Myths surrounding language

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List of myths surrounding the separation or division of language (confusion of tongues), or how the multitude of languages we have today came about.


From the Popul Vuh (Mayan)

Part 3, Chapter 4

Then all the people arrived, those from Rabinal, the Cakchiquel, those from 
Tziquinahá, and the people who now are called the Yaqui. And there it was that
the speech of the tribes changed; their tongues became different. They could 
no longer understand each other clearly after arriving at Tulán. There also 
they separated, there were some who had to go to the East, but many came here.

From the Bible (Christian)

Genesis 11:1-9

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.;&version=9;

From Australian Aboriginals (Gunwinggu of Northern Territory)

One day in dreamtime, Waramurungundju, a fertility goddess walked out of
the sea with her partner Wuraka.

She was the one with the long name and he was the one with an even longer 
appendage. It was so impressive he had to keep it coiled around his neck. And
then it was wham-bam fertility time. Phew!

Finally their non-stop bouts of fulfilment and fertility culminated in 
multiple creation. Waramurungundju then taught her children to talk and gave
them all a different language to play with. This magnificent piece of creative
effort achieved, she and her partner calmly walked back into the sea again.

From Native Americans (Iroquois)

Taryenyawagon (The Holder of the Heavens) warned them against the evil spirit,
and gave them corn, beans, squash, potatoes, tobacco, and dogs to hunt their 
game.  He bid them go toward the rising of the sun, and personally guided 
them, until they came to a river, which they named Yehnonanatche (that is 
going around a mountain), they went down the bank of the river and came to 
where it discharges into a great river, running towards the midway sun, they 
named it Skawnaytawty (that is beyond the pineries), and went down the banks 
of the river and touched the bank of the great water. The company made an 
encampment at this place and remained for a while.  The people was then of one
language.  Some of them went on the banks of the great waters, towards the 
midway sun, and never returned.  But the company that remained at the camp 
returned as they came--along the bank of the river, under his direction.

This company were a particular body, which called themselves of one household. 
Of these there were six families, and they entered into an agreement to 
preserve the chain of alliance which should not be extinguished under any 

The company advance some distance up the river of Skawnatawty. Taryenyawagon 
directed the first family to make their residence near the bank of the river, 
and the family was named Tehawrogeh (that is, a speech divided). Their 
language soon changed.  The company then turned and went towards the 
sun-setting, and traveled about two days and a half, then came to a creek, 
which was named Kawnatawteruh (that is pineries).  The second family was 
directed to make their residence near the creek; and the family was named 
Nehawretahgo (that is big tree). Their language was changed likewise. The 
company continued to proceed toward the sun-setting under the direction of 
Taryenyawagon. The third family was directed to make their residence on a 
mountain, named Onondaga, and the family was named Seuhnowhahtah (that is, 
carrying the name). Their language also changed. The rest of the company 
continued their journey towards the sun-setting. The fourth family was 
directed to make their residence near a large lake, named Goyogoh (that is a 
mountain rising from water), and the family was named Sho-nea-na-we-to-wah 
(that is a great pipe). Their language was altered. The rest of the company 
kept their course towards the sun-setting. The fifth family was directed to 
make their residence near a high mountain, situated south of Canandaigua Lake,
which was named Tehow-nea-nyo-hent (that is possessing a door).  
Their language was also changed. The sixth, and last family, went on their 
journey toward the sun-setting, and traveled a great distance, when they came 
to a large river, which was named O-nah-we-yo-ka (that is a principal stream).
The people discovered a grapevine lying across the river, by which a part of 
the people went over, but while they were crossing the vine broke.  They were 
divided, and became enemies to those that were over the river in consequence 
of which, they were obliged to abandon the journey.  Those that went over the 
river were finally lost and forgotten from the memory of those that remained 
on the eastern banks.

From the Hindus (India)

"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."

From the Aztecs (Mexico)

… when mankind were overwhelmed with the deluge, none were preserved but a man
named Coxcox (to whom others give the name of Teocipactli), and a woman 
called Xochiquetzal, who saved themselves in a little bark, and having 
afterwards got to land upon a mountain called by them Colhuacan, had there a 
great many children; that these children were all born dumb, until a dove from
a lofty tree imparted to them languages, but differing so much that they 
could not understand one another.

From the Greeks (Greece)

Thus the Greeks had a tradition that for many ages men lived at peace, without
cities and without laws, speaking one language, and ruled by Zeus alone. At 
last Hermes introduced diversities of speech and divided mankind into separate
nations. So discord first arose among mortals, and Zeus, offended at their 
quarrels, resigned the sovereignty and committed it to the hands of the Argive
hero Phoroneus, the first king of men.

From the Encounter Bay Tribe (South Australia)

In remote time an old woman, named Wurruri lived towards the east
and generally walked with a large stick in her hand, to scatter the
fires round which others were sleeping, Wurruri at length died. Greatly
delighted at this circumstance, they sent messengers in all directions
to give notice of her death; men, women and children came, not to lament,
but to show their joy. The Raminjerar were the first who fell upon the
corpse and began eating the flesh, and immediately began to speak 
intelligibly. The other tribes to the eastward arriving later, ate the 
contents of the intestines, which caused them to speak a language
slightly different. The northern tribes came last and devoured the 
intestines and all that remained, and immediately spoke a language
differing still more from that of the Raminjerar.