Linguistic Family Tree

Science, IT, Nature

Where do all our many languages come from? There are roughly 6,500 spoken languages in the world today yet about 2,000 of them are spoken by less than 1,000 people.

In the Book of Genesis it is said that prior to the Great Flood a united humanity spoke a single language. However, the generations after the Flood boldly set out to build a city and tower at Babel (what was later known as Babylon, close to modern-day Baghdad) to reach the heavens and make a name for themselves (do we detect early ego structures here?). The Bible cites the Lord’s reaction to this move:

“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. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.”

The Sumerian clay tablets attribute the story to Enki (described by insightful scientists as belonging to a group of alien beings called the Anunnaki who came to Earth from Nibiru, a twelfth planet in our sun system with an elliptical orbit) who genetically modified beings on earth:

“… [Enki] changed the speech in their mouths, [brought] contention into it, into the speech of man that (until then) had been one.”

So in order to clamp down on the high aspirations of humans the single language was split into seventy or seventy-two dialects, depending on tradition. We don’t know how the Anunnaki and Enki managed to do this but it is thought to have happened around 3,450 BCE.

Arika Okrent, a linguist and author of In the Land of Invented Language explains in “When linguists talk about the historical relationship between languages, they use a tree metaphor. An ancient source (say, Indo-European) has various branches (e.g., Romance, Germanic), which themselves have branches (West Germanic, North Germanic), which feed into specific languages (Swedish, Danish, Norwegian). Lessons on language families are often illustrated with a simple tree diagram that has all the information but lacks imagination. There’s no reason linguistics has to be so visually uninspiring. Minna Sundberg, creator of the webcomic Stand Still. Stay Silent, a story set in a lushly imagined post-apocalyptic Nordic world, has drawn the antidote to the boring linguistic tree diagram.”

Language Tree

An intriguing depiction of the spread and movement of languages.

For further information, check out this page, where Minna Sundberg shows a comparison chart of words in the Nordic languages, and illustrates what an outlier Finnish is with the concept of “meow.”


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