Words, language, communication. It’s one of our favorite topics. Language can be beautiful, frightening, coarse, forceful, and arresting and, when under the employ of a master, it is like “wine upon the lips”, according to Virginia Woolf.

In the photograph that accompanies this entry is a rendering of the Tower of Babel. As the story goes, at some point in antiquity there was just one language, spoken and understood by all of mankind. Some academics say part of this story at least is true: there really was one language that gave birth to the rest of the tongues we have now. But from where did that language come? It’s a study that has fascinated linguists for years.

Here we bring you two linguists, both from the University of Chicago’s Department of Linguistics. Yaroslav Gorbachov is Assistant Professor of Slavic Linguistics and Salikoko Mufwene is a Distinguished Service Professor in Linguistics.

In this episode you will hear a number of languages including Basque, Finnish, Olde English, Romanian and–perhaps the father of all languages–Sanskrit.

Subscribe to The Milt Rosenberg Show in Apple Podcasts (and leave a 5-star review, please!), or by RSS feed. For all our podcasts in one place, subscribe to the Ricochet Audio Network Superfeed in Apple Podcasts or by RSS feed.

Published in: Culture, General

Now become a Ricochet member for only $5.00 a month! Join and see what you’ve been missing.

There are 13 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. EThompson Inactive

    My favorite artist- Bruegel- thanks!

    See Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien for the most impressive collection.

    • #1
    • January 10, 2016, at 4:36 PM PST
    • Like
  2. Profile Photo Member

    Sanskrit, the father of all languages?

    Is that a joke?

    Sanskrit is a satem Indo-European language, derived from proto-Indo-European, which certainly derived from an earlier language, etc.

    A better arguement could be made that Basque is the father of all languages, because at least there’s a theory that ties Basque to many other non-Indo-European languages.

    • #2
    • January 10, 2016, at 5:48 PM PST
    • Like
  3. PHCheese Member

    My cousin and I were speaking tonight at dinner about language. Ironically I brought up a incident that happened to me in Ireland . I meet a very old man in the Aran Islands . His native language was Gaelic. He was in WW1. He jumped in a trench in France. There was a Basque man in the hole already. Speaking Gaelic and the other speaking Basque they were able to communicate easily.

    • #3
    • January 10, 2016, at 6:24 PM PST
    • Like
  4. Matty Van Member

    I certainly HOPE that neither of these guys said Sanskrit is the father of all languages. If they did, they are not linguists.

    PH, no possibility of monolingual Basque and Gaelic speakers communicating. Basque is, linguistically, much further from Gaelic than is English, Sanskrit, or any other Indo-European language. The comrade in the trench may have been speaking Breton, which, like Gaelic, is a Celtic language.

    If you go, say, 5 or 10 thousand years deeper than Proto-Indo-European (which is already 5 or 10 thousand years before now), you get the hypothetical super language family of Nostratic / Eurasiatic which would likely include both the the language that would become Proto-Indo-Euroepan (from which all the I-E languages) as well as a 10 or 20 thousand year old language which has become our modern Basque. To get the father of them all, though, you’ll have to back another 40 thousand years, give or take, before that.

    Ok, I’m on to the audio, fingers crossed that no one says Sanskrit is the father of all languages!

    EDIT: I’m one third of the way through. No worries. These two are definitely linguists. Highly recommended.

    • #4
    • January 10, 2016, at 11:05 PM PST
    • Like
  5. DialMforMurder Inactive

    I just listened to the podcast and I didn’t pick up either of them saying Sanskrit was the original Indo-European language, but rather an offshoot thereof.

    Also that guy who called in and got very irate about the Gaelic/Anglo Saxon grammar didn’t come out too gloriously either. Don’t people understand the SPECULATIVE nature of academic research?

    • #5
    • January 11, 2016, at 12:51 AM PST
    • Like
  6. Stephen Bishop Inactive

    PHCheese:My cousin and I were speaking tonight at dinner about language. Ironically I brought up a incident that happened to me in Ireland . I meet a very old man in the Aran Islands . His native language was Gaelic. He was in WW1. He jumped in a trench in France. There was a Basque man in the hole already. Speaking Gaelic and the other speaking Basque they were able to communicate easily.

    Basque is not related to any other language so I’m not too sure about these guys communicating easily.

    • #6
    • January 11, 2016, at 2:12 AM PST
    • Like
  7. PHCheese Member

    Matty and Stephen, I was just relating what a very old man told me. I in fact had trouble understanding him. Mattys explanation makes a lot of sense I have zero qualifications in the field.

    • #7
    • January 11, 2016, at 5:48 AM PST
    • Like
  8. Grendel Member
    Grendel Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    At the end of the PBS series, “The Story of English”, hosted by Robert McNeil, a speaker in a class on Old English (Anglo-Saxon) recites an Anglo-Saxon poem. It is as incomprehensible as German. Then the English translation begins to scroll along the bottom of the screen and suddenly the sounds become understandable.

    • #8
    • January 11, 2016, at 9:54 AM PST
    • Like
  9. Grendel Member
    Grendel Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    My mother-in-law, both of whose parents came from England, raised her children in Philadelphia. She taught her children to say of’n. Among other reasons, hitting the “t” in often–and in “painter” and “painting”–she said, sounded too New York.

    • #9
    • January 11, 2016, at 2:48 PM PST
    • Like
  10. Peabody Here Member

    I grew up in downstate New York, in the Hudson Valley around Poughkeepsie. My parents were born and raised in the Bronx. I never noticed until I moved to Western Massachusetts (Springfield) in my early 20s that while I pronounced “Mary”, “marry” and “merry” all with distinction, the locals in Western Mass pronounced them all exactly the same. (Milt raised these words in this program.) At that time I happened to have a lot of friends from upstate New York (Finger Lakes, Rochester, Syracuse) who had moved to Springfield for work. They also pronounced those three words the same, just like the Western Mass folks.

    My wife was raised in Western Mass and we playfully argue about the pronunciation of words occasionally. One thing she does which is a pet peeve of mine: she adds a hard “k” sound in words that do not have one; as in “escape” and “espresso” making them “ekscape” and “ekspresso”. She is not alone. I’ve heard that a lot. I’m not sure where it comes from or the reason behind it.

    • #10
    • January 13, 2016, at 7:28 AM PST
    • Like
  11. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Wonderful Podcast! I come away enlightened. I could have listened for another 2 hours.

    • #11
    • January 14, 2016, at 3:29 AM PST
    • Like
  12. Milt Rosenberg Contributor

    Bryan:

    If you want to hear three or four other full programs on language just go to http://www.miltrosenberg.com and enter “language ” in the search function. Assurement, j’ai grand confiance a ton sagesse.

    • #12
    • January 14, 2016, at 2:54 PM PST
    • Like
  13. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Milt Rosenberg:Bryan:

    If you want to hear three or four other full programs on language just go to http://www.miltrosenberg.com and enter “language ” in the search function. Assurement, j’ai grand confiance a ton sagesse.

    Thank you I will!

    • #13
    • January 14, 2016, at 4:47 PM PST
    • Like