A Word on Languages

I’m bilingual.

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

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27 thoughts on “A Word on Languages

  1. “I can fart on a piece of cellophane and make a noise, but that is all it is: noise.” Be careful not to do that with a match near the cellophane. It will melt to your ass cheeks and it’s a bitch to scrape off. Don’t ask me how I know this. I just do. Excellent post, as usual.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I wonder if it’s something you’ve witnessed on Tom & Jerry’s cartoon escapades?
      Maybe you felt the subconscious pain of empathy’s reality.
      And, I imagine, to some, it would be far more hilarious/painful if it were to happen to a kilt wearing Scottish Highlander.

      Sibyl X

      Liked by 1 person

      1. PS
        I’m told you have a Scottish, Irish Ancestor’s memory gene.

        Like

  2. I love your detailed analysis about language! Linguistics is so so cool!!! I love to study the point you made, in that a language reflects the culture and the minds of the people who speak them 😀 my favorite example I cite again and again is the ancient Hebrew word “bara”. It is translated as to create in English, but the ancient Hebrew conception of to create was not ex nihilo creation but bringing order out of chaos. Same word, different ideas of what it truly means!
    https://aladyofreason.wordpress.com/

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks! Great example, and one that makes more sense with the biblical creation story.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yep!!! But same idea. Language reflects the minds that it belongs to..
        .

        Liked by 2 people

      2. And as you said no word truly can be translated exactly. The most we can do is find equivalent concepts… there is truth in the saying if you gain another language, you gain another soul (minus the soul part 😂😂😂)!

        Liked by 2 people

      3. I totally agree, language reflects the minds that it belongs to.
        Learn another language and gain another subconscious soul experience.
        We wouldn’t want to rob them of their souls, would we, SOUL Sister.

        How do we deal with ABOMINATION’S Corruption of word meanings,
        for example: PAEDOPHILE, once meant someone who LOVES CHILDREN!
        All we can do is go along with the flow of the status quo, while limiting the friction caused by undercurrents’ tow. Key anchors help to stop the torrent of destruction’s blow. Minds’ buoyancy accomplished see the ebbing of each foe.

        Thank goodness we have powerful words to combat abominations’ logic when participating in Mind games’ battle of wits.

        One has to be mindful of falling into bitter altercations that will fester and eventually become Malevolent.

        Lots of Love
        Sibyl X

        Like

  3. Great analysis spartan

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You wrote …language is just goofy noises we make for which we have agreed on a meaning. — and it made me think of the few posts on words done by Infidel753.

    You can find his latest post on words here (Improving Words), but he has several others as well that are just as clever.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I read through your article twice – did you ever say what your second language was?

    I decided to learn Spanish a couple of years back, and have been doing a little every day, on Duolingo and with a workbook and some CD’s from the library. At my age it’s slow going, but I’m understanding a lot of the bilingual signs I see now. And I recently watched a show with an episode that had a lot of Italian, and having the Spanish let me catch some of the Italian too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t say. I like to remain fairly anonymous due to my job, and it would be a pretty big hint.

      I tried to pick up a third language quite a few years back, started okay but the new job and moved all at once…

      Liked by 2 people

  6. A nice informative post. Lol when I was a Christian the Pentecostal church I went to was big on speaking tongues. Even then I somehow doubted it was a diving language. When I got baptized, my pastor whispered to me to start talking in tongues. So I just spouted gibberish out of my mouth. Later, my mum asked me if I spoke in tongues afterwards and I was like ‘nope’.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great piece of writing.
    I have been told I have been speaking in tongues on the odd occasion, however I always seem to have a hangover in the morning.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lol! Indeed, nothing like having the “spirits” in you to confuse the language!

      Like

  8. Hi. I’m have degrees in English & Paralegal studies. My second language is German but I also studied Latin & have a working knowledge of Spanish. I don’t agree about Shakespeare being a totally different language. I find Shakespeare quite easy to read & to understand (for instance, if I am watching a play or a film) & I did, even in high school (over 40 years ago). Maybe you meant to reference Chaucer? Because that really is a different form of English (200 older than Shakespeare, therefore 700 years ago), different enough to be considered totally another language. It was a radical act for Chaucer to write in the language of the common people; before that poetry was written in the courtly language of French and even the English court spoke French. Chaucer’s writings had as much of an effect on the evolution of the English language as the Tynsdale Bible. Chaucer legitimitized the English language in a way that Shakespeare didn’t have to; by the time that Shakespeare came around, even the royal court spoke English. The thing that Shakespeare did that was so marvelous was to coin hundreds of words and phrases that are still in use today.

    If Shakespeare’s English is as much of a foreign language as you say, there would not be a new Shakespeare movie every few years. Or else they would be produced with subtitles & I have yet to see that. But Chaucer? Even though Chaucer is a superlative writer with dozens of great stories, he is simply not accessible in the same way that Shakespeare. Chaucer is writing an English that is truly a foreign language. But not so Shakespeare.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for your comments! And thank you for the additional history.

      Since you mentioned Spanish, I’ll use the example of Spanish and Portugese. If a Spanish speaker encountered Portugese for the first time, they wouldn’t understand it. However, if frequently exposed to Portugese, a Spanish speaker would fairly easily understand it.

      I don’t know what constitutes different languages or the same language with variation.

      Like

    2. I’ve looked at your beautiful blog’s content snippets, so, I’ve added the following here:
      Regarding Adult, Thought provoking Documentaries on Transgender People and their Operations, I would like to comment on the first one I watched.

      TV DOCUMENTARIES: Louis Theroux:
      Gender Reassignments for Angel GODS ( Seraphs/TITANS) I thought might be harrowing, but it wasn’t.
      How wonderful everybody involved was, and the fact that it works is Magic, isn’t it HUMANITY?
      As we saw, as far as Loving parents go, a perfect fit goes with the flow, from their roots Beloved Children grow, finding ways to cross Cruel Boundaries –
      ZEUS WAILS! and ROARS! and CROWS! HEAVEN Knows AT LAST Earth knows.
      From Genesis’ CELESTIAL Diploid Hermaphrodite First BORN BEINGS came Androgynous and Ambiguous Gender Genes.

      I’ve watch programs on ”Medicine’s Big Breakthrough, – Editing your Genes”: ETC.
      And, ”The Mystery Of Dark Energy:”
      TV Blurb: Examining the mysterious force that is unexpectedly causing the universe’s expansion to speed up, called Dark Energy. It was discovered in 1998, yet physicists still don’t know what it is.
      Worse, it’s very existence calls into question Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.
      Can a new genius write a theory explaining this mystery?

      I’m baffled as to why our ACADEMIC Geniuses’ findings are each stuck in their progressive Time Warped Zones.

      Put them all together and what have you got?
      Sibyl X

      Like

      1. PS
        Oh! And it’s ridiculous to think that the Titans were wiped out by the Olympians, because they are here too, aren’t they? As well as our Paraplegic Warriors.
        And, I don’t have their SUPER-ENERGY in any physical area, but I do have EMPATHY.
        The Tree of Life and It’s many Branches leaves no room for Poverty of Thought.
        As Shakespeare concluded, ”All the World’s a stage and the people in it merely Players”.

        Lots of Love & Peace of Mind
        Sibyl X

        Like

  9. 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’ve often thought this. If the fundies really believe the Bible is the word of God and has all the final answers, they should want to learn those languages so they can read it in the original and not rely on a translation. Of course they tend not to be educated, and probably don’t realize how different languages can be and the problems translations can encounter.

    Eskimo languages have multiple words for different kinds of snow because the distinctions between different kinds of snow are important in their environment. If the Eskimos migrated en masse to the temperate zone, the distinct meanings of all those words would become hazy within a couple of generations. Think about it — we still know the words duke, baron, count, earl, and so forth, but how many English speakers know the exact differences in meaning between those titles any more? Centuries ago such distinctions were an important part of our culture, but not now, and so the details of the words’ meanings have faded.

    One thing that fascinates me about languages is the differences in what distinctions they consider important enough to make explicit. Japanese generally doesn’t bother with distinctions of person and number that we express via pronouns and many other languages express via verb endings — “I go”, “he goes”, “you go”, “they go”, etc. aren’t distinguished from each other and you just have to know from context. But Japanese verbs have different grammatical endings for different degrees of politeness. Persian doesn’t mark gender in the third person pronoun as English does — there’s just one pronoun meaning both “he” and “she” — but Arabic does mark it in the second person, having different masculine and feminine words for “you”.

    I was trying to guess your second language as I read the post, but you covered your tracks well. The details you mention could apply to many possibilities. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. The exact same string of sound in one language can mean a totally different thing in another language.

    For example, this is Swedish and just means it’s a fast car. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  11. You state that you are bilingual (and presumably English is your first language) yet you found Shakespearean English almost incomprehensible. The fact is that Shakespeare’s plays have been performed for hundreds of years to this very day and nobody with a modicum of education has difficulty understanding these plays (or the poems). I think you must be referring to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (14th century), which were written in Middle English, which, indeed, is very difficult for modern English readers/speakers to understand without a translation into modern English.
    I’m multi-lingual, myself, including languages like Arabic and Amharic that have sounds/letters that are not in any Western language. That poses an additional burden but also great cultural insights (there’s also different alphabets to deal with).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Jim! Couple quick items, I learned my second language later, and I do fine with Shakespeare now.

      Yes, lots of people in the US can not understand Shakespeare. I’m not saying everyone, I’m not saying a majority. But it is incomprehensible enough for a lot of the population.

      My point is, if not exposed to Shakespeare in some way, an American would be challenged to understand it. It isn’t fluent. It is difficult. I feel the same way when I hear the language of the next country over from my second language.

      Like

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