From BiblePortal Wikipedia

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [1]

the faculty of human speech, concerning the origin of which there have been entertained different opinions among philosophers and learned men. The Mosaic history, which gives us an account of the formation and first occupations of man, represents him as being immediately capable of conversing with his Maker; of giving names to the various tribes and classes of animals; and of reasoning consecutively, and in perfectly appropriate terms, concerning his own situation, and the relation he stood in to the other creatures. As in man's first attempt at speech, according to this account, there appear no crudeness of conception, no barrenness of ideas, and no inexpressive or unappropriate terms, we must certainly infer, that God who made and endued him with corporeal and mental powers perfectly suited to his state and condition in life, endued him, also, not only with the faculty of speech, but with speech or language itself; which latter was as necessary to his comfort, and to the perfection and end of his being, as any other power or faculty which his Creator thought proper to bestow upon him.

Among the antediluvians there was but one language; and even now the indications that the various languages of the earth have had one common source are very convincing. Whether this primitive language was the same with any of the languages of which we have still any remains, has been a subject of much dispute. That the primitive language continued at least till the dispersion of mankind, consequent upon the building of Babel, there seems little reason to doubt. When, by an immediate interposition of divine power, the language of men was confounded, we are not informed to what extent this confusion of tongues prevailed. Under the article Confusion of Tongues some reasons are given to show that the primitive language was not lost at that event, but continued in the form of the Hebrew.

There are, however, other opinions on the oft disputed subject as to the primitive language. The Armenians allege, that as the ark rested in their country, Noah and his children must have remained there a considerable time, before the lower and marshy country of Chaldea could be fit to receive them; and it is therefore reasonable to suppose they left their language there, which was probably the very same that Adam spoke. Some have fancied the Greek the most ancient tongue, because of its extent and copiousness. The Teutonic, or that dialect of it which is spoken in the Lower Germany and Brabant, has found a strenuous patron in Geropius Becanus, who endeavours to derive even the Hebrew itself from that tongue. The pretensions of the Chinese to this honour have been allowed by several Europeans. The patrons of this opinion endeavour to support it, partly, by the great antiquity of the Chinese, and their having preserved themselves so many ages from any considerable mixture or intercourse with other nations. It is a notion advanced by Dr. Allix, and maintained by Mr. Whiston, with his usual tenacity and fervour, that the Chinese are the posterity of Noah, by his children born after the flood; and that Fohi, the first king of China, was Noah. As for those which are called the oriental languages, they have each their partisans. The generality of eastern writers allow the preference to the Syriac, except the Jews, who assert the antiquity of the Hebrew with the greatest warmth; and with them several Christian writers agree, particularly Chrysostom, Austin, Origen, and Jerome, among the ancients; and among the moderns, Bochart, Heidegger, Selden, and Buxtorf. The Sanscrit has also put in its claims; and some have thought that the Pali bears the character of the highest antiquity. All these are however useless speculations. The only point worth contending for is, that language was conveyed at once to the first pair in sufficient degree for intellectual intercourse with each other, and devotional intercourse with God; and that man was not left, as infidel writers have been pleased to say, to form it for himself out of rude and instinctive sounds. On this subject the remarks of Delaney are conclusive: "That God made man a sociable creature, does not need to be proved; and that when he made him such, he withheld nothing from him that was in any wise necessary for his well being in society, is a clear consequence from the wisdom and goodness of God; and if he withheld nothing any way necessary to his well being, much less would he withhold from him that which is the instrument of the greatest happiness a reasonable creature is capable of in this world. If the Lord God made ‘Adam a help meet for him,' because ‘it was not good for man to be alone,' can we imagine he would leave him unfurnished with the means to make that help useful and delightful to him? If it was not good for him to be alone, certainly neither was it good for him to have a companion to whom he could not readily communicate his thoughts, with whom he could neither ease his anxieties, nor divide or double his joys, by a kind, a friendly, a reasonable, a religious conversation; and how he could do this in any degree of perfection, or to any height of rational happiness, is utterly inconceivable without the use of speech.

"If it be said, that the human organs being admirably fitted for the formation of articulate sounds, these, with the help of reason, might in time lead men to the use of language. I own it imaginable that they might: but still, till that end were attained in perfection, which possibly, might not be in a series of many generations, it must be owned that brutes were better dealt by, and could better attain all the ends of their creation. And if that be absurd to be supposed, certainly the other is not less absurd to be believed. Nay, I think it justly doubtful, whether, without inspiration from God in this point, man could ever attain the true ends of his being; at least, if we may judge in this case, by the example of those nations who, being destitute of the advantages of a perfect language, are, in all probability, from the misfortune of that sole defect, sunk into the lowest condition of barbarism and brutality. And as to the perfection in which the human organs are framed and fitted for the formation of articulate sounds, this is clearly an argument for believing that God immediately blessed man with the use of speech, and gave him wherewithal to exert those organs to their proper ends; for this is surely as credible, as that when he gave him an appetite for food, and proper organs to eat and to digest it, he did not leave him to seek painfully for a necessary supply, (till his offence had made such a search his curse and punishment,) but placed him at once in the midst of abundant plenty. The consequence from all which is, that the perfection and felicity of man, and the wisdom and goodness of God, necessarily required that Adam should be supernaturally endowed with the knowledge and use of language. And therefore, as certain as it can be, that man was made perfect and happy, and that God is wise and good; so certain is it, that, when Adam and Eve were formed, they were immediately enabled by God to converse and communicate their thoughts, in all the perfection of language necessary to all the ends of their creation. And as this was the conduct most becoming the goodness of God, so we are assured from Moses, that it was that to which his infinite wisdom determined him; for we find that Adam gave names to all the creatures before Eve was formed; and, consequently, before necessity taught him the use of speech."

It is true that many languages bear marks of being raised to their improved state from rude and imperfect elements, and that all are capable of being enriched and rendered more exact; and it is this which has given some colour to those theories which trace all language itself up from elemental sounds, as the necessities of men, their increasing knowledge, and their imagination led to the invention of new words and combinations. All this is, however, consistent with the Scripture fact, that language was taught at first by God to our first parents. The dispersion of mankind carried many tribes to great distances, and wars still farther scattered them, and often into wide regions where they were farther dispersed to live chiefly by the chase, by fishing, or at best but an imperfect agriculture. In various degrees we know they lost useful arts; and for the same reasons they would lose much of their original language; those terms being chiefly retained which their immediate necessities, and the common affairs of a gross life, kept in use. But when civilization again overtook these portions of mankind, and kingdoms and empires were founded among them, or they became integral parts of the old empires, then their intercourse with each other becoming more rapid, and artificial, and intellectual, their language was put into a new process of improvement, and to the eye of the critic would exhibit the various stages of advancement; and in many it would be pushed beyond that perfection which it had when it first began to deteriorate. See Letters .

American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [2]

One of the distinguishing gifts of God to man, essential to all high enjoyment and improvement in social life, and to be prized and used in a manner worthy of its priceless value for the glory of God and the benefit of mankind. The original language was not the growth of a mere faculty of speech in man, but a creation of gift of God. Adam and Eve when created knew how to converse with each other and with the Creator. For some two thousand years, "the whole earth was of one language and of one speech,"  Genesis 11:1 . But about one hundred years after the flood, according to the common chronology, and later according to others, God miraculously "confounded the language" of the Cushite rebels at Babel; and peopling the earth by these scattered families of diverse tongues, He frustrated the designs and promoted his own. There are now several hundreds of languages and dialects spoken on the earth, and infidels have hence taken occasion to discredit the Bible doctrine of the unity of the human race. It is found, however, that these languages are distributed in several great classes, which have striking affinities with each other; and as comparative philology extends its researches, it finds increasing evidence of the substantial oneness of the human race and of the truth of Scripture.

The miracle performed at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost was the reverse of that at Babel,  Acts 2:1-18 , and beautifully illustrated the tendency of the gospel to introduce peace and harmony where sin has brought discord, and to reunite all the tribes of mankind in one great brotherhood.

To the student of the Bible, one of the most important subjects is the character and history of the original languages in which that holy book was written. In respect to the original Greek of the New Testament, some remarks have been made under the article Greece The Hebrew language, in which the Old Testament was written, is but one of the cluster of cognate languages, as belonging particularly to the descendants of Shem. A proper knowledge of the Hebrew, therefore, implies also an acquaintance with these of the kindred dialects.

The Shemitic languages may be divided into three principal dialects, namely, the Aramaean, the Hebrew, and the Arabic. 1. The Aramaean, spoken in Syria, Mesopotamia, and Babylonia, is subdivided into the Syriac and Chaldee dialects sometimes called also the West and East Aramaean. 2. The Hebrew or Canaanites dialect,  Isaiah 19:18 , was spoken in Palestine, and probably with little variation in Phoenicia and the Phoenician colonies, as for instance, at Carthage and other places. The remains of the Phoenician and Punic dialects are too few and too much disfigured to enable us to judge with certainty how extensively these languages were the same as the dialect of Palestine. 3. The Arabic, to which the Ethiopic bears a special resemblance, comprises, in modern times, a great variety of dialects as a spoken language, and is spread over a vast extent of country; but so far as we are acquainted with its former state, it appears more anciently to have been limited principally to Arabia and Ethiopia.

These languages are distinguished from European tongues by several marked peculiarities: they are all, except the Ethiopic, written from right to left, and their books begin at what we should call the end; the alphabet, with the exception of the Ethiopic which is syllabic, consists of consonants only, above or below which the vowel-points are written; they have several guttural consonants very difficult of pronunciation to Europeans; the roots of the language are, in general, verbs of three letters, and pronounced, according to the various dialects, with one or more vowels; the verbs have but two tenses, the past and the future; and the pronouns in the oblique cases are generally untied in the same word with the noun or verb to which they have a relation. These various dialects form substantially one language, of which the original home was Western Asia. That they have all diverged from one parent stock is manifest, but to determine which of them has undergone the fewest changes would be a difficult question. The language of Noah and his son Shem was substantially that of Adam and all the antediluvians. Shem and Heber were contemporary with Abraham, and transmitted, as we have good reason to believe, their common tongue to the race of Israel; for it is not to be assumed that at the confusion of Babel no branch of the human family retained the primitive language. It does not appear that the descendants of Shem were among the builders of Babel,  Genesis 10:8-10 .

The oldest records that are known to exist are composed in the Hebrew language. It flourished in its purest form in Palestine, among the Phoenicians and Hebrews, until the period of the Babylonish exile; soon after which it declined, and finally was succeeded by a kind of Hebraeo-Aramaean dialect, such as was spoken in the time of our Savior among the Jews. The West Aramaean had flourished before this for a long time in the east and north of Palestine; but it now advanced farther west, and during the period that the Christian churches of Syria flourished, it was widely extended. It is at present almost a dead language, and has been so for several centuries. The Hebrew may be regarded as having been a dead language, except among a small circle of literati, for about the space of two thousand years. Our knowledge of Arabic literature extends back very little beyond the time of Mohammed. But the followers of this pretended prophet have spread the dialect of the Koran over vast portions of the world. Arabic is now the vernacular language of Arabia, Syria, Egypt, and in a great measure of Palestine and all the northern coast of Africa; while it is read and understood wherever the Koran has gone, in Turkey, Persia, India, and Tartary.

The remains of the ancient Hebrew tongue are contained in the Old Testament and in the few Phoenician and Punic words and inscriptions that have been here and there discovered. The remains of the Aramaean are extant in a variety of books. In Chaldee, we have a part of the books of Daniel and Ezra,  Daniel 2:4-7:28   Ezra 4:8-6:18   7:12-26 , which are the most ancient of any specimens of this dialect. The Targum of Onkelos, that is, the translation of the Pentateuch into Chaldee, affords the next and purest specimen of that language. The oldest specimen of this language that we have is contained in the Peshito, or Syriac version of the Old and New Testament, made perhaps within a century after the time of Christ. A multitude of writers in this dialect have flourished, many of whose writings are probably still extant, although but few have been printed in Europe. In Arabic, there exists a great variety of manuscripts and books, historical, scientific, and literary. A familiar knowledge of this and its kindred dialects throws much valuable light on the Old Testament Scriptures.

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary [3]

In general, denotes those articulate sounds by which men express their thoughts. Much has been said respecting the invention of language. On the one side it is observed, that it is altogether a human invention, and that the progress of the mind, in the invention and improvement of language, is, by certain natural gradations, plainly discernible in the composition of words. But on the other side it is alleged, that we are indebted to divine revelation for the origin of it. Without supposing this, we see not how our first parents could so early hold converse with God, or the man with his wife. Admitting, however, that it is of divine original, we cannot suppose that a perfect system of it was all at once given to man. It is much more natural to think that God taught our first parents only such language as suited their present occasion, leaving them, as he did in other things, to enlarge and improve it, as their future necessities should require.

Without attempting, however, to decide this controversy, we may consider language as one of the greatest blessings belonging to mankind. Destitute of this we should make but small advancements in science, be lost to all social enjoyments, and religion itself would feel the want of such a power. Our wise Creator, therefore, has conferred upon us this inestimable privilege: let us then be cautious that our tongues be not the vehicle of vain and useless matter, but used for the great end of glorifying him, and doing good to mankind. What was the first language taught man, is matter of dispute among the learned, but most, think it was the Hebrew. But as this subject, and the article in general, belongs more to philology than divinity, we refer the reader to Dr. Adam Smith's Dissertation on the Formation of Languages; Harris's Hermes; Warburton's Divine Legation of Moses, vol. 3: Traite de la Formation Mechanique des Langues, par le President de Brosses; Blair's Rhetoric, vol. 1: lect. 6: Gregory's Essays, ess. 6. Lord Monboddo on the Origin and Progress of Language.

Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary [4]

It is plain from Scripture, that in the early ages of the world, "the whole earth was of one language and of one speech." ( Genesis 11:1) The diversity arose as a punishment for the building of Babel. It hath been a subject of more curiosity than profit to enquirers from whence arose the first communication of thought by speech, and who taught men the use of language, or the power to diversify sound for conveying ideas. Some have gone so far, in order to ascertain what would be the first articulation of a child untaught by hearing others so as to express his own thoughts, that infants have been kept from all hearing of conversation, purposely to discover what the first sounds of speech would be. But while men have thus employed their time and attention to the discovery of what, even if it could have been attained, would not have profited, the word of God teaches the cause of speech in the great Giver of all good, and the diversity of speech when the entrance of sin into the world had made man rebellious. But what a decided proof is this, among may, of the overruling power of God to cause good to spring out of evil, that as sin induced a confusion of languages, grace rendered this very confusion a means for the greater display of the riches of mercy in the confirmation of the truth of the gospel; for by the confusion at Babel, and the diversity of languages that followed, what a blessed opportunity was thereby afforded, when at the day of Pentecost, the poor, ignorant, and unlearned disciples of Jesus gave testimony of the truth by conversing with the greatest fluency in no less than fifteen different languages to the different nations of the earth then assembled at Jerusalem. So the Lord overruled the sin of Babel to his own glory. (See  Acts 2:1-11)

King James Dictionary [5]

LAN'GUAGE, n. L. lingua, the tongue, and speech.

1. Human speech the expression of ideas by words or significant articulate sounds, for the communication of thoughts. Language consists in the oral utterance of sounds, which usage has made the representatives of ideas. When two or more persons customarily annex the same sounds to the same ideas, the expression of these sounds by one person communicates his ideas to another. This is the primary sense of language, the use of which is to communicate the thoughts of one person to another through the organs of hearing. Articulate sounds are represented by letters, marks or characters which form words. Hence language consists also in 2. Words duly arranged in sentences, written, printed or engraved, and exhibited to the eye. 3. The speech or expression of ideas peculiar to a particular nation. Men had originally one and the same language, but the tribes or families of men, since their dispersion, have distinct languages. 4. Style manner of expression.

Others for language all their care express.

5. The inarticulate sounds by which irrational animals express their feelings and wants. Each species of animals has peculiar sounds, which are uttered instinctively, and are understood by its own species, and its own species only. 6. Any manner of expressing thoughts. Thus we speak of the language of the eye, a language very expressive and intelligible. 7. A nation, as distinguished by their speech.  Daniel 3 .

Webster's Dictionary [6]

(1): ( n.) A race, as distinguished by its speech.

(2): ( v. t.) To communicate by language; to express in language.

(3): ( n.) The forms of speech, or the methods of expressing ideas, peculiar to a particular nation.

(4): ( n.) The characteristic mode of arranging words, peculiar to an individual speaker or writer; manner of expression; style.

(5): ( n.) The suggestion, by objects, actions, or conditions, of ideas associated therewith; as, the language of flowers.

(6): ( n.) The inarticulate sounds by which animals inferior to man express their feelings or their wants.

(7): ( n.) The expression of ideas by writing, or any other instrumentality.

(8): ( n.) Any means of conveying or communicating ideas; specifically, human speech; the expression of ideas by the voice; sounds, expressive of thought, articulated by the organs of the throat and mouth.

(9): ( n.) The vocabulary and phraseology belonging to an art or department of knowledge; as, medical language; the language of chemistry or theology.

Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words [7]

1: Διάλεκτος (Strong'S #1258 — Noun Feminine — dialektos — dee-al'-ek-tos )

primarily "a conversation, discourse" (akin to dialegomai, "to discourse or discuss"), came to denote "the language or dialect of a country or district;" in the AV and RV of  Acts 2:6 it is translated "language;" in the following the RV retains "language," for AV, "tongue,"   Acts 1:19;  2:8;  21:40;  22:2;  26:14 . See Tongue. In the Sept.,   Esther 9:26 .

Smith's Bible Dictionary [8]

Language. See Tongues, Confusion of .

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [9]

( לָשׁוֹן [Chald. לַשָּׁן ], Tongue; שָׂפָה ). An indication of the manner in which man may have been led to the formation of a vocabulary is thought to be given in  Genesis 2:19. But it is evident from the whole scriptural account of creation that speech was coeval with the formation of our first parents. At a later date the origin of the various languages on the earth (see Van den Honert, De lingua primaeva, L.B. 1738) is apparently given in connection with the building of the tower of Babel (comp. Romer, De linguar. in extruenda turri Babyl. ortu, Viteb. 1782) and the dispersion of men (Genesis 11); but it is probable that the diversities of human speech have rather resulted from than caused the gradual divergence of mankind from a common center (Diod. Siculus, 1:8; comp. Jerusalem, Fortges. Betracht. Brschw. 1773, page 263 sq.; Eichhorn, Diversitatis linguar. ex tradit. Semit. origines, Gotting. 1788; Abbt, Vermisch. Schrift. 6:96 sq.). (See Confusion Of Tongues).

The later Jews inferred from Genesis 10 that there were generally on earth seventy (nations and) languages (compare Wagenseil, Sota, page 699; Lightfoot, Hor. Heb. page 754, 1031, 1089: see a list in the Jerusalem Talmud, Megill. fol. 71, chapter 2). Individual tongues are only mentioned incidentally in the Bible, as follows: the Canaan fish ( שְׂפִת כְּנִעִן ,  Isaiah 19:18), the Chaldean ( כִּשְׂדַּים לְשׁוֹן  Daniel 1:4), the Aramean ( אֲרָמַית , familiar to the Assyrians [ 2 Kings 18:26], the Magians [ Daniel 2:4], and the Persian officials [ Ezra 4:7]), the Jewish ( יְהיּדַית , i.e., Hebrew;  2 Kings 18:26;  Nehemiah 13:24; compare  Esther 8:9; Josephus, Apion, 2:2), the Ashdodite ( אִשְׁדּוֹדַית ,  Nehemiah 13:24); in the N.T. the Hebrew, i.e., Syro-Chaldee ( ῾Εβραϊ v Σ , ῾Εβρα Þ Στί ,  Acts 22:2, etc.), the Greek ( ῾Ελλησικη , ῾Ελληνιστί ,  John 19:20;  Acts 21:37;  Revelation 9:11), the Latin ( ῾Ρωμα Þ Στί ,  John 19:20;  Luke 23:8), and the Lyconian ( Λυκαονιστί ,  Acts 14:11). It is remarkable that, in all the intercourse of the Hebrews with foreign nations, mention is very rarely made of an interpreter ( Genesis 42:23); but the passages in  2 Kings 18:26;  Isaiah 36:11, prove that the common Jews of the interior at least did not understand the Aramaean dialect. That the Jews of later times, especially the bigoted citizens of Palestine, despised heathen languages, is notorious (Josephus, Ant. 20:11, 2); that they made use of the Greek, however, is evident from the Talmud (Sota, 9:14; comp. Jadaim, 4:6, where Homer is mentioned), to say nothing of the N.T. Winer, 2:498. (See Hellenist).

The question as to the common language of Palestine in the time of our Lord and his apostles has been keenly discussed by learned writers with very opposite conclusions. On the one hand, Du Pin (Dissert. 2), Mill (N.T. page 8), Michaelis (Introd. 3), Marsh (ibid. notes), Weber (Untersuch. ub. d. Ev. der Hebraer, T Ü b. 1806), Kuinol (Comment. 1:18), Olshausen (Echtheit der Evang. Konigsberg, 1823, page 21 sq.), and especially De Rossi (Della lingua propria di Cristo, Parma, 1772), and Pfannkuche (in Eichhorn's Allgem. Bibliothek, 8:365 sq.) contend for the exclusive prevalence of the Aramaean or Syro-Chaldee at the time and in the region in question. On the other hand, Cappell (Observatt. in N.T. page 110), Basnage (Annul. ad an. 64), Masch (Von der Grundsprache Matthcei), Lardner (Supplement to Credibility, etc., 1 c. 5), Waleus (Commentarius, page 1), and more particularly Vossius (De Oraculis Sibyll. Oxon. 1860. page 88 sq.), and Diodati (De Christo Graece loquente, Neap. 1767, London, 1843), insist that the Greek alone was then and there spoken. Between these extremes Simon (Hist. Crit. du N.T. Rotterd. 1689, c. 6, page 56), Fabricy (Titres primitifs de la Revelation, Rome, 1773, 1:116), Ernesti (Neuste theol. Bibliothek, 1 [1771], 269 sq.), Hug (Einleit. in d. N.T. Tub. 1826, 2:30 sq.), Binterim (De ling. originali N.T. non Latina, Dusseld. 1820, page 146 sq.), Wiseman (Horae Syriaae, Rom. 1828, 1:69 sq.), and the mass of later writers, as Credner (Einleit. in d. N. Test. Halle, 1836), Bleek (id. Berl. 1862), and (though with more reserve) Roberts (Language of Palestine, London, 1859) hold the more reasonable view that both languages were concurrently used, the Aramean probably as the vernacular at home and among natives, and the Greek in promiscuous and public circles. For additional literature on this question, see Fabricius, Biblioth. Graeca, 4:760; Biblical Repository, 1831, page 317 sq., 530 sq.; and the monographs cited by Volbeding, Index Progqrammatum, page 18. On the Greek of the N.T., (See New Testament). On the tongues cognate with the Hebrew, (See Shemitic Languages).

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature [10]

[[[Tongues, Confusion Of]]]