Jens Fiederer said,

    November 1, 2013 @ 10:08 am




  11. cameron said,

    November 1, 2013 @ 10:19 am

    Even if one accepts the Biblical account of languages being wrathfully sundered, why assume that Hebrew was the original from which the others then diverged? Why even assume that any trace of the original adamic language remained at all?

    If you're going to assume that the original language remained after the sundering, then theoretically any existing language could be the original. Goropius (Jan van Gorp) assumed it was the Brabantic dialect of Dutch, as spoken in and around Antwerp in his day (1519 – 1572), that best reflected the original adamic tongue. Seems as likely a hypothesis as Mozeson's . . .

  12. Jonathan Mayhew said,

    November 1, 2013 @ 10:39 am

    Dante puts forward the view that Hebrew was the Edenic tongue in "De Vulgari Eloquentia," if remember right. I suspect it was a standard view for many, many centuries.

  13. J. W. Brewer said,

    November 1, 2013 @ 10:45 am

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adamic_language notes that long before the rise of modern historical linguistics there were differing views as to whether the pre-Babel Adamic language had or hadn't been Hebrew. But I think myl suggests a separate and stronger criticism, which is that there is no reason to assume within a Wrathful Dispersionist framework that when God confused the tongues at Babel he nonetheless left all of the newly-created and mutually incomprehensible tongues in a relationship with each other that could eventually be decoded by historical linguistics. It would be a pretty wimpy God that could not confuse tongues to a sufficient degree for the results to be indistinguishable from the results of polygenesis.

  14. pj said,

    November 1, 2013 @ 11:08 am

    I think perhaps in your opening sentence you might distinguish Tablet, an apparently internet-only 'new read on Jewish life', from the organ you appear to be citing, The Tablet, 'the international Catholic news weekly'?

  15. J. W. Brewer said,

    November 1, 2013 @ 11:30 am

    It would be interesting to know what Quentin Atkinson and the Nostraticists think of being cited by Laing as being, broadly speaking, on the same side of an academic controversy as Mozeson.

    I haven't kept up with the literature, but are there a significant number of serious scholars these days (to the extent serious scholars do not have the good sense to stay away entirely from the question of the ultimate origin of human language . . .) who affirmatively champion polygenesis, as opposing to simply saying that we do not have the ability given time depth to plausibly reconstruct a hypothetical Proto-World even though it is perfectly possible that there was a (now irrevocably lost) Proto-World?

  16. dw said,

    November 1, 2013 @ 11:33 am

    Isn't it time these linguistic creationists moved onto "intelligent design"?

  17. Bob Ladd said,

    November 1, 2013 @ 11:33 am

    Scholarship aimed at proving that one of the world's currently spoken languages is the source of all languages doesn't invariably arise from belief in the Biblical babel story. An awful lot of people with no connection to Abrahamic religion believe that Tamil was the original language, and at least one 20th century scholar wrote a book comparable to Mozeson's making that case.

  18. J. W. Brewer said,

    November 1, 2013 @ 12:05 pm

    Has there ever been a theorist in this field whose theory was that the Original Language was roughly identical to a currently-extant language that was NOT the theorist's own native language and/or a language viewed as especially prestigious by the theorist's society and/or religion? It would seem that just as big-city scholars will occasionally claim that socially isolated and seemingly unsophisticated speakers way up in the Appalachians speak "pure" Elizabethan English, someone along the way ought to have theorized that some little-known language isolate spoken by a society with minimal contact with the rest of the world in recent millenia was in fact none other than Proto-World preserved in its pristine uncontaminated form. Maybe Jarawa or one of the other Andamanese languages would fit the bill?

  19. NW said,

    November 1, 2013 @ 12:23 pm

    Yes there has been! The notorious Dutch, er, amateur Edo Nyland modestly assigns his starring role to Basque rather than Dutch.

  20. gribley said,

    November 1, 2013 @ 12:36 pm

    I just love the argument that introduces the article.

    "In short, English and Hebrew come from two completely different sources. On the other hand, … [irrelevant history] … then who knows?"

    I'm gonna start using "On the other hand, who knows?" as my first response to every argument.

  21. Jonathan Badger said,

    November 1, 2013 @ 1:06 pm

    Umberto Eco collected a number of "original language of mankind" theories in his non-fiction book "The Search for the Perfect Language". There were lots of non-Hebrew theories — although most of them involved hypothesizing that one's *own* native language was the original language — such as Olaus Rudbeck's theory that Swedish was the original language.

  22. chh said,

    November 1, 2013 @ 1:07 pm

    This reminds me a little of Barry Fell's approach to diachronic linguistics too. He had some kind of proposal that the Athabaskan language Carrier was a direct descendent of some Celtic language, based on orthographically similar looking words he had found in dictionaries.

    Out of curiosity, I'd like to see some more detail about the methods Mozeson is using. His explanation of metathesis (if those examples are his) is really frightening.

  23. bross said,

    November 1, 2013 @ 1:09 pm

    I'm glad that this has been cleared up. IIRC Ataturk promulgated the idea that Turkish was the mother of all languages, but then, there are those who think that honor belongs to Sanskrit

  24. Nick Zair said,

    November 1, 2013 @ 1:27 pm

    @ Sally Thomason
    the source is the article cited by MYL in the post

  25. Jerry Friedman said,

    November 1, 2013 @ 1:56 pm

    Isaac… Izzy… *googles* No, the person who used to offer similar etymologies on Usenet said his name was Israel "Izzy" Cohen. He too was rather free with metathesis.

    An interesting feature of these theories is that the correspondences get worse as you look farther back in time. I'd think there's a fertile field for crackpot explanations of how "source" and Hebrew shoresh ('root'), though originally unrelated, came to be so similar in sound and meaning. Some kind of morphic resonance, maybe.

    In reality, I assume it happens occasionally that a word in one language affects an unrelated word in another language to make the sound or meaning or both more similar. I was thinking of "island" and the noun "ache", but according to etymonline.com, only the spellings were affected.

  26. Jerry Friedman said,

    November 1, 2013 @ 1:57 pm

    That is, I was thinking that "island" might be an example, and the noun "ache" might be another.

  27. Jerry Friedman said,

    November 1, 2013 @ 2:21 pm

    cameron: Obviously, if God was going to Choose a people, he'd make sure that after the wrathful dispersion, they still used the language of Eden. At least this has been obvious to many Jews.

    J. W. Brewer: The first determination of the original human language was experimental, not theoretical, and although the experiment was done by Egyptians, the answer was Phrygian.

  28. Rubrick said,

    November 1, 2013 @ 5:06 pm

    My initial reaction was that this was all nonsense, but when I saw how professional their website looked I reconsidered.

  29. Chris C. said,

    November 1, 2013 @ 5:18 pm

    @John Zair — Try arguing with a really polemical Greek someday about language and history, and they'll tell you that yes, indeed, the Romans were Greeks and Latin is a Greek language. The proof? Romulus was descended from Aeneas, and Aeneas was from Troy, and the Trojans were clearly Greeks because Homer had them speaking Greek.

    I don't expect the reasoning in the present instance to be any more sound.

  30. Chris C. said,

    November 1, 2013 @ 5:19 pm

    Guh — that's to NICK Zair. I got two responses crossed in my head when I wrote that. My apologies.

  31. David Morris said,

    November 1, 2013 @ 5:30 pm

    (serious, and accepting pro tem the historicity of the biblical stories) Wouldn't the language spoken in Eden (whether that language was 'perfect' or not) have become corrupted, like everything else human, at/after the Fall, so that even if the universal language at the time of Babel has been preserved in/as some current-day language, it is not, in fact, the language spoken in Eden, but, at best, a 'fallen' version of it?

    (silly) My interpretation of the word 'becos' that the children in Psammeticus's experiment uttered, is that it is actually the English word 'because', proving that English (quite co-incidentally, my own native language!) is the original language. This is confirmed by the fact that so many people in so many countries want to learn English.

  32. Ken Brown said,

    November 1, 2013 @ 5:54 pm

    If you read the Hebrew scriptures as literal history, its quite obvious that the patriarchs did not originally speak Hebrew. They were from "Ur of the Chaldees" and settled in Haran, so would have spoken a language more closely related to a predecessor of Aramaic. "My father was a wandering Aramaean". They'd have picked up Hebrew in Canaan.

    How odd of God to have preserved the speech of Eden amongst the sinful Canaanites rather than his chosen people.

  33. maidhc said,

    November 1, 2013 @ 7:23 pm

    I vaguely remember a story that one of the kings of France tried an experiment to determine the original language by having a set of infants brought up without anyone speaking to them, and determined that left to themselves they came to speak Hebrew? Or was it Coptic?

  34. Uriel Harvey said,

    November 1, 2013 @ 7:29 pm

    Coincidentally I happened to open the "Mango" language learning suite today for the first time and noticed that they had added several new languages, but was gravely disappointed to find that they state very matter-of-factly midway through the first lesson in Biblical Hebrew that the word "earth" is derived from the Hebrew word "aretz."

  35. Mark Mandel said,

    November 1, 2013 @ 8:22 pm

    Izzy Cohen is still active on ANS-L, the listserver of the American Name Society, propounding such etymologies as… well, here's one from yesterday:


    >  Hebrew SHeN and Latin dent- are not cognates. They do not come from the same source language. 

    Well, Marc, what you say would be true if there did not exist any language before IndoEuropean and AfroAsiatic. Of course there did, so there is no reason that Semitic words and IE words cannot be related via a Nostratic-like ancestor. 

    In fact, the word "Latin" (the tongue of the Romans) is cognate with Semitic LaSHoN (tongue) via an earlier dental T-sound for the Hebrew letter shin. Compare Pig Latin (child tongue) where the Pig is cognate with "page" (boy) and with Semitic PaG, a child prior to reaching the age of "majority." In Israeli Hebrew, PaG now refers to an infant born prematurely, but it originally meant an "unripe fig".

    [To reach] majority (from Latin maior = an adult) is cognate with Hebrew BoGeR (to reach majority) based on a B – M parallel. Compare English mausoleum and Hebrew BeiS 3oLaM (literally, house of eternity).



    (Of course, it's convenient to use the modern Ashkenazi pronunciation of bēt as [beis], but I'm sure Izzy would just handwave the fricative and the stop into one.)

    He was addressing Marc (with a "c") Picard, not me. Marc quite sensibly replied:


    You've addressed the wrong person here. There's no way I'm getting involved in any discussion on some illusory proto language.


    — Mark (with a "k") Mandel

  36. maidhc said,

    November 1, 2013 @ 9:14 pm

    Following Jerry Friedman's link, I see that my story about the King of France goes back to Herodotus. Now I wish I remember where I read it.

    Mark Mandel: Ignoring the usual idea that the original mausoleum was the tomb of King Mausolus! Now that's some bold thinking.

    I remember some years ago reading The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross. My enjoyment of the book was disturbed by the fact that many of his arguments rested on the assumption that Sumerian was an Indo-European language. I remember thinking that authors should limit themselves to one wacky theory per book.

    Similarly with some of those Tamil originalists talking about the Tamil colonization of Easter Island.

  37. Jerry Friedman said,

    November 1, 2013 @ 10:36 pm

    David Morris: As far as I know, the idea of such a comprehensive fall is a Christian one, not found (or hardly found) in Judaism.
    The Orthodox belief is that the Hebrew Bible is written in the uncorrupted language of God. Among other beings. Part of the Passover seder is an invitation to everyone who is hungry to come and eat. It's in Aramaic, not Hebrew. The reason is said to be that devils speak only Hebrew and you don't want them to hear and accept the invitation.

    Ken Brown: It's apparently a little-known fact that Abraham was born before the Babel incident, according to this version from Chabad incorporating stories from the Talmud. Maybe it was good planning on God's part to make sure that the Canaanites spoke a language similar to Hebrew, if they didn't get it from Abraham.

  38. Graeme said,

    November 2, 2013 @ 2:03 am

    But Mark, you do think it's a joke, no? In the sense of being worthy of ridicule.
    (Nb I don expect you to be able to answer this directly)

  39. David Morris said,

    November 2, 2013 @ 3:13 am

    Jerry: So if devils speak only Hebrew, then I am safe from spritual attack becuase I don't understand Hebrew?

  40. Peter Taylor said,

    November 2, 2013 @ 3:31 am

    The most interesting thing about this to me is the last excerpt from Laing's article which you quote:

    For an obscure scholar with an abstruse theory, the ferociousness of the attacks against Mozeson seems disproportionate. His work has been called in academic and popular circles “a joke,” “pseudo-science,” “farcical regression,” “a disgrace,” “idiocy,” “blaringly ignorant,” “ludicrous,” and even “dangerous.”

    I think it's safe to say that by "disproportionate" he means "excessive" rather than "overly gentle", but (leaving aside the distinction between attacking someone's work and their person) that all seems fairly run-of-the-mill criticism of crackpottery.

  41. Rodger C said,

    November 2, 2013 @ 11:04 am

    @Uriel Harvey: This word has in fact been seriously proposed as one of a number of Proto-Semitic borrowings into PIE.

  42. Jerry Friedman said,

    November 2, 2013 @ 1:13 pm

    Graeme: It's interesting that "This is apparently not a joke" and "This is a joke" can both mean "This is worthy of ridicule." However, it's still ridiculously irresponsible for a journalist to change one to the other.

    David Morris: I'm pretty sure you shouldn't get complacent. :-)

  43. David Eddyshaw said,

    November 2, 2013 @ 3:25 pm

    Unfortunately, the basic problem here is that modern scientific linguistics is completely outside the area regarded as basic common knowledge for an educated layman. It's as if we lived in a world where most graduates' understanding of physics was that everything was made from the four elements, earth, air, fire and water.

  44. Milan said,

    November 2, 2013 @ 6:15 pm

    Well obviously Lojban was the Edenic language. After all, most of the vocabulary resembles its translation in all of the five most widely spoken languages.¹ And isn't it reasonable to think, that Adam and God spoke completely unambiguously?

    1 For those who don't know about Lojban: That's because it was designed to do so.

  45. tetri_tolia said,

    November 3, 2013 @ 11:42 am

    Back to wine for a moment – most Georgians are convinced that the ancient Georgians are the inventors of wine, and that the Georgian word γvino (ღვინო) is that which all the others is derived from.

  46. D. Freund said,

    November 3, 2013 @ 10:51 pm

    There are stories in the Talmud about how a heretic would come to a Rabbi and ask an impertinent question, receive a plausible answer, go away…and then the Rabbi's students would say "well, that was a good answer for an ignoramus, but…what is the real reason?"
    In the Tablet article, you are cited as explaining that 'ayin' could not lead to 'eye', because it comes from the Germanic oge/auge, from which I presume that the 'g' sound makes the derivation impossible. But do we not know, e.g., from the LXX, that the ancient Greeks heard a 'g' sound in 'ayin', as in the transliteration of 'Aza to Gaza? So please, explain why 'ayin could not lead to auge.

  47. Jerry Friedman said,

    November 4, 2013 @ 12:49 am

    I'm not a linguist, but it seems to me that if `Aza sounded like Gaza to some (which I'm taking your word for), then `ayin should have sounded like gayin—which is even farther from the Germanic words.

  48. Cy said,

    November 4, 2013 @ 1:47 am

    D. Freund:
    'Ayin' could easily lead to 'auge' and thence to 'eye' – but it didn't, because historical linguistics looks for *patterns* of sound change, not simply possible ones; that is to say, it is simple to show how, for example, a lexical item with 6 or so segments (like 'ayin' above, including segmental levels for stress and phonation etc.) _could_ change to _any_ other lexical entry. The trick though is to find similar patterns in a large sample of other words of similar sort in the same language. So you would have to show that many words that start with a vowel 'a' of that specific backness and height (or a glottal stop of some sort) all change into the English diphthong 'ai' (or its precursors in other Germanic languages). You would then have to do the same thing for each segment – coda-drops after certain vowels, syllable loss, the fricative loss from auge to whatever, etc. Things like Grimm's law in IE studies. Regular sound change, over time, with exceptions due to interference with other regular sound changes, but nothing in isolation. This is all to reiterate what David Eddyshaw said about layman understandings of linguistics.

    If you're looking at lists of tokens, and not comparing them to each other in process, it's simply not science, it's a hobby that used to pass for philology in many circles – but we've moved well beyond that now and have been for the last century or two.

  49. Sarah said,

    November 4, 2013 @ 2:09 am

    Sorry if this has already been said but haven't had time to read every word – I have recently been learning Sanskrit and it was explained that Sanskrit was the language from which all other languages were derived, with examples of a number of words related to other Indo-European languages. I expect there are claims somewhere for many other languages as being the original one.

  50. Michael said,

    November 4, 2013 @ 4:56 am

    In 1918 Gyula Markos, a Hungarian Catholic priest, declared that "God created the world in Hungarian". He then "proved" his thesis by producing dozens of Hebrew words which he claimed had a Hungarian origin (and not vice versa!): Abram came from "en abram" (my face)` nevala (a shameful deed) from "nyavalya" (disease) and so on.He did not stop at Hebrew, but went on and explained German, Latin and Greek words as well. Herbst (autumn) comes from "herbaszt" (makes leaves fall). He also identified the pre-Hebrew nations living in Canaan with Hungarian localities,,,

  51. Michael said,

    November 4, 2013 @ 4:58 am

    And let's not forget experiments conducted to find the original tongue, Here is one from Wikipedia:
    "The experiments were recorded by the monk Salimbene di Adam in his Chronicles, who wrote that Frederick encouraged "foster-mothers and nurses to suckle and bathe and wash the children, but in no ways to prattle or speak with them; for he would have learnt whether they would speak the Hebrew language (which had been the first), or Greek, or Latin, or Arabic, or perchance the tongue of their parents of whom they had been born."

  52. Graeme said,

    November 4, 2013 @ 7:18 am

    Jerry, I appreciate the regret one feels at being misquoted or verballed just to render a story more scandalous or a dispute more fractious – I deal with journos several times a week, albeit reporting on a different discipline.

    I meant that the semantics of the original quote and reporter's paraphrase seem the same to me. Of course the social implications and emotional tone of calling the work of a dedicated linguistic researcher (however amateurish) 'a joke' is quite different from the semantic content. Doubly so given the megaphonic nature of the media.

  53. NW said,

    November 4, 2013 @ 9:37 am

    Gaza did have a g-sound of a kind: Arabic preserves the two Semitic sounds `ayn and ghayn, and Gaza in Arabic is Ghazzah. Ancient Hebrew lost the distinction, with ghayn becoming `ayn, which is incidentally the Arabic word for "eye" (whereas ghayn isn't), showing that this word didn't have the g-sound in Semitic.

  54. Jerry Friedman said,

    November 4, 2013 @ 9:55 am

    Graeme: Sorry, I was misquoted (by myself)—that is, I didn't say what I was thinking. I didn't mean to suggest that you were defending that misquotation, so "however" wasn't a good choice. Maybe I should have said, "Of course, it's still irresponsible" or some such.

  55. Chris C. said,

    November 4, 2013 @ 10:30 pm

    @Sarah — Your lessons were not wholly wrong. It was observation of word resemblance between Greek, Latin and Sanskrit that first brought the existence of the IE family to notice, back in the 19th century. So yes, a great many Sanskrit words are related to words in European languages.

    However, you won't find a great many proponents of the "out of India" theory around nowadays, outside of certain nationalist elements within India itself. Such theorists also tend to push the history of Vedic Sanskrit back several thousand years earlier than is commonly accepted, since the theory requires it to have developed within the Indus Valley civilization.

  56. D. Freund said,

    November 5, 2013 @ 2:01 am

    Cy, thank you for your elaborate explanation, even if much of it is beyond my meagre understanding of the subject. However, if my minimal comprehension is correct, you seem to be arguing more against the derivation of eye from Auge, which I took to be already established by the experts. My question concerned more the connection between Auge and 'ayin through perhaps several intermediary languages (and why that was presumed to be self-evidently implausible).

  57. Cy said,

    November 5, 2013 @ 3:14 am

    @D. Freund I sense you may have a horse in this race, but if you are sincere then this is what a serious scholar would have to start with. He would have to show the possible processes by which became , in steps. Then he would need to find other words that have the same sounds behaving similarly. Other words that start with (what I think is a glottal) that end up starting with in other Germanic forms. Then other words that have a medial that end up as Germanic , and other words that have a coda that become . If it is a real process where these words became Germanic and then English, then patterns will start emerging – not simply possible cognates, but large-scale patterns. These patterns would also bring along other sounds in the languages, other final nasals might also drop off, or perhaps no other nasals, but only alveolar finals.

    Single examples are useless, and anyone with a knowledge of phonemes can easily derive one word in some language from any other word in any language with only a handful of steps, as Mozeson and many others have done, since forever. These derivations have only the weight of anecdote – they are just play.

  58. Cy said,

    November 5, 2013 @ 3:16 am

    Sorry, my formatting of example phonemes was devoured.

  59. chris y said,

    November 5, 2013 @ 12:59 pm

    “Je ne suis pas comme une dame de la cour de Versailles, qui disait: c’est bien dommage que l’aventure de la tour de Babel ait produit la confusion des langues; sans cela tout le monde aurait toujours parle francais.” – Voltaire

  60. Suburbanbanshee said,

    November 5, 2013 @ 10:18 pm

    The Irish theory says that although Hebrew, Greek, and Latin are the languages God has used for Holy Writ, the Irish started the first school at Babel in order to study all the new languages; and that Gaelic was created by picking out all the best and most beautiful sounds from among the languages studied.

  61. Jonathan Gress-Wright said,

    November 6, 2013 @ 3:31 pm

    It seems to be the default assumption of most people, who are ignorant of language history anyway, that all languages must come from one's own language. Failing that, they must derive from some language now spoken. The idea that ancestral languages may no longer be spoken, but only survive in the historical record or in reconstructions, seems to be the last idea anyone comes up with. I remember reading in Szemerenyi's Introduction to Indo-European Linguistics how Aristotle discussed at length how Homeric Greek differed from his own variety, always, of course, with the Homeric form derived from the Classical, never vice-versa. Note that Homer enjoyed immense prestige in Classical Greek culture, so you might have thought they would at least see Homeric Greek as the "original".

  62. Mark said,

    December 6, 2013 @ 10:20 pm

    He then "proved" his thesis by producing dozens of Hebrew words which he claimed had a Hungarian origin (and not vice versa!): Abram came from "en abram" (my face)` nevala (a shameful deed) from "nyavalya" (disease) and so on.He did not stop at Hebrew, but went on and explained German, Latin and Greek words as well. Herbst (autumn) comes from "herbaszt" (makes leaves fall).

  63. CrisisMaven said,

    June 17, 2014 @ 9:41 am

    Is this reasoning tied in with the "lost tribes" theory or is it a separate development? How about the competing lineage from Sanskrit ascribed to most (therefore called Indo-Germanic) words by linguists on the European continent, mainly stemming from the German researchers the famous Grimm brothers?

  64. Elonkareon said,

    June 25, 2014 @ 8:59 pm

    Ken Brown: If you read the Scriptures as literal history (and thus place Abraham's departure from Ur before 1800 BC), then he cannot have brought any dialect of Aramaic with him, as no language to which that name is applied was spoken until roughly 1100 BC (coincidentally, this is also later than the latest dates proposed for the Exodus, so I suppose even if you *don't* take it literally this is impossible). The literal dating of Abraham's journey is also well before the first attestation of any Northwest Semitic language (to which belong both Hebrew and Aramaic), and thus potentially before the division of proto-Hebrew and proto-Aramaic.

    After a brief consultation with Wikipedia, I find it odd that (aside from Phoenician) many of the languages specifically mentioned as Canaanite (Ammonite, Moabite, Edomite) are associated with descendants of Abraham, rather than the pre-Abrahamic inhabitants of Canaan (the opening blurb does mention two of these (Amorites and a general "Canaanite") but they are nowhere referenced in the body of the article on the Canaanite languages).

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