I know, that makes me a minority in the US of A.
My introductory point is, I’ve found that being bilingual is more than just knowing two ways of saying something. It really expands understanding in lots of crazy ways.
For example, certain expressions in a language are kinda like “markers” for the civilization that bore them. Have you ever wondered where a certain phrase came from, like “cut a rug” or “cat got your tongue”? There’s history and culture in those phrases.
I also have a better understanding on how translation is an imperfect art. There may be many words in one language for a single or couple things in another language. So on one hand, this means that we can be more expressive, nuanced, or precise in one language over another. On the flip side, we tend to compartmentalize our view of the world based on the words we have available in our language.
Let me prove that point. When a highly trained mechanic listens to a poorly performing engine, they have the ability to diagnose very specific problems. However, if a mechanically illiterate car owner were to try and describe the noise, the mechanic could be at a loss. This is because the mechanic has an expanded “vocabulary” that includes engine noises.
I’ve heard that the Eskimos have seven words for snow. English has one, albeit with some adjectives available. So in the inuit language, with a single word, they are better able to convey the concept more precisely. Now imagine if we had multiple variants of love, or war, or traffic.
Imagine if we had a single word for that feeling you get when you have friends and family together and its warm inside and the food smells delicious and you just look around the room and smile with content….
Yeah. I know the perfect one word for that, just not in english.
I’ve noticed that languages often have crazy vocal variation. You see, languages seem pretty magical and wonderful if you just speak one. But when you speak two or more, you realize that language is just goofy noises we make for which we have agreed on a meaning. The exact same string of sound in one language can mean a totally different thing in another language. I understand that the Chevy Nova sold horribly in Spanish speaking countries because “no va” means something like “doesn’t go”.
On the other hand, a certain group or culture may come up with a new or nuanced noise that is indistinguishable to those without regular exposure. Spanish is not my second language, but I’ll use it as an example that many english speakers may notice. Spanish speakers often have a hard time pronouncing the “b” and the “v” as separate letters. “Very” is spoken more like “bery”, for example. This is a function of how spanish is spoken.
In my second language, certain vowels are completely unique to that language alone. The ability to say a couple of key words highly distinguishes the native speakers from others. On a good day, I barely pass this test.
Clearly, language is a learned skill. This is why we have accents, after all. Speech patterns develop in our brain as a repetitive action of our tongue, lips, cheeks, throat, and even breathing patterns. Monolingual people develop only those “skills” or patterns for their language. The more languages you speak, the more “skills” you learn. But each language has certain markers that can identify the skill. Accents are hard to overcome.
We also keep inventing new noises strung together to mean new things. At first, the new word is “slang”, but over time the slang word can become a regular part of our lexicon. It can be a mix of existing words, something invented in pop culture, or something borrowed from another language. Our vocabulary is as static as it has ever been in history, due to widespread education and dictionaries, yet still is continually evolving. In reality and practice, a word is a word because enough people recognize it as representing a specific concept. Its not magic, its consensus.
Anyway, something else I noticed about my second language is how I am able to sorta kinda read and understand spoken languages from countries in the region other than my specific language. Yes, they have some different words, a slightly different isochrony (the rhythm of the language), and pronunciation of certain letters varies. But sorta understandable.
Expanding the region a bit more, languages begin to vary more significantly. More or most words are different. Grammar varies extensively. But the same alphabet is used. We can group languages by such features.
One more thing about languages, before I get to my conclusions. We will use english as the model. There are two major versions of english (British and American), and many smaller variants. What was once one became many by virtue of the geographic relocation of populations and the effects thereof. This is all modern recorded history. A mere 200 years ago, there wasn’t a divide, and now there are enough differences that we sometimes can’t understand one another. English of the American Revolution seems a little weird, but it is recorded in history and demonstrably the forefather of both versions of modern english.
If we go back 300 years or so before the US/British split, we have fine examples of earlier versions of english. Every US high school student knows just how painful it was to read Shakespeare. (At least my generation did.) It was painful because although it LOOKED like english, it didn’t make any damned sense! My super un-scientific experience with my second language has me convinced that my second language and the language from the next country over is as far apart as Shakespeare is from today’s American english. We could literally class Shakespeare as another language if it were still spoken today, a mere 500 years later.
If you keep going back in time, english emerged between the 5th and 7th centuries from the region of the world in what is now Germany, parts of Denmark, and the Netherlands. There is some French influence as well. We have writings from this earliest english infancy, as well as the regional languages that eventually formed it. The gradual shift from 5th century Germanic dialects to 21st century American English is completely documented.
If we take every single language spoken in the world today and trace the history, a pattern begins to emerge. Languages branched off of earlier languages as populations became isolated. Civil and geographical limitations governs language conformity. Language variation is consistent with population history.
So, what then are my observations that would be relavent for this Atheist topical page?
1. Languages did not come about from the Tower of Babel, as related in the Bible. This is a stupid fairy tale that misunderstands every understanding of language horribly. The fact that “wannabe” is now an official english word wrecks the entire concept of the origins of language as told by the bible. While there are many fundamental problems with this story, language can itself demonstrate how much the author was ignorant to reality.
2. If you believe that the bible is the inerrant word of god, and it isn’t in Hebrew and Greek, then you just don’t understand languages. I at least have to give props to the Arabic muslims, they try to eliminate the problem of translation errors by stating that arabic is the only real language of the Koran. But then again, god would have to be at least as limited as humans if he weren’t able to convey a message that transcended language. I don’t know of any god that can transcend human culture, though, so I am not surprised by this more difficult failure.
3. If you think you can speak in tongues, you are wrong. Language is clearly and demonstrably and absolutely nothing more than a human construct of understanding. I can fart on a piece of cellophane and make a noise, but that is all it is: noise. Language is noise in a specific construct that has an agreed upon meaning. If your noise doesn’t convey a meaning to someone else, it isn’t language.
Apparently, “speaking in tongues” denominations had this fact slap them in the face when they tried to prosthletyze in other countries. Since they obviously weren’t able to actually speak another language using divine magic tricks, they have since decided that they must be speaking a “heavenly language.” But they are wrong. We can record them and transcribe every syllable. Turns out, (not shocking at all) each person that speaks “in tongues” says their own unique group of syllables over and over again, from syllables they are familiar with in their native tongue, just mixed up.
Saying the same 4 syllables over and over and over and over and mixing them up a bit over and over and over can only mean a total of about 16 things, even if we are being super generous. Grab a dictionary and pick 4 or even 10 words at random. That is the totality of the vocabulary displayed by those that “speak in tongues.” So…. It’s not communication at all. Ergo, not a language. You sound like an idiot.
4. Evolutionary theory precisely predicts the emergence of new languages, verifying the theory. Restated, evolution is change in gene (word) frequency in a population over time. We can not point to a specific moment when english was magically english, it evolved into what we have now over time, still has variations today, and continues to change as we speak (literally).
It was modified due to various “pressures” (geographic isolation and different cultural and geographic challenges.) In stable cultures, language remains less changed, in transit and volatile cultures, it changes more rapidly.
English did not “pop” into existence 5000 years ago. It came about very slowly as a population shifted their usage of words over time. The mashup of languages first started resembling english about 1600 years ago, but at no specific writing could it clearly be said that this was english but the previous writing wasn’t. As I stated before, the language of Shakespeare could be considered a separate language if it were still spoke today, so we have at least 1000 years of gradually “more english-y” language emerging.
5. The book of Mormon is a total failure from the beginning. “Seer stone”? Are you kidding me? Apparently, this magic stone can’t figure out what language it wants to translate into.
Translation isn’t exact, it requires the translator to think about the meaning of the sentences and then convey the same meaning to the listener, with all the cultural and regional language nuances taken into account. The “seer stone” misses the mark translating to the correct audience, literally using a different species of english than spoken by the audience, but still managing to throw in random modern phraseology.
And this last point I can’t stress enough. Our modern phrases did not exist before, and would make no sense in a different language. The culture of 3000 years ago could not have borne certain phrases that became “translations” in the book of Moron. But Joseph Smith confidently assures us that he merely read what the stone translated. Bullshit. He tried to sound “official” by using the language of King James, and threw in his own modern phrases along the way. It is the fingerprint of fraud.
6. The bible specifically says a serpent and a donkey spoke. If you haven’t read a damned thing I wrote and skipped down here to the end, there are multiple ways in which this is just ridiculous bullshit. Language isn’t a magic thing in our throat.
Language is not only not magic, it is learned. Human beings can’t even pronounce vowels from other languages. People that claim to speak in tongues are just spouting gibberish, and we know this because of the lack of variation required for communication, and the use of familiar vowels (their accent, if you will) to their native language.
The noise produced in language is a product of vibrations of the vocal chords and variations of the positioning of the parts of the mouth, of which both donkeys and lizards are incapable. Even if they were capable, they wouldn’t have the developed accent (brain neuropathways repeatedly used as to become semi-permanent pathways) to reproduce the specific sounds required. In other words, additional trickery would be required to make it SEEM like the donkey or serpent were talking when they absolutely and physically can not.
Since the serpent and donkey physically can’t make the sounds required, and mentally can’t process the thoughts to speak, then we are left with some sort of magic invisible bluetooth speaker, and god playing “the man behind the curtain.” And if god is the actual speaker when the donkey seems to speak, the story becomes 10 times more ridiculous than it already is.
The more you know about languages, the less you can believe ludicrous religious claims. It is a line of evidence that by itself exposes the true nature of these fairy tales.
The Spartan Atheist