He’s got the moves

Today’s Daily Jocks ad, for their Underwear Club, with a caption of my own devising:

(#1) Unkind critics

Assailed his claim that the
Dutch of Brabant is the
Original language the
Garden of Eden’s tongue but he
Smoothly fended them off he
Knows all the moves

“Oldest language”. A slippery concept, one that doesn’t bear up under close examination, but has a superficial appeal: the idea that some languages are especially conservative, have changed very little over long periods of time, so that they’re realy old. A typical presentation of the idea, from the culture trip site, “The 10 Oldest Languages Still Spoken in the World Today” by Lani Seelinger 4/11/18, which offers 10 candidates  for the world’s “oldest language”: Hebrew, Basque, Tamil, Lithuanian, Farsi, Icelandic, Macedonian, Finnish, Georgian, and Irish Gaelic.

To see the problem, take Finnish. Why is Finnish on this list and not Estonian? At one time, there was a single language (well, a closely related group of language varieties), from which the languages we now call Finnish and Estonian both evolved, each in its own way; each preserved some features of the proto-language, each innovated (or borrowed from other languages) separately. But (for complex social and political reasons) one of the descendants has been called Finnish, while the other has been called Estonian. But the language Estonian is just as old as the language Finnish.

(This is not to deny that languages can differ in their rates of change. Some sociocultural contexts favor relatively slow changes, others promote more rapid change. So there’s a kernel of fact in talk about “unchanged” languages. But mostly it’s about how we name language varieties.)

“Original” language. If there can be “oldest” languages spoken today, then with luck we should be able to track things back to the oldest of the oldest languages, to reach the “original” language — still, wonderfully, spoken somewhere today. Several of the languages on the “oldest” list — Hebrew and Irish Gaelic in particular — have been touted as the Adamic language (Adamic Hebrew proponents seem mostly to be sober and scholarly, but the Adamic Irish gang come off as colorful nutcases), but mostly as an eruption of linguistic chauvinism rather than the product of any kind of scholarship. And linguistic chauvinism — my language is so well arranged, so perfect, that it must have been the first language — has resulted in extravagant Adamic claims for several other languages, among them Greek (no surprise) and (yes) Dutch.

(Some background on this blog, in my 4/19/16 posting “Some readings on language evolution”.)

Deep weirdness. And where would the antediluvian, Adamic language have come from? Well, of course, directly from God, presumably through the medium of His angels.

Which brings me to Enochianism. From Wikipedia:

(#2) Schutzengel (English: “Guardian Angel”) by Bernhard Plockhorst (1886) depicts a guardian angel watching over two children.

Enochian is a name often applied to an occult or angelic language recorded in the private journals of John Dee and his colleague Edward Kelley in late 16th-century England. Kelley was a spirit medium who worked with Dee in his magical investigations. The men claimed that the language was revealed to them by the Enochian angels. The language is integral to the practice of Enochian magic.

… According to Tobias Churton in his text The Golden Builders, the concept of an Angelic or antediluvian language was common during Dee’s time. If one could speak with angels, it was believed one could directly interact with them.

In 1581, Dee mentioned in his personal journals that God had sent “good angels” to communicate directly with prophets. In 1582, Dee teamed up with the seer Edward Kelley, although Dee had used several other seers previously. With Kelley’s help as a scryer, Dee set out to establish lasting contact with the angels. Their work resulted, among other things, in the reception of the Enochian or Angelical language.

Footnote: Brabant. From Wikipedia:

The Duchy of Brabant was a State of the Holy Roman Empire established in 1183. It developed from the Landgraviate of Brabant and formed the heart of the historic Low Countries, part of the Burgundian Netherlands from 1430 and of the Habsburg Netherlands from 1482, until it was partitioned after the Dutch revolt.

Most of Brabant ended up in Belgium, and more recently it was divided, according to Belgian custom, into separate Flemish- and French-speaking provinces.

One Response to “He’s got the moves”

  1. Billy Green Says:

    In that particular painting, I always thought it looked like the angel was just about to push the kids over the edge.

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