In Search of the Adamic Language
by Ronald P. Millett
The Scriptures tell us that mankind communicated anciently using one common language and modern scientific research supports that belief. While we await the restoration of the Adamic tongue, English, the language that the Lord has used for the restoration of the gospel and his new scriptures, is already becoming a universal world language.
The Adamic language is described in the scriptures as the common ancestral language from which all of these modern language families descend. Scientists using comparative linguistic methods also have concluded that there is a common first language.
Both Biblical and latter-day revelation indicate that at the beginning of the world the children of Adam communicated using the original human language, or Adamic tongue. These revelations also promise a Millennial restoration of this “pure and undefiled” language. Modern scientific research provides theoretical evidence for a common ancient language, which is the subject of a PBS Nova documentary entitled “In Search of the First Language.”(1)
As English has become not only the language of the modern prophets and the Restoration but the dominant language of government, business and culture in our modern era, some of the benefits and risks of having a common language are already coming to pass.
The First Language on Earth
Latter-day Saints have the great advantage of having many revelations relating to the creation of the earth, the placing of Adam and Eve on the earth, and the starting of this crucial second estate for the sons and daughters of God. Instead of believing that Adam and Eve were cave people muttering simple made up words to each other, we understand that our first parents were given the ability to speak, read and write by God. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith taught that
“The first man was instructed by the best teacher man ever had, for he was taught of God, and spoke the language of the Most High, in which angels conversed. This language he taught to his children.”(2)
Elder Bruce R. McConkie has written:
“This first language spoken by mortals was either the celestial tongue of the Gods or such adaptation of it as was necessary to meet the limitations of mortality; and Adam and his posterity had power to speak, read, and write it. In writing of the saints in the day of the first man, Moses says: ‘And a book of remembrance was kept, in the language of Adam, for it was given unto as many as called upon God to write by the spirit of inspiration; And by them their children were taught to read and write, having a language which was pure and undefiled.’ (Moses 6:5-6.) The beauty and power of this Adamic language is indicated by a statement made by Moroni to the Lord about the Brother of Jared (who spoke the original and pure language): ‘Thou madest him that the things which he wrote were mighty even as thou art unto the overpowering of man to read them.'” (Ether 12:24.)(3)
This original language continued on the earth until the tower of Babel. Brigham Young taught that except for the Jaredites the Lord then “caused the people to forget their own mother tongue, . . . scatter[ing] them abroad upon the face of the whole earth,” (4)
One of the blessings to be restored during the Millennium appears to be the Adamic language. Interpreting a prophesy of the Old Testament prophet Zephaniah, Elder Bruce R. McConkie has said: “During the millennium, it appears that men will again have power to speak and write the Adamic language. Of that day the Lord says he will ‘turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent.’ (Zeph. 3:9.) In some instances when the saints speak in tongues, the language impressed upon them by the power of the Spirit is the pure Adamic tongue.”(5)
Linguistic Studies that Support an Ancient “Mother Tongue”
The science of language study is called linguistics. In recent years linguists have studied how children learn to talk starting with “babbling” consisting of “repeated sequences of consonant and vowel combinations”(6) This babbling leads to “speech sounds that are applied comparably in all or most of the world’s languages.”(7) Certain researchers believe that “enough of these shared linguistic properties exist to allow for the reconstruction of precursor languages all the way back to a prehistoric ‘mother tongue'”(8) Other mainstream linguists believe that “the relentless pace with which people tweak their native tongues render hopeless the search for linguistic universals.”(9)
One approach to finding common language families uses what are called “kernel” words in a language. These words are used to avoid comparing words that might have been borrowed from another language (such as “beef” from French to English). Kernel words include the personal pronouns, especially the first and second person, numbers, parts of the body, animals and words for important common nouns such as “water” and “house.” Table 1 shows how this technique might be used using a few number words to show a language family relationship between the eastern language Sanskrit and several European languages.
Table 1. Similarities of Indo-European kernel words.
Joseph Greenburg of Stanford University pioneered the use of this technique to discover a new language family in Africa called “Nilo-Saharan” in the central eastern part of Africa. His work studying Native American languages found what seemed to be three large language families in America where over 200 had previously been theorized.(10)
In another amazing example, certain kernel words such as “milk” have been found to exist in roughly the same form in all of the language families of the world. This data is believed by some linguists to be remnants of an ultimate ancient common language that could include all of the known language families.(11)
Most modern linguists believe in a common ancient “mother tongue.” The differences among them is whether or not they believe that it can be proved scientifically from the language data that we currently have access to. (14)
It is true that linguists generally do not believe in the story of Babel or of a common language that came from God. However, many of the things they are finding support a divine origin of language far better than a “by chance” language evolution. Instead of many disjointed language groups that never join after starting independently across the world, linguistic data points to a common ancient language. Instead of “primitive” languages being less complex in syntax, vocabulary or semantics, the ancient languages(15) and modern aboriginal languages(16) alike are fully formed and very complex.
A Modern Universal Language
A current news article indicates that much like the ancient times before Babel, the English language is becoming the default universal world language.
Today English is spoken by 20 percent of the world’s population as a primary or secondary language…. The widespread use of English has helped the earth’s peoples to better communicate and help one another. Travelers, brain surgeons and rescue workers, for example, can facilitate their knowledge, goals and needs in an easier fashion. … In South Korea, the government has outlawed the private tutoring of Korean nationals by Westerners (lessons which often cost $20-50 per hour), because Korean families were willing to spend almost 90 percent of their disposable income on ESL (English as a Second Language) lessons.(17)
It is probably no accident that the language used by the Lord for the Restoration of the Gospel and ongoing communication to His modern prophets has become the most common international language. The popularity of English allows the crucial scriptural and gospel messages to be available to many people throughout the world without having to always depend on the slow and difficult process of translation into each native language.
Our diligent efforts of preaching the gospel to the world are very important to keep the advantages that English is providing as a common universal language. The recent news article also points out the disadvantages of having a universal language used for evil purposes as it was in the days of Babel.
How this tremendous linguistic current of history is directed will perhaps be the key to mankind’s future. A future in which mankind — if left unchecked in his new global allegiance — might one day soon be able to defy God by recreating Babel, and indeed “be able to do anything.” (See Genesis 11:6) (18)
Restitution of All Things
We believe in the restitution of all things, a restoration of conditions that were upon the earth in the beginning and influence that Adam, Enoch and others exercised so powerfully. We are told that “so powerful was the word of Enoch, and so great was the power of the language which God had given him” that ” rivers of water were turned out of their course; and the roar of the lions was heard out of the wilderness; and all nations feared greatly.” (Moses 7:13)
The fulness of this restoration will be something beyond the mere standardization of English as the default world language. It will only come when the full power of the original Adamic language is restored as the Lord has promised.
The author acknowledges the assistance and encouragement of Dr. Eldon Lytle in the preparation of this article. His insights into language are amazing and our discussions about aspects of the Adamic language and the importance of preserving the good in our current languages inspired this article.
1. PBS NOVA #2120G: “In Search of the First Language”, 1994.
This is an excellent documentary that provides a great overview of comparative linguistics and a summary of various issues that relate to the search for a common “mother tongue.”
Then select “In Search of the First Language”
2. Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., Doctrines of Salvation, Vol.1, p.95.
See also Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., The Way to Perfection, p.66-67:
“How could he give him commandments without speaking to him? What would be more natural than to believe that the Father would speak to him in his own language, and that the language used was perfect, for it was the language of celestial beings? We are informed that Adam and the Lord carried on conversations. How was this done unless Adam had been taught to speak? Therefore, all who have faith in the word of the Lord must know that Adam had a language; that his language was pure and perfect for it came from the Lord.”
3. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, Bookcraft, 1966, p.19.
See also Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., The Way to Perfection, p.69:
“Jaredites Retained the Adamic Language: It is stated in the Book of Ether that Jared and his brother made the request of the Lord that their language be not changed at the time of the confusion of tongues at the Tower of Babel. Their request was granted, and they carried with them the speech of their fathers, the Adamic language, which was powerful even in its written form, so that the things Mahonri wrote “were mighty even … unto the overpowering of man to read them.” That was the kind of language Adam had and this was the language with which Enoch was able to accomplish his mighty work. This being true, is there any wonder then that puny man, in his endeavor to search out the beginnings of things is baffled when he discovers what he is pleased to call primitive mankind, or, the most ancient peoples of which history records, a language rich in metaphor and in complex combinations?”
4. John S. Robertson, “Adamic Language,” Encyclopedia of Mormonism, McMillan, 1992, Vol.1.
5. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p.19 ADAMIC LANGUAGE
See also: Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p.93
“I have had the glorious pleasure of addressing the Saints in many languages — in Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, and Danish. I have addressed the Saints in Holland, France, Germany, Poland, Austria, in at least eleven different languages, and on one or more occasions have spoken through three interpreters at the same time. When you do that it takes a long time to say much. But even in a meeting where there are several languages represented there is always the true spirit of the gospel. Someday we will all speak a common tongue, and perhaps that will be the pure Adamic language. Then it may be a little bit easier for us to convey our feelings.” (Tokyo, Japan, 27 October 1957.) [emphasis added]
See Also: Evening and Morning Star (Mar 1834) Oliver Cowdery “Prophecy of Zephaniah,” p.142
” It is said, long after the great Deluge, that the earth was of one language, and the Lord confounded that, and sent, or scattered the people into all the earth. If we can believe the first, why not the last? If we believe that all the earth once spake the same language, and that was confounded by the power of God, why not believe that God has power to cause the earth to speak one language again? … If then, God has power to cause all nations and languages to speak the same language when in heaven, what is the reason that he has not power to cause the same on earth? Has he not all power? … Was this fulfilled when the Jews returned from Babylon? This could not be; because Babylon was not beyond the rivers of Ethiopia, neither was a pure language turned to the people, that they might all call upon the Lord to serve him with one consent.”
6. Bruce Bower, “Building Blocks of Talk: When babies babble, they may say a lot about speech,” Science News, May 27, 2000, Vol 157, p. 344.
8. 8. Ibid.
11. Ibid. “MERRITT RUHLEN: Now, using traditional methods of comparative linguistics, linguists have been able to show that there are many language families around the world. If one simply compares these language families among themselves, in other words, look at the words which have been identified by scholars in those individual families as characteristic of those families, one runs across the exact same word in family after family after family. Two of the most famous have become “tik,” meaning “one” or “finger,” and “pal,” meaning “two.” You find these two roots in family after family after family, and I think that there is no way to explain why you find these roots as well as many others, except to hypothesize that they all derive from one common source.”
“PETER THOMAS [Narrator]: Another example Ruhlen offers is the word “maliqa.” Appearing in English as “milk,” the word form shows up around the word with meanings which are associated with milk, or suckle, or breast, or throat. For Ruhlen and a few other linguists, this is compelling evidence that deep in the mists of time, there was one word for something like “to suckle, ” which has survived in each of the world’s language families. But, to his critics, a few isolated examples do not make a convincing case.”
12. Anthony C. LoBaido, “Return to Babel: English quickly becoming global language,” WorldNetDaily, July 18, 2001, www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=23667
“Today, English is increasingly being used as a force for the linguistic and cultural colonization of the world by the transnational powerbrokers.” – Loyal Gould, Baylor University
13. Anthony C. LoBaido, “Return to Babel: English quickly becoming global language,” WorldNetDaily, July 18, 2001, www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=23667
“Linguists today can trace all of the world’s languages back to three major branches of what is known as the ‘language tree.'”
14. Ibid. “DON RINGE, JR [University of Pennsylvania]: It seems overwhelmingly likely to me that all human languages derive from some common source. I think most linguists would agree with that. I think we would all be shocked if anyone ever came up with hard evidence that all human languages don’t derive from some common source. But, unfortunately, that’s not the issue. The issue is whether we can offer objective proof that all human languages derive from a common source, or whether we have to be content to believe it.
“Linguistic studies on ancient writings reveal that, the further back you study literature from, the more complicated it is.”
See also Hugh Nibley’s excellent 1973 article on written language,
Hugh Nibley, “The Genesis of the Written Word,” New Era, Sept. 1973, p. 38
“And what does the actual state of the documents attest? If writing evolved gradually and slowly as everything is supposed to have done, there should be a vast accumulation of transitional scribblings as countless crude and stumbling attempts at writing would leave their marks on stone, bone, clay, and wood over countless millennia of groping trial and error. Only there are no such accumulations of primitive writing anywhere. Primitive writing is as illusive as that primitive language the existence of which has never been attested. And indeed, the very nature of writing precludes anything in the way of a slow, gradual, step-by-step evolution: one either catches on to how it is done or one does not, and once one knows, the whole mystery lies revealed.”
“There is something wrong with this evolutionary process by which one and the same people develop a system of writing almost overnight, and then refuse to budge an inch on the way of progress forever after.”
See also this example of “Old Iranian” language showing complexity of ancient languages:
“The Faculty of Oriental Studies: Information about Old Iranian,” www.orinst.ox.ac.uk/infosheets/oldiranian-info.htm
“Most of the course is devoted to studying primary sources in their original languages. In addition to knowledge of Old Iranian grammar and vocabulary students receive training in the analytical and critical methods that may be used to understand ancient texts. As the texts themselves represent a range of differing stylistic and literary genres (building dedications, political propaganda, legalistic codes, traditional litanies, oral poetry of considerable sophistication and complexity, etc.), new challenges are encountered at every stage.”
16. See excellent material about Australian aboriginal languages at www.dnathan.com/VL/austLang.htm. A specific page on the Jiwarli language is at www.linguistics.unimelb.edu.au/research/jiwarli/index.html
17. Anthony C. LoBaido, op. cit. “Today, English is increasingly being used as a force for the linguistic and cultural colonization of the world by the transnational powerbrokers.” – Loyal Gould, Baylor University
2001 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.