Wednesday, December 7, 2016



The third chapter of my book "Sounds from the Garden of Eden" discusses the theme of language relations. The common, widely accepted theory tells us that almost every language is a part of a family of languages. Like, for instance, English belongs to the Germanic family, which by itself is a part of the Indo-European family.
Every student of linguistics or anything that has to do with languages studies this theory as if it were an absolute truth.
The theory of language family was invented two hundred years ago to be applied to the language families then known, the Indo European and Semitic. later all languages of the world were assembled in families, and also in macro families, like the Afro Asiatic which connects 6 different families of languages, 5 from Africa, and the Semitic.
The theory principle is very simple. In the deep far past there was a language spoken by a quite small group of people. This language was split to two or more daughter languages, and those in their turn split to more granddaughters, and more splits were carried on until the contemporary state of language map has gained its form. The connections between the languages of a family are usually drawn to show a "family tree".

Here is the academic "family tree" of Semitic languages:      

  Though widely accepted, still this theory suffers weaknesses. For instance, this scheme shows at the same level the Ugaritic, the Canaanite, the Aramaic, the Arabic and the Ethiopian. But Ugaritic was spoken through the second millennium B.C. and passed away at about 1200 B.C. Canaanite, which comprises Biblical Hebrew and Phoenician was spoken starting two hundred years later, and Arabic appeared at the 5th century A.D. So why showing all this languages at the same level? And when and how did each language have connections with each other, if ever? the "family tree" is wrong in most  important aspects of the history of the languages.

The third chapter of "Sounds from the garden of Eden" suggests a very different principle to describe and explain that history.
The great similarity between the various Semitic languages misled scholars to conclude that all these languages branched out from one ancestor. Yet here, we must be guided by
the Fundamental Rule of Languages History:
every language, without exception, is the result of merging features of earlier or neighboring languages.

This scheme shows the connections over time between the languages, while the thickness of lines suggests the assumed connection strength.

0.  Laguage system in the area where Semitic language were spoken, preceding the earliest evidence.
1 . Earliest Semitic dialects.             undocumented

2.  Old Akkadian, Eblaite,  2700 B.C.E. 2350, B.C.E, Contributing languages: Mainly extinct Semitic dialects Sumerian, other languages.
4.   Akkadian (Babylonian, Assyrian).   2000 B.C.E. Contributing languages: Old Akkadian, Sumerian, other Semitic dialects.                                                                                                                                  
5.  Ugaritic.  1500 B.C.E. Mostly Semitic dialects, Asia Minor languages, Akkadian.

7.  Hebrew and Phoenician 1000 B.C.E.. Biblical Hebrew. 700  B.C.E.   Cotributing languages:  Semitic dialects, Ugaritic, Egyptian, Archaic Greek, Hittite.
8.  Old Aramaic. 900 B.C.E. Contributing languages: Mainly extinct Semitic dialects, Akkadian, Hittite.

9.   Trans-Jordanian and Arabian desert languages. 900 B.C.E. Contributing languages:   Hebrew, Aramaic, other Semitic dialects.
10.  South Arabian languages. 500  B.C.E. Contributing languages: Mainly Semitic dialects, Akkadian, probably African languages.
11. Classical Arabic. 500 C.E. Contributing languages:  Most of contemporary Semitic  dialects, Persian,      other contemporary languages.
13.  Ge'ez  400 C.E. Contributing languages: South Arabian and other Semitic dialects, African languages.
The main insight that should be read in this scheme is that the languages did not branch from a single common stem, but instead, each language is always, the consequence and result of of mergers of traits of, from, other languages. And when we look at the history of any family, we must bear in mind that the similarity of the languages is the result of mergers of close dialects.
When Semitic dialects merged with a non Semitic language, namely Sumerian, (and later with African languages)  the resulting language, the Akkadian, showed  many differences compared to all other Semitic languages: Akkadian lost all guttural consonants, unlike any other Semitic language, and the verb in Akkadian, just like in Sumerian is at the end of the sentence, opposing all other ancient Semitic which start the sentence with the verb.
What does the "tree" explanation do with such facts? Nothing at all. It puts Akkadian at east and all other languages at west, pretending to have resolved this problem.
By no means is it true that Classical Arabic of the 5th century C.E. has the same roots in the ancient extinct Semitic dialects as Old Akkadian or Ugaritic. The traits that seem common to the languages of different generations were transformed through mergers which always inflict changes, and the seemingly sameness of  characteristics is a kind of deception that scholars are fed with due to use of written characters that camouflage the great differences of real speech.
Here I have dealt with Semitic languages, but the same insights must be taken to all language families. There in no exception:
every  language, without exception, is the result of merging features of earlier or neighboring languages.
The "family tree" must be substituted with a scheme that takes into account all traits of a language, not excluding traits introduced to the language by ex-family languages, because in many cases, like that of Akkadian, such influence is fundamental.