Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Edenics--was Hebrew the original language?

Mississippi Fred MacDowell
I love probing shul libraries. In one of them, I found a truly strange book called The Word: The Dictionary That Reveals The Hebrew Source of English by Dr. Isaac Mozeson. Dr. Mozeson, who has a web site devoted to the study of what he calls Edenics is convinced that the original language of all men is Hebrew. He believes that he can prove it too. Using unspecified criteria he says has compiled over 22,000 English words that he says he can demonstrate to be derived from Hebrew. The book includes many of those words along with his philological study of them.

A publicity page for the book on-line says that the book proves that:

English is ultimately from Biblical Hebrew.
* All languages ultimately link up, and only through variations of the original, universal language (Hebrew).
* Every word ever thought or spoken is merely a disguised form of Hebrew. Hebrew is on the tip of your tongue.
* The primordial human language system (Hebrew) is a natural science like physics or chemistry. Only the "DNA" of Hebrew letters reveals the FL/LF element in FoLio and LeaF (synonyms) and the MN/NM in opposing NuMber words like MiNus and MaNy.

What is really strange is that Mozeson considers the entire modern science of linguistics to be, essentially, the heir of a racist German plot from the 19th century. For example: "They claim that Blacks developed unrelated African languages because they evolved from different apes than did Indo-European man. Jews and Blacks are segregated in a linguistic country club called Afro-Asiatic."

The problem with Mozeson's theory is that there is no theory. It doesn't provide any criteria through which the shifts in pronunciation occurs. There is, for example, an important philological law called Grimm's Law a theory which explains how three successive shifts in consonant pronunciation by speakers of Germanic languages occur. (The Grimm in question was, in fact, a Brother Grimm!) It explains why speakers of English, for example, pronounce certain words differently than speakers of other Indo-European languages. Whatever the merits of this law, it is an explanation. Dr. Mozeson provides no explanation for how Hebrew became English (or Algonquin--his example). It is unsystematic. It is not an entirely an exaggeration when Voltaire said that the science of philology was one in which "consonants count for little and vowels count for nothing." However, Mozeson simply ignores, well, everything! History, geography, cognate languages--all this are irrelevent to him.

It has to be pointed out that Bereishis Rabbah 18:4 says the following:
For this shall be called ishah (woman), for from ish (man) was this taken" (Gen. 2:23)--we learn from this that the Torah was given in the Holy Tongue. Rabbi Pinchas and Rabbi Hilkiya said in the name of Rabbi Simon: Just as the Torah was given in the Holy Tongue so was the world created with the Holy Tongue. Did you ever hear the forms gyne and gyneya, ita and itata, anthropos and anthropaia, gavra and gavrata? But ish and ishah [Hebrew for "man" and "woman," ah being the feminine ending], how does this come about? Because the two expressions correspond (i.e. alliterate).
Although I'm not certain how widely known this midrash aggadah is, the sentiment behind it is. It is in all likelihood the view that you were taught as a child. Although the Ramban dissents from the widely held traditional view that the Avot spoke Hebrew--he says they spoke Aramaic--it is indeed the traditional view that the original language of man was Hebrew. This was, in fact, the widely (if not universally) held traditional view among Christians too, until the 18th century.

In any case, a quick internet search shows that Dr. Mozeson's study of Edenics has a small following.

Haloscan comments


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. Mozeson,... is convinced that the original language of all men is Hebrew

But it was,...
...so the question is not with that thesis, but whether his derivations are accurate, or not. From what little I've read so far he's got a good theory, or at least working hypothesis, but hopefully I'll know better after I read more of his material.

3:26 PM  

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