Getting to where I want to go, Ussher dates the confusion of Tongues at Babel as 2233 BC. Therefore barely 115 years had passed since the earth started to be repopulated via (Noah's three sons) Shem, Ham, and Japheth (and their respective wives!) Of course, treating this as factual history tends to cause derision in those who operate under Evolutionary presuppositions!
But, be that as it may, we are here at the moment talking about the Christian view of history. Therefore since we are dealing with a real historical event (as recorded in the historically dependable and therefore accurate Bible – in Genesis 11) we can presume that the population that gathered to build the Tower of Babel would not have been that great of a multitude.
At this time, according to the Bible, at the time of the building of the Tower, ‘the whole earth had one language and one speech.’ Genesis 11:1. Literally the Hebrew has: ‘Now had the whole earth one language and words few.’ (John Joseph Owens) The Hebrew word for ‘words’ in this passage is of course ‘dabar-im’ (the ‘im’ ending in Hebrew being for the plural) Those at the Tower of Babel literally were men of few words!
Part of the ‘Cultural Mandate’ given in Genesis 1:26-28 to mankind in Adam, and repeated when Noah et al exited the Ark (Genesis 9:1-7), is the cultivating of language, which necessarily includes the coining of new words. It should be remembered that God Himself in the very beginning, by merely speaking His Word, created things that are (eg, space, time, and matter) from things that are not (Gen. 1; Heb. 11:3). Thus, when God confused the languages at Babel, in order to spread man over the face of the whole earth, He was ensuring that man would cultivate the new language that each (family group?) had been given. It is at this juncture that we are faced with a problem if our thesis (that Hebrew was the original or pre-Babel tongue) is to hold up.
We believe that when Moses wrote the Pentateuch (i.e., the first five books of the Bible – Genesis to Deuteronomy) he made use of written records of genealogies and such like that Noah had preserved from the Flood. Eg, pre-Deluge Genesis 5:1 states, ‘This is the book of the genealogy of Adam.’ If Moses was able to read and utilise this book and such like records, then he was familiar with the original language.
The Southern Presbyterian Robert Lewis Dabney (1820-98) gives the sense of relative closeness between the time of Adam and the time of Noah and then Abraham where he says,
"Adam was contemporary with Methuselah 243 years, Methuselah with Noah 600 years (dying the year of the flood) and Noah with Abraham 58 years. Thus Abraham received the revelations of paradise through only two transmissions!" (Robert Lewis Dabney, Systematic Theology 1871, Banner of Truth reprint 1996, p. 445.)
Since Moses wrote in ancient Hebrew, we believe that the pre-Babel spoken and written-language was ancient Hebrew. Of course all this only accounts for one of Noah's three sons, i.e., the Hebrew-speaking Shem – from which we get the Semites. A descendant of Shem is of course Eber or Heber - from whose name we believe we get the title of the people referred to as the Hebrews (Gen. 10:21).
Says Augustine of Hippo (354-430) in his City of God:
"Before the deluge there was one language … all but the single family of just Noah were found worthy of destruction by the flood… [Through] the house of Heber … the primitive language of the race survived… Heber … was of the fifth generation from Shem… His family preserved that language which is not unreasonably believed to have been the common language of the race, [and] it was on this account thenceforth named Hebrew … to distinguish this language from the rest by a proper name; though, while there was only one, it had no other name than the language of man, or human speech, it alone being spoken by the whole human race …
Unless Heber had been still alive when the languages were multiplied, the language which was preserved in his house would not have been called after him. We are induced to believe that this was the primitive and common language, because the multiplication and change of languages was introduced as a punishment, and it is fit to ascribe to the people of God an immunity from this punishment. Nor is it without significance that this is the language which Abraham retained, and that he could transmit it … to those of Jacob’s line …
We see that originally there was one common language, and that … and that the language which the patriarchs and prophets used, not only in their conversation, but in the authoritative language of Scripture, is called Hebrew."
The three main clans then at the time when God confused the original language of the men of few words were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Here's what Alfred Edersheim has to say about this (apologies for its length!):
"In accordance with the general plan on which Holy Scripture is written, we read after the prophecy of Noah, which fixed the future of his sons, no more of that patriarch than that he ‘lived after the flood three hundred and fifty years’ and that he died at the age of nine hundred and fifty years.
"Regarding the division of earth among his three sons, it may be said generally, that Asia was given to Shem, Africa to Ham, and Europe to Japheth. In the same general manner a modern scholar has traced all existing languages to three original sources, themselves, no doubt, derived from a primeval spring, which may have been lost in the ‘confusion of tongues,’ though its existence is attested by constant and striking points of connection between the three great families of languages. The more we think of the allotment of Europe, Asia, and Africa among the three sons of Noah, the more clearly do we see the fulfilment of prophecy regarding them. As we run our eye down the catalogue of nations in Gen. 10, we have little difficulty in recognising them; and beginning with the youngest, Japheth, we find of those known to the general reader, the Cymry of Wales and Brittany (Gomer), the Scythians (Magog), the Medes (Madai), the Greeks (Ionians, Javan), and the Thracians (Tiras). Among their descendants, the Germans, Celts, and Armenians have been traced to the three sons of Gomer. It is not necessary to follow this table farther, though all will remember Tarshish or Spain, and the Kittim, or ‘inhabitants of the isles.’
"Passing next to Shem, we notice that he is called ‘the father of all the children of Eber,’ because in Eber the main line is divided into that of Peleg, from whom the race of Abraham sprang, and the descendants of Joktan. The descendants of Shem are exclusively Asiatic nations, among who we only notice Asshur or Assyria, and Uz, as the land which gave birth to Job.
"We have reserved Ham for the last place, because of the connection of his story with the dispersion of all nations. His sons were Cush or Ethiopia, Mizraim or Egypt, Phut or Lybia, and Canaan, which, of course, we know. It will be noticed, that the seats of all these nations were in Africa, except that of Canaan, whose intrusion into the land of Palestine was put an end to by Israel. But yet another of Ham's descendants had settled in Asia. Nimrod, the founder of the Babylonian empire." Thus Edersheim.
There was, of course, a lot of to-ing and fro-ing of nations among each other, resulting in a fair bit of cross pollination of language. Take, for example, the ‘Scythians’ (Scotians?) mentioned by Edersheim. These also, I believe, are mentioned as our forefathers in the historical discourse in our ‘Declaration of Arbroath,’ some of which I have quoted in the following. (For Scythians, see eg, Col. 3:11)
"Most Holy Father and Lord, we know and from the chronicles and books of the ancients we find that among other famous nations our own, the Scots, has been graced with widespread renown. They journeyed from Greater Scythia by way of the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Pillars of Hercules, and dwelt for a long course of time in Spain among the most savage tribes, but nowhere could they be subdued by any race, however barbarous. Thence they came, twelve hundred years after the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea, to their home in the west where they still live today. The Britons they first drove out, the Picts they utterly destroyed, and, even though very often assailed by the Norwegians, the Danes and the English, they took possession of that home with many victories and untold efforts; and, as the historians of old time bear witness, they have held it free of all bondage ever since. In their kingdom there have reigned one hundred and thirteen kings of their own royal stock, the line unbroken a single foreigner.
"The high qualities and deserts of these people, were they not otherwise manifest, gain glory enough from this: that the King of kings and Lord of lords, our Lord Jesus Christ, after His Passion and Resurrection, called them, even though settled in the uttermost parts of the earth, almost the first to His most holy faith. Nor would He have them confirmed in that faith by merely anyone but by the first of His Apostles -- by calling, though second or third in rank -- the most gentle Saint Andrew, the Blessed Peter's brother, and desired him to keep them under his protection as their patron forever." Thus The Declaration of Arbroath.
Edersheim (above) mentions that ‘a modern scholar’ (I don't know who) traces all existing languages to three original sources (Shem, Ham, and Japheth?), "no doubt, derived from a primeval spring." Thus, according to Edersheim (and other reputable scholars) there is evidence of a linguistic "primeval spring." I venture that this primeval spring (as I noted above) is ancient Hebrew. Thus, one would expect to find a residue of the ancient Hebrew spoken by those pre-Babel men of few words (dabar-im) even in contemporary languages.
At the heart of all languages one would also expect to find revelation of the Word (Dabar) Himself, for it is He that gives all words (dabar-im) their true meaning (John 1:1; Col. 1:17).
(See also Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh's ABAIR DABHAR):