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Babel and the Ancient Single Language of the Human Race
Copyright 1999 by G. R. Morton
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Many Christians and non-christians alike have questioned the reality of the Tower of Babel or ignored it altogether. Indeed, other than in young-earth literature it is difficult to find a reference to this event. Andrew White, in A History of the Warfare between Science and Theology in Christendom, attacks the very idea of the story. Davis Young omits it in his book, The Biblical Flood. Bernard Ramm in The Christian View of Science and Scripture makes only the slightest reference to it. Obviously, this story causes some concern or embarrassment among Christian apologists who steer far from it.
However, since this event is in the Bible one must face the question of whether it is a real event or if it is merely an allegory. During the past decade some evidence has been developed which does support one aspect of the story--the contention that the entire human race once spoke the same language. Merrit Ruhlen (not a creationist) points out much of this data in his book, Merritt Ruhlen,The Origin of Language, (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1994). These are from some posts I made to the ASA listserv and TheologyWeb:
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.
First, I would also point people to my article Morton, G. R. (2002) "Language at the Dawn of Humanity," Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, 54(2002):3:193-194. This discusses some work presented at the 2001 meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics, There are two click languages Sandawe and Hadza, which are spoken by two groups which were believed to be related, although for years linguists had noted that the languages themselves seem very very distant in spite of sharing the same characteristic of having click sounds included in the language. Alec Knight, Joanna Mountain and colleagues analyzed the Y chromosomes of the two groups and found that these two groups were genetically the most distant pair of populations on earth. In other words, their last common ancestor was as long ago as 100,000 years. The abstract says:

Y chromosome and mtDNA variation in linguistically diverse peoples of Tanzania: Ancient roots and ancient clicks. A. Knight1, P.A. Underhill2, H.M. Mortensen1, A.A. Lin2, D. Louis1, M. Ruhlen1, J.L. Mountain1. 1) Department of Anthropological Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, CA; 2) Department of Genetics, Stanford University, Stanford, CA.

"We analyzed genetic variation in 122 "unrelated" individuals from the vicinity of Lake Eyasi in north-central Tanzania, to recover aspects of population history and human evolution. Representatives of the four linguistic phyla of Africa were studied, including 50 Hadzabe (or Hadza) foragers. We present a Y chromosome phylogeny derived from unique event polymorphisms (UEPs). We also present Y chromosome microsatellite variation within UEP-defined clades, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) fragment polymorphisms, and nucleotide sequences of both mtDNA control region hypervariable segments. When compared to other African population data, our results reveal elements of prehistory relevant to the evolution of anatomically modern humans, including migration, gene flow, and language. We were able to distinguish recent gene flow from ancient demographic signatures. Hadzabe are strongly differentiated from other groups, have high genetic diversity, and exhibit comparatively great genetic distance from the !Kung of southern Africa, suggesting great antiquity for click (Khoisan) languages.
end of abstract

What they concluded was that these two groups of people shared a common genetic and linguistic history 100,000 years ago but went their separate ways in both areas. The data seems to indicate that one of the earliest human languages belongs to the click family (Khoisan family).

Now that data demonstrates the likelihood of language at least 100,000 years ago, not the 60 kyr of Hugh Ross's view. And the anatomical data seems to indicate that mankind was speaking at least 3 times longer. Theology and apologetics simply must deal with this issue. But are there other connections?
One of the ways such connections are found is in the same sound being used in different languages and language families (cognates). The words that appear most stable across language family boundaries are those which are very essential or personal or relational. The data listed below, while not proving the Tower of Babel story does support the original contention that mankind did speak one language which is one of the claims of the Bible.

I will discuss only two words, water and finger(aqwa and tik), but there are lots of other words that unite the world's languages.

These include (Ruhlen p. 105)
sound meaning

papa father

mama mother

kaka brother/uncle

ku who

ma what (ma is used in Mandarin as a question indicator)

pal two

akwa water

tik finger

kanV arm

boko arm

bunku knee

sum hair

putV vulva

cuna nose smell

KamV squeeze

parV fly
(the capital V represents a vowel whose original pronunciation is

Ruhlen states:
"Another striking resemblance among the world's language families is a word whose original meaning was probably 'finger' (though it has evolved to 'one' and 'hand'[='fingers'] in many languages), and whose original

form was something like tik. I first became aware of the widespread nature of this root at a public lecture that Greenberg gave at Stanford in 1977, in which he mentioned three roots that were widely distributed around the world: tik 'finger,' pal 'two' (which we will look at in the following section), and par 'to fly.' As you no doubt noticed in your examination of Table 10, no less than eight of the twelve families show traces of tik 'finger,one,' namely, Nilo-Saharan (B), Niger-Kordofanian (C), Afro-Asiatic (D), Eurasiatic (G), Dene-Caucasian (H), Austric (I), Indo-Pacific (J) and Amerind (L)." ~Merritt Ruhlen, The Origin of Language, (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1994), p. 115
Linguistic symbols and evolution of sounds
? sounds like tt's in bottle when pronouced like by a cockney in London. I need to point out the sound changes that linguists have found










Linguists look at sounds and how they change and then compare cognates from different languages looking for a pattern. This is illustrated by the following data regarding African languages:
Language sound meaning

Fur tek one

Maba tek (tuk) one

Nera dekk-u one

Dinka tok one

Berta diikoni one

Mangetu t'e one

Kwama seek-o one t changed to s

Bari to one

Jur tok one

Twampa de? one

Komo de one
Ruhlen states,
"In 1972 the American linguist Edgar Gregersen presented substantial evidence connecting two of Greenberg's four African families, Nilo-Saharan and Niger-Kordofanian. One of the pieces of evidence he offered was Niger-Kordofanian forms that appeared cognate with the Nilo-Saharan forms just cited." ~Merritt Ruhlen, The Origin of Language, (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1994), p. 115-116
Tik, Finger/One
Niger-Kordofanian family

Fulup qsik~sex finger (~ separates variant pronunciations)

Nalu te finger

Gur dike one

Gwa dogbo one

Fon dokpa one

Ewe deka one

Tonga tiho finger

Chopi t'ho finger

Ki-Bira zika finger

Ba-Kiokwa zigu finger
Afro-Asiatic family of North Africa

Oromo toko one

West Gurage tegu only one

Yaaku tegei hand

Saho ti one

Bilin tu one

Tsamai dokko one

Nefusa tukod finger

Hausa tak only one

Gisiga tekoy one

Gidder te-teka one

Logone tku first
Eurasiatic family

Indoeuropean branch

Indoeuropean root deik

Latin dig-itus finger

Latin indeks forefinger

English toe toe

Old English tahe toe

Latin Decem 10
Uralic branch

Votyak odik one

Zyrian otik one
Turkic branch

Chuvash tek only, just

Uighur tek only merely

Chagatai tek only, single

Turkish tek only

Turkish teken one by one

Korean tayki one, thing

Old Korean tek 10

Ainu tek hand

Ainu atiki five

Japanese te hand


Kamchatkan itygin paw-foot

Upik tik-iq index finger

Inupiaq tik-iq index finger

Inupiaq Tikkuagpaa he points to it

Attu tik-laq middle finger

Attu atgu finger

Attu tagataq one

Rai tik(-pu) one

Nung thi one

Tibetan (g-)tsig one
Yeniseian branch

Ket tek finger

Punpokol tok finger

Kott tog-an finger
Na-Dene branch

Haida ta with the fingers

Tlingit t-eeq finger

Tlingit Tek one

Eyak tikhi one

Sarsi tlik one

Kutchin (i-)Tag one

Hupa ta? One

Navajo ta? One
Austric family

Austroasiatic branch

Kharia ti? Hand

Riang ti? Hand

Wa tai? Hand

Khmer tai hand

Vietnamese tay hand
Daic branch

Li dlian finger

Northern Li tlean,then finger

Loi then,cian finger

Tasmanian motook forefinger

SE tasmanian togue hand

Boven Mbian tek fingernail

Digul tuk fingernail
Amerind languages

North American Amerind Family

Nootka taka only

Mohawk tsi?er Finger

Sierra Miwok tika? Index finger

Wintun tiq-eles ten

Nisenan tok- hand

Mixe to?k, tuk one

Sayula tu?k one

Tzeltal tukal alone

Quiche tik'ex carry in the hand

Karok tik finger,hand

Achumawi wa-tuci finger

Washo tsek finger

Yana 'tgi- alone

East Pomo bi'yatsukai finger

Arraarra teeh'k hand

Pehtsik tiki-vash hand

Akwa'ala asit-dek one

Nahua tiikia?a one

Pima bajo cic one

Tarahumara sika hand

Mazatec cika?a alone

Mangue tike one
South America Amerind family

Chibcha ytiquyn finger

Chibcha Acik by ones

Borunca etsik one

Guatuso dooki one

Shiriana ithak hand

Ulua tinka-mak finger

Paez teec one

Cahuapana itekla finger,hand

Jebero itokla finger,hand

Qawashqar takso one

Siona tekua one

Siona teg-li five

Canichana eutixle finger

Yupua di(x)ka arm

Uasona dikaga arm

Upano tikitik one

Aguaruna tikij one

Murato tici hand

Uru ti one

Chipaya zek one

Itene taka one

Guamo dixi finger

Katembri tika toe

Yuracare tece thumb

Kukura tikua finger

Accaqwai tigina one

Ocaina dikabu arm

Mataco otejji one

Tagnani etegueno finger

Sensi (nawis)-tikoe one(finger)

Cavinena eme-toko hand

Botocudo (po-)cik one(finger)

Botocudo jik alone

~Merritt Ruhlen, The Origin of Language, (New York: John Wiley and Sons,

1994), p.115-119

I would add the example from the Sino-Tibetan family, Mandarin in which under the rule that d->z, the word for point is zhichu and the word for first is diyi.

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.

Aq'wa 'water'
Everyone has used the root 'aqua' as in 'aquamarine' and aquarium in Spanish the term is agua. In Latin aqua means water. There appears to be a root akwa or aqua which appears over and over in language family after language family with this sound associated with water, river/drink etc. I must emphasize that the table below is phonetic not proper spelling. The phonetic sounds are as follows x=ks or qs, the symbols ? , ) etc are my best representations of the phonetic symbols used in Ruhlen's book. There is a difference between a single ) and a () pair, the pair represents the sound quality of the consonant.
Ruhlen postulates that the original word for water was aqwa. Some languages lost the first part and the word became qwa or kua and some lost the last part and the word became aq or ak. Some languages added parts. K's changed to g's or x's according to normal rules of linguistic change. One could postulate that the word water came from a variation on the Ainu word for water Wakka, which then became watta or something like that. Anyway, here is some of the evidence for an originally single language among humans. Not all of the words make the case to this non-linguist, but there is enough similarity to make me take notice of what Ruhlen is saying.
Afro-Asiatic family

language sound meaning

Janjero akka water

Kaffa aco water

Mocha ac'o water

Gofa hacca water

Shinasha ac'c'o water

Badditu wat'e water

Agaw aq water

biln ?aq water

Xamir aq(w) a drops of water

Quara axu water

Avia axu water

Damot ago water

Hadiyya wo?o water

Tamboaro waha water

Sidamo waho water

Iraqw aha drink
Khoisan family of southern Africa

!O !Kung kau rain

!Kung k''a drink

!Kung kau rain

!Naron k''a drink

|Kam-ka !ke k''wa drink

|Kam-ka !kekau rain

||Ng!Ke k''a drink

||Ng!Ke kau to rain

Batwa k''a drink

|Auni k''a drink

Masarwa k''a drink

|Nu||en k''a drink
Nilo-Saharan Family
Fur k)I rain

Nyimang kwe water

So kwe? Water

Ik cue water

Mangbetu equo water

Berta k)I rain, cloud

Kwama uuku water

Anej agu-d cloud
Indo European Family

Latin ak(w)a water

Hittite eku water

Luwian aku water

Palaic ahu drink

Italian akkwa drink

Provencal aiga water

Catalan aigwa water

Spanish agwa water

Portuguese aqwa water

Rumanian ape water

Sardinian abba water

Germanic ahwa river old Germanic manuscripts-modern German lost root

Tocharian yok drink
Eurasiatic Family
Ainu Wakka water

Ainu ku drink

Japanese aka bilge water
Dene-Caucasian Family

Chechen aq suckle

Burushaski hagum wet

Newari kwo river

Khaling ku water

Kachin k(h)u water
Indo Pacific family

Awyu okho water/river

syiagha okho water

Yareba ogo water

Yonggom oq water

Ninggirum ok water
Amerind--native American

Yurok -'k(w) suffix indicating movement on water

Quileute kwaya water

Kwakwala yax thin liquid

Bella Bella yug(w)a rain

Snohomish q(w)a? water

Squamish q(w)u water

Squamish q(rw)et wet

Nbisqualli ko water

Nbisqualli okokwa drink

Lkungen kwa water

Lkungen q(w)aq(w)a? water

Twana q)? water

Twana yeq(rw) wash

Shuswap kwo water

Caddo koko water

Caddo yoyakka drink

Wichita kik'a drink
Penutian branch

Nass ak(j)-s water

Twsimshian aks drink

Tsimshian yaks wash

Takema ug(w) drink

Siuslaw inq'aa river

Nez Perce k'u drink

Molale ?uquns water

Klamath joq' wash

N. Sahaptin -tkwa go in water

Wintun wak'ai creek

Wintun yuqa? Wash

Rumsien uk drink

Yokuts ?ukun drink

Lake Miwok kiik water

Saclan kiko water

Miwok kiky water

Zuni k'a water

Zuni k'I become wet

Yuki uk' water

Chitmacha ?ak- water

Atakapa ak water

Chickasaw oka? Water

Hitchiti uki water

Tetontepec uu?k drink

Zoque ?uhk drink

Yucatec uk' be thirsty

Yucatec yok-ha river

Kekchi u?ka drink
Hokan branch

Chimariko aqa water

Kashaya ?ahq(h)a water

Kashaya q'o drink

North Pomo ?ahk(h)a water

North Pomo k'o drink

SE Pomo xa water

S. Pomo ?ahk(h)a water

East Pomo xak(h) wet

Shasta ?atta water

Washo asa water

Karok ?as water

Esselen asa(-nax) water

Chumash aho water

Seri ?ax water

Seri Kiihk wet

Yuma axa? Water

Mohave aha water

Yavapai ?aha? water

Diegueno ?axa water

Quinigua kwa water

Tonkawa ?ax water

Comecrudo ax water

Tequistlatec l-axa? Water
Central Amerind branch

Otomi nk'a wet

Cuicatec ku?u drink

Tewa pokwin lake

Tewa kwan rain
South America Amerind

Chibchan-Paezan branch

Shiriana koa drink

Chimila uk drink

Binticua agan drink

Allentiac aka water
Andean branc Amerind

Iquito aqua water

Quechua yaku water

Quechua hoq'o get wet

Aymara oqo swallow

Mapudungu ko water

Genneken iagup water

Yamana aku lake
Macro-Tucanoan brach

Cubeo oko water

Bahukiwa oko water

Bahukiwa uku-mi he is drinking

Bahukiwa okobo rain

Tucano axko water

Erulia oxko water rain

Barasano oko water

Wanana ko water

Yahuna okoa rain

Auake okoa water river
Equatorial branch

Esmeralda kebi-axa let's drink

Ayore oxi? Drink

Kabishana aku water

Amniape aku water

Wayoro uru water

Mekens iki water

Guarani aki wet

Guarani I?u drink

Kamayura ?akim wet

Kamayura I?u drink

Quitemo ako water

Uaraicu waka wash

Terena oko rain

Chipaya ax wash

Guana uko rain

Apurina iaka wet

Amarakaeri iyako lake
Macro-Carib branch

Witoto hoko wash

Yagua Xa water

Taulipang ai?ku wet

Macusi u-wuku my drink

Macusi Aiku wet

Waiwai woku drink
Macro-Panoan branch
Lule uk drink

Guachi euak water

Caduveo yakip(a) drink

Suhin I-yoke drink

Mayoruna waka water

Mayoruna oakanu drink

Culino Yaku water

Culino waka river

Amahuaco wakum water

Amahuaco aiyaki drink

Nocoman wakoja river

Huarayo hakua wash

Cavinena igi drink
Macro-Ge branch

Bororo ku drink

Koraveka ako drink

Fulnio waka lake

Caraja axu lake

Kamakan kwa drink

Palmas goi water

Apucarana (n)goyo water

Delbergia ng)yo water

Apinage inko water river

Crengez ko water

Cayapo ngo water

Cayapo ikon drink

Chavante ko water

Cherente ko water

Chicriaba ku water

Aponegicran waiko drink

Suya ikone drink
~Merritt Ruhlen, The Origin of Language, (New York: John Wiley and Sons,

1994), p. 107-115
I would add the word from the Sino-Tibetan language, Mandarin, Kou ke which means thirst.
One other late edition here is that research reported July, 2004 noted that the word papa occurred in 700 out of 1000 languages which the authors studied. These 700 languages were from all different language families. In Mandarin, Baba means father. see http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99996188
So, I would say, that there very well may be linguistic evidence of a common root for these words throughout the world's language. This is consistent with the Biblical assertion that humanity once spoke a common language. That being said, the thing wrong with young-earth views of this is that they place Babel far too late in history.