IN SEARCH OF THE UR-SONG
FOR A LONG TIME people have wondered about the original language of the Bible. Was it Hebrew or another Semitic language? Or was it some other yet unidentified tongue? Many of a less theological bent, including linguists and philologists, have searched for a basic or original language, a pre-Babel tongue that all individuals spoke.
In fact, there have even been bizarre experiments on this topic. On a number of occasions individuals with the power to test their own pet theories of language have isolated hapless infants to see whether, without exposure to any language, they would begin to speak a particular identifiable language. The most famous experiment was conducted in the thirteenth century by Frederick II of the Holy Roman Empire. He isolated two children and let them grow up without hearing any tongue. But the history of such heartless experimentation goes back as far as the seventh century B.C. when, according to Herodotus, the Egyptian Pharaoh Psamtik I conducted a similar experiment. And the impulse traveled to such remote corners as Mogul India, where the same kind of experiment was made by Akbar the Great in the sixteenth century.
Unfortunately, these experiments--at least to judge by the records of them--did not realize the hopes of the original fashioners. None of the subjects seems to have uttered the magic words. From our present