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Home > Dictionaries > Fausset's Bible Dictionary > Tongues, Confusion of

Fausset's Bible Dictionary

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Additional Resources
• Easton's Bible Dictionary
Tongues, Confusion of
• Smith's Bible Dictionary
Tongues, Confusion of
• International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
Tongues, Confusion of
Tongues, Confusion of

(See BABEL.) Genesis 10 accords with the modern scientific principle of ethnic subdivision; as races increase they subdivide; thus as mankind spread there was a continual breaking up into a larger and larger number of nations. These were distinct linguistically, and also ethnically "by these (i.e. from the Japhethites just before named the tribes sprang by whom) were the isles (the maritime coasts) of the Gentiles divided in their lands, every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations" (Genesis 10:5). The sacred writer at once states the fact of the great multiplicity of languages, and also the resemblance and connection between what at first sight seem distinct tongues. Ethnology speaks of "mother," "sister," and "daughter" dialects, just as Genesis 10 mentions mother, sister, and daughter races. It is the only theory of ethnology which harmonizes with and accounts for the facts of language, as comparative philology reveals them to us.

The general teaching of Genesis 10 is that the nations N. and W. of Mesopotamia and Syria were Japhetic and, within the geographic limits alluded to, comprise seven chief races; ethnology does not contradict this. Moses does not contemplate a scientific scheme embracing all the tribes and nations existing in the world at the time, but a genealogical arrangement of those best known to Moses and his readers. Ethnologists divide the Shemites into five main branches, Aramaean, Hebrew, Phoenician, Assyrian or Babylonian, and Arabian; Moses recognizes four of these, Asshur or Assyria, Aram or Syria, Eber or the Hebrew, Joktan the pure Arabs. Moses adds Elam and Lud, of which ethnology says nothing. He omits the Phoenicians who in his time had not yet acquired importance or moved from the shore of the Persian gulf to the Mediterranean. The Japhetic races spread over all the northern regions known to Moses: Greece, Thrace, Scythia, Asia Minor, Armenia. and Media.

The Hamitic races over the S. and S.W.: N. Africa. Egypt, Nubia., Ethiopia, S. and S.E. Arabia, and Babylonia. The Semitic races in the region intermediate between the Japhetic and Hamitic: Syria, Palestine, northern and central Arabia, Assyria, Elymais, from the Mediterranean to the mountains of Luristan. Thus by their intermediate position the Shemites were in contact with Japhetic races in Cappadocia, and with Hamites in Palestine, the Yemen, Babylonia, and Elymais. The ethnological character of the genealogy (Genesis 10) appears in such gentilie forms as Ludim, Jebusite, and geographical and local names as Mizraim, Sidon; as also from the formula "after their families, after their tongues, in their countries, and in their nations" (Genesis 10:5; Genesis 10:20; Genesis 10:31). (See GENERATION; on the connection of Canaan with HEBREW.)

This is a trace of the original unity of races so distinct, subsequently, as the Hamitic Canaanites and the Semitic Hebrew. The Hamites and Shemites again meet in Babylon, which Scripture assigns to a Cushite founder, Nimrod, in accordance with recent discoveries of Hamitic inscriptions in the oldest Babylonian remains at Ur. (See BABYLON.) The unity of mankind Paul (Acts 17:26) asserts, "God hath made of one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth." Moreover Christ is the Head of all mankind in redemption, as Adam in the fall of all (Romans 5:15-19; 1 Corinthians 15:22; 1 Corinthians 15:45-49). Again Genesis (Genesis 9:19) traces the whole postdiluvian population to Noah, "of the three sons of Noah was the whole earth overspread." Speech is inherent in man as being the outcome of reflection, the Greeks therefore rightly express by the same "word" reason and speech, logos, for reason is inward speech and speech is outward reason.

This is his superiority to brutes; hence to mature Adam's intellectual powers and to teach him the use of language God brought the animals to him to name (Genesis 2:19-20). Nouns are the simplest and earliest elements of language; and animals by their appearance, movements, and cries, suggest names for themselves. Whatever differences of tongue arose before the flood, the original unity of speech was restored in Noah. This continued until the confusion of tongues at Babel. God defeated the attempt to counteract His will, that men should disperse systematically, by confounding the tongues of the builders of the intended central metropolis of the world. Oppert identifies Babel with the basement of the great mound of Birs Nimrud, the ancient Borsippa. The confusion consisted in a miraculous forestalment of the wide dialectical differences which ordinarily require time and difference of place and habits to mature; the one common substratum remained. Genesis 10 states summarily the dispersion according to race and tongue, the origin of which Genesis 11 proceeds to detail; in chronological order of events Genesis 11 was before Genesis 10.

Ethnology and philology tend more and more rewards recognizing the unity of mankind; unity amidst variety is the general law. A substratum of significant monosyllabic roots is at the base of all languages. Three classes of tongues exist: the isolating, the agglutinative, and the inflecting. In the isolating there are no inflections, no ease or person terminations, no distinction of form between verb, noun, adjective, preposition, and conjunction; the bare root is the sole substance. In the other two the formal elements represent roots; both these and the radical elements are monosyllabic. There are two kinds of roots, predicable and pronominal; the predicable constituting the material element of verbs, nouns, and adjectives; the pronominal that of conjunctions, prepositions, and particles; the pronominal especially supplies the formal element, i.e. the terminations of verbs, substantives, and adjectives.

Monosyllabic roots are the common feature of all of the Indo European family. Bisyllabism prevails in the Semitic family, especially in the verbs, but these also are reducible to monosyllabics, consisting of consonants at the beginning and at the end; the stem thus enclosed at both ends was precluded from external increment, but by internal modification of vowels produces economy of material, simplicity, and dignity. In the agglutinative family the relational elements are attached to the predicable theme by mechanical junction, the individuality of each remaining still. The inflecting languages must have been once agglutinative, and the agglutinative once isolating. If the relational and the predicable elements of the isolating be linked together, it becomes agglutinative. If the material and the formal parts are pronounced as one word, eliminating the sounds that resist incorporation, the tongue becomes inflecting.

Moreover, no sharp line of demarcation separates the three: the isolating are not wholly so, the agglutinative as the Finnish and Turkish are sometimes inflecting, the inflecting as Hebrew is often agglutinative and has separate particles to express relations; the Indo European (inflecting) appends to its substantival stems suffixes of case and number; the Ural Altaian (agglutinative) adds governing particles, rendering them post positional instead of prepositional; the Semitic expresses grammatical variations by vowel changes within the root, the Indo European by affixes without. The steppes of central Asia have always been the home of the agglutinative, the nomadic life expressing itself naturally in giving prominent distinctness to the leading idea in each word, thereby giving ready communication between families which associate only at intervals; the inflecting tongues on the other hand express higher social cultivation. Outward circumstances, position, and disposition, all combined, have modified language.

In grammar too correspondences occur between the three great classes. The isolating, in the absence of grammatical forms, collocate the words in a somewhat logical order. Herein our inflecting, highly cultivated, English tongue exhibits a resemblance; the subject preceding the verb, and the verb preceding the object; also subject, copula, and predicate. In the agglutinative the principal word comes last, every qualifying clause or word that precedes being sustained by it. Thus, the syntactical arrangement is the opposite of the verbal, the principal idea taking precedence in the latter. In the Semitic tongues the reverse of this usage of the classical holds good; the verb stands first, and the adjective comes after its noun.

In the agglutinative adjectives qualifying nouns remain undeclined, answering to compound words in the Indo European, where the final member alone is inflected; so the absence of the plural ending of nouns following a numeral answers to our usage of "pound" or "head" (not pounds, heads) after a plural numeral. The governing noun is altered in termination before the governed noun, in Hebrew, instead of the governed noun being put in the genitive. The genitive in Hebrew is also expressed by a relative and a preposition before the noun; really the prefixes or affixes in other tongues marking the genitive are more connected with the governing than with the governed word, and are resolvable into relative or personal pronouns which connect the two words. Rapid utterance of the first accounts for the excision of the final consonant of the Hebrew plural noun governing another.

"The song which (belongs) to Solomon" corresponds to "Solomon's Song," the "s" combining the demonstrative "sa" and the relative "ya". The isolating tongues, as the Chinese, instead of the Indo-European verbal composition, employ manifold combinations of radical sounds with an elaborate method of accenting and intoning. The agglutinative, though deficient in compounds, build up words, suffix on suffix, to which their law of vowel harmony gives uniformity. Amidst the varieties, traces of unity appear in the original material, in the stages of formation, and in the general grammatical expression. Every word is reducible to two elements, the predicable and the formal, i.e. the root and the grammatical termination. Both consist of independent roots.

The formal, mostly pronominal, elements are more tenacious of life; therefore agreement in inflections, which consist of these, affords a strong presumption for radical identity also. Grimm discovered a regular system of changes undergone in the transition from Greek and Latin to Gothic and low German: aspirates for tenues, h for k or c, th for t, f for p; tenues for medials, t for d, p for b, k for g; medials for aspirates, g for ch or h, d for th, b for f or ph: as "heart" from kardia, cor; thou from tu; "five" from pempe (pente); "father" from pateer, "two" from duo; "knee" from gonu; "goose" from cheen; "dare" from tharseoo; "bear" from feroo. Max Muller calls the agglutinative tongues of Europe and Asia by the common name "Turanian." This class includes the Ural Altaian, the Chinese, Burmese, and Thibetan. Some refer the American tongues to the Turanian.

The essential identity of many words in Semitic and Indo-European gives a strong presumption of their original unity; thus, qeren, cornu, "horn"; masak, misgo, misceo, "mix"; karak, circa, "circle"; 'erets, terra, "earth" (German erde); chalaq, glaber, glisco, "glide" (glatt); qum, "gum", 'am, cum, "sun", koinos, "common"; malee', pleos, plenus, "full" (voll); bor, purus, "pure"; barah, vorare, bora, "voracious"; parah, ferop, barus, feroo, "bear"; 'apha, epso, "epula"; mar, "amarus"; carath, "curtus"; zarah, "serere"; muth, math (Sanskrit), mor(t)s, "mortal"; 'attah, tu, su), "thou"; "n" in Hebrew stands for "m" in the Indo-European, as representing the first personal pronoun; shesh, sex, hex, "six"; the other numerals in Hebrew and Indo-European, one to five, are probably identical. Indo-European or Aryan is the term which science now employs, answering to the Scripture Japhetic.

The N. African languages were sub-Semitic; the inelastic Semitic remained within the limits assigned in the Bible, owing to being hemmed in by the superior expansiveness of the Aryans and Turanians. Latham alleges traces of resemblance between the sub-Semitic of northern Africa, Negro in the center, and Kaffir and Hottentot in the S.; the latter are more Turanian than the northern. Indo European comprises nine classes, Indian, Iranian, Celtic, Italian, Albanian, Greek, Teutonic, Lithuanian, and Slavonian. "The Slavonians and Teutons were the first to leave the common home of the Indo European race, and Slavo Teutonic was the earliest deviation from the common language. Then the Graeco-Italo-Celtic. The Celts then separated" (Schleicher). But the Celts being found most westerly, in the extremities of Europe, Ireland, the Scotch highlands, Wales, and Brittany, were probably the earliest emigrants from the primeval seat. Once they occupied Gaul, northern Italy, large Darts of Spain, Germany, Switzerland. and poured along Greece into Asia Minor, giving their name to Galatia; but now they have been forced into the remote corners of Europe by successive races. (See GALATIA.)

The plateau of central Asia was the original seat of the Indo European race. The Indian offshoot is traceable to the Himalaya slopes, from the geographic allusions in the Vedic hymns (Max Muller, Lectures). The Sanskrit names of articles imported by Solomon prove the advance of the Indian Aryans into Hindustan at least before 1000 B.C. (1 Kings 10:22). Aryans appear on the Semitic border as early as the composition of Genesis 10 and 14. The Aryan Medes appear in the Assyrian annals 900 B.C. The Greeks were settled in their laud, and the Italians in theirs, at least as early as 1000 B.C. The latest of the Celtic migrations had reached western Europe before the time of Hecataeus, 500 B.C. The Teutonic migration was much later; they were by the Baltic in the age of Alexander the Great (Pliny 37:11); glesum, the term for amber in that region, is Teutonic. Tentones accompanied the Cimbri in their southern expedition, 113-102 B.C.; Caesar and Tacitus more explicitly mention them.

The Slavonians migrated contemporaneously with the Teutones. They may be traced to the Veneti or Venedae of northern Germany, from whence comes "Wend"; Tacitus (Germ. 46) first mentions them. The languages of the aboriginal races who preceded the Aryans in India were Turanian. The Finns, who have been since Tacitus' time (Germ. 46) E. of the Baltic, originally were spread southward, but were thrust back by the Teutons and Slavonians. The Basque in Spain has a grammatical, though not a verbal, affinity to the Finnish. Thus the Finns in the N. and the Basques in the S. may be remnants of a Turanian migration preceding the Indo European. In Asia there are two great classes of tongues:

(1) the monosyllabic, represented by the Chinese in the E. and the S.E., probably the earliest migration from the common cradle of mankind;

(2) the agglutinative, the Ural Altaian in the N. including the five, Tungusian, Mongolian, Turkish, Samoiedic on the Arctic ocean coast, and Finnish of the Finns and Lapps, the Esthonians, Livonians, and the Hungarian Magyars: in the S. four classes, Tamul in S. Hindustan, Bhotiya of Thibet, the Tai of Siam and Pegu, the Malay originally in the isles, from whence subsequently it passed to the mainland.

The lake Baikal is the center from which seemingly the Turanians passed in various directions. The languages of Oceania are thought to be Malay. The polysynthetic languages of N. America are related to Mongolian; and there is an affinity of tongues between the Americans and the Asiatics on either side of the straits of Corea. Probably the population passed into N. America mainly by the Behring straits. Thus the tendency of science is to discover unity amidst the manifold varieties of mankind. (See R. Ellis' "Numerals as Signs of Primeval Unity among Mankind".)

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from Fausset Bible Dictionary, 1949. Public Domain.

Bibliography Information
Fausset, Andrew R. "Entry for 'Tongues, Confusion of'". "Fausset Bible Dictionary".
<>. 1949.


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