The Hypothetical Indo-European Language
A book on language for young people declares, "Modern scientists have brought back words that long ago floated off into silence. They have rebuilt a language that was never written and that no one has spoken for 5,000 years."1 Virtually every student of English linguistics today learns of the hypothetical Indo-European tongue, also called Aryan, Indo-Teutonic, or Indo-Germanic. Linguists have "reconstructed" this language even though they have not one shred of manuscript evidence that such a language ever existed.
William Jones, a British linguist born thirty years before the American War for Independence, was the first to note seriously the number of similarities between far-removed languages like German, Greek, and Sanskrit. Languages attracted Jones from his youth and he learned Latin, Greek, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Hebrew, Arabic and some Chinese. While a British government judge in India, he learned Sanskrit, the language of the sacred texts of Hinduism. At that time it has been estimated that he knew about a dozen languages perfectly, and had learned a lot about twenty-eight more. Jones recognized that all these languages were so similar that they must be related in some way. Yet his study did not seem to indicate that Sanskrit, for example, had grown out of any of the other languages. Jones began to suspect that all the related languages he was studying were not related as parent to child, but as brother to sister. They must be all descended from one parent. Jones guessed the parent must be some language no longer spoken~2
From the time Jones first suggested the rudiments of the Indo-European hypothesis, linguists began collecting word similarities and linguistic evidence to support the hypothesis. Groups of words that seemed to be "brother-sister related" were gathered and studied. Often the linguists constructed words which they felt could have been the parent of all the known brother-sister words, using known principles of linguistic change.3
Linguists felt they could determine not only the basic vocabulary of what they conceived to be the parent language, but also where this language must have been spoken, millennia ago. Since all the Indo-European languages had a word for the Beech tree, linguists felt the parent language must have been spoken somewhere where 5,000 years or so ago, Beech trees grew. Paleobotanists said that the Beech tree grew in central Europe, its eastern limit stretching as a line from the Baltic to the Black Sea. All the Languages had a word for turtle. Turtles at that time had a northern limit, paleozoologists believed, which excluded Scandinavia and limited the hypothetical parent tongue to central Europe.4 Many other plants and animals were similarly traced, all to the same general geographical region.
Linguists noticed, however, that not all plant and animal names could be similarly traced. They assumed that when an animal or plant name occurred only in some languages or language groups, that the speakers of those tongues encountered these plants and animals later in their history, after moving away from the parent homeland. They reasoned that they must have added these new words to their changing languages, by borrowing or by invention, when they encountered these life forms in other pans of the world.5
There seems to be adequate linguistic evidence to indicate that the hypothetical Indo-European language could indeed have existed. If it was not written, as some languages today still are not, there could never have been manuscript evidence to document its existence. If this is so, the language might well have been spoken by the early descendants of Japheth, who many Bible scholars believe populated central Europe shortly after the dispersion at Babel. In this case, the now extinct Indo-European tongue would probably have been one of the languages which resulted from the original confusion of tongues. In this case, we probably should call Indo-European "Japhethitic" in analogy to "Semitic" and "Ramitic," other well known language families.6
But either alternative takes us back excitingly close to Babel. Evolutionary linguists place the hypothetical Indo-European language at the time of the recession of the Ice Age, at the dawn of recorded European culture. Albert Baugh says, "It is customary to place the end of their common existence somewhere between 3500 and 2000 B.C."7 Remember that he is speaking of the end, not the beginning of the common tongue. "The parent tongue," he explains, from which the Indo-European languages have sprung had already become divided and scattered before the dawn of history."8 We must be careful not to jump to conclusions which would ultimately bring ridicule upon the Creationist cause, such as the one-time assumption that Hebrew was the original tongue. On the other hand, when the merging of the Indo-European tongues takes us back to the very dawn of recorded history and near to the time of Babel and the Flood, it certainly is worth a Creationist's study.
I. Franklin Folsom, The Language Book, (New York: Orossett & Dunlap, 1963) p.99.
2. Folsom, pp.104-105.
3. Folsom, p.106.
4. Folsom, pp.99, 106, 107.
5. Folsom, p. 107.
6. There are presently nine clearly identified language families: Indo-European, Finno-Ugrian, Semitic, Ramitic, Indo-Chinese, Mayo-Polynesian, Turco-Tanar, Dravidian, and Bantu, with about a hundred language groups as yet incapable of classification according to internal attributes and similarities with other groups. These groups provide adequate base for the original dispersion. Frederick Bodmer, The Loom of Language, (New York: W. W. Norton Co. 1944), pp.187-188.
7. Albert Baugh, A History of the English Language, Second Edition, (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1963), p.40.
8. Baugh, p.22.