Ooh, Interesting! Fascinating Facts - The Language of the Gods

November 18, 2016


When clients hire a speaker for their event, there is often no discussion on which language is going to be spoken for their guests. It is assumed of course that the speaker will talk in English and naturally this is absolutely correct, but what if that isn’t the first language? The original language? Would clients want to hear that? How do you even find out what is the ‘language of the Gods’? We’re here to tell you exactly how King James IV of Scotland tried to discover it in the 15th century.

With the arrival of err… Arrival in cinemas and the Brexit negotiations allegedly going to be spoken in French, language is a hot topic at the moment. For James IV, it was an extremely important part of his entire life; he was a noted linguist who by the age of 25 was able to speak English, Latin, French, German, Flemish, Italian and Spanish as well as his native tongue. But it was this latter language that he was so keen to discover further – was Scottish Gaelic really his native tongue? Was language learned or innate?

Naturally any plan to discover this language of the Gods would be extremely difficult to put in to effect. We learn the language that we speak by paying attention to our environment as we grow and the words that are spoken to us from when we aren’t even a day old. Thus, the logic follows that the only way to discover your own language, the ‘first language’, would be to make sure that you aren’t exposed to any language at all as you grow up. To put this into effect, you’d have to grow up in complete isolation from everyone and everything. Not the most ethical of experiments certainly and utterly impossible to put together… Unless you’re a 15th century King.

King James IV’s language deprivation experiment involved sending two young children and a mute woman to the deserted island of Inchkeith off the coast of Edinburgh. With an abundance of natural springs and the lowest average rainfall in all of Scotland, it was deemed the perfect place in which to conduct his scientific analysis. But what were the results?

Well… We don’t really know. The story itself may in fact be a myth as the tale first came to prominence a hundred years later. In that retelling from 16th century Scottish historian Robert Lindsay, he notes that that ‘some say they could speak Hebrew’, but there is no way to corroborate this report. The experiment might never have even taken place at all!

But we do know of other experiments that did take place; in 7th Century BCE the Egyptian pharaoh Psamtik I sent two children away with a silent shepherd, resulting in the infants only ever saying the word ‘bekòs’. Psamtik I had wanted his study to prove that Egypt was the oldest civilisation, but upon hearing this word (and presumably after much studying), he discovered it was a Phrygian word for ‘bread’ and sadly came to the assumption that the Phrygians were the oldest race. We now know they were probably just babbling.

Studies conducted since Psamtik I and James IV have discovered that in fact, if children are raised in silence, they will continue to be silent – the language of expression is more than enough if that is what you have been raised on. So were the Gods silent? Well, that’s a blog for another day.

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By Henry Fosdike