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The origin of languages: ancient legends

Old Testament

The origin of languages

And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter. And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

Old Testament, Genesis, 11. 1

Hindu legend

There grew in the centre of the earth the wonderful world tree, or knowledge tree. It was so tall that it reached almost to heaven. It said in its heart, "I shall hold my head in heaven and spread my branches over all the earth, and gather all men together under my shadow, and protect them, and prevent them from separating." But Brahma, to punish the pride of the tree, cut off its branches and cast them down on the earth, when they sprang up as wata trees, and made differences of belief and speech and customs to prevail on the earth, to disperse men upon its surface.

Hindu legend, from Wayne L. Allison, In The Beginning Was The Word: (The Genesis of Language)

North American Indians

The Kaska Indians narrate that "a great darkness came on, and high winds which drove the vessels hither and thither. The people became separated. Some were driven away... Long afterwards, when in their wanderings they met people from another place, they spoke different languages, and could not understand one another".

Kaska Tales", collected by James A. Teit, Journal of American Folklore, No. 30 (1917), p.442, from I. Velikowsky, In the Beginning, annotated by Jan Sammer.

Tikuna of the Upper Amazon

A common belief in the primitive world is that all peoples were once a single tribe, living together and speaking the same language. But then something happened (among the Tikuna of the Upper Amazon it was the eating of two hummingbird eggs), and thereafter people began to speak different languages, split into separate groups, and dispersed far and wide.

From Robert L. Carneiro, Origin Myths, American Museum of Natural History, Publication of the Natural Center for Science Education

Aborigines of Central America

And as men were thereafter multiplying they constructed a very high and strong Zacualli, which means "a very high tower" in order to protect themselves when again the second world should be destroyed. At the crucial moment their languages were changed, and as they did not understand one another, they went into different parts of the world.

Don Fernando de Alvara Ixtlilxochitl, Obras Historicas (Mexico, 1891), Vol. I, from I. Velikowsky, In the Beginning, annotated by Jan Sammer.

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