FW: Babel - Languages

Wed, 30 Aug 95 09:02:00 CDT

From: pjw1004
To: CRSnet (Creation Reflector)
Subject: Re: Babel - Languages
Date: Wednesday, August 30, 1995 13:31PM

Klaus Gernoth

Thanks for the ref. to the European congress.

re: languages deteriorating.

I've thought about this theory. There are some problems however:

1. We do not have ancient languages from most of the modern language family
groups. Therefore to make a judgement that all languages are
deteriorating is precarious. Many modern languages have only recently
been 'discovered' and therefore we do not know what they came from.

2. The main language families represented by a plurality of known ancient
languages are Indo-European and Semitic. It is true that ancient languages
in these families tend to have more cases than modern examples, but since
modern Russian has more cases than ancient Greek, I think we need to be
careful about comparing languages in this way. Deterioration cannot be
shown simply by showing how lots of members of one language family are
losing attributes since, once an instability in language structure has
been allowed then innevitably compensatory changes have to take place. If
early on Indo-European had an instability which resulted in losing cases
that this should be witnessed in 50 languages derived from
Proto-Indo-European proves nothing. A variety of languages (across
families) showing deterioration rather than number is necessary to prove
this point.

3. We must be careful about how we count attributes of languages. My main
speciality is Aramaic grammar. Aramaic has no word for 'the' (definite
article). This may be viewed as a weakness by some but since Aramaic has
ways of compensating for this 'lack', I do not see it as a weakness.
According to some counts Hebrew only has 2 tenses (properly: aspects).
English however has many. Does this make English superior. In fact,
Hebrew again has many ways of 'compensating' for only having 2-ish
tenses. I suspect that modern languages (and most of us, except the Korean
brethren, are only familiar with Indo-European ones) have ways of
compensating too.

I am not saying that there has been no deterioration - I too am intrigued
by the idea that there might have been. If it has been then it needs to
be put on a proper basis both historically and philosophically. What I
mean by the latter is that Noam Chomsky believed in 'language universals'
which all languages correspond to. How would language deterioration
theory relate to this?

Pete Williams