Did language originate in Africa?

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Arguably, yes, according to an article in Science this past week. Press reports may be found in the Times and in ScienceNOW. In a nutshell, the author of the Science article, Quentin Atkinson, examined the number of phonemes in approximately 500 extant languages and found that that number was distributed geographically in a way that suggests an origin for all languages in Africa. Indeed, we might speculate that the invention of language was the breakthrough that allowed our species to expand out of Africa.

Atkinson’s innovation, apparently, was to focus on phonemes, rather than words. A phoneme is a single consonant, vowel, or (I now know) tone; for example, Matt and Mitt differ by a single phoneme (at least linguistically). Atkinson argues that the languages spoken by smaller populations have fewer phonemes, and he finds that the farther have modern populations radiated from central and southern Africa, the fewer are the phonemes in their languages, after controlling for such variables as population size. African click languages may have over 100 phonemes, whereas Hawaiian has a mere 13. English has around 45 phonemes.

Much of the paper was Greek to me, so I relied mostly on the press reports. But the heart of the paper appears to be a box plot showing a parameter called phonemic diversity as a function of geographical region. Phonemic diversity is related to the number of phonemes in a language and decreases in this order: Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, South America, Oceania. Oceania, which evidently includes Australia, is actually closer (along the Asian route) to Africa than is South America, so you could quibble on that point, but I presume that people arrived in the Americas before Oceania. The median values in the box plot decrease monotonically with region, but there is a great deal of scatter in the data and even some unexplained outliers. Nevertheless, the result is statistically significant to a high level.

I will not go into further detail, but Atkinson developed mathematical models based on a serial founder effect. These models assume that as people migrated and small populations branched off larger populations, the smaller population took its limited number of phonemes with it. As successive populations branched off, the number of phonemes successively decreased. Atkinson’s results are consistent with the history of human migration as revealed by genetic models. He finds, however, that language was invented 50,000 or so years before the initial migrations out of Africa, and he concludes that language may have been essential to humans’ colonizing the entire world.

57 Comments

Does this mean that languages evolved rather than that they were the result of intelligent design?

The completely universal incidence of language in all human populations makes this unsurprising. The most logical conclusion is that it evolved well before even the earliest human diaspora.

Just another independent line of evidence supporting the theory of evolution.

It is also evidence that language, like life, may have evolved only once – though it is also possible that one extended language family outcompeted all the others.

So all of the available evidence, genetic, archaeological and linguistic is completely consistent with the Out of Africa hypothesis. Guess it’s time to call it the Out of Africa theory.

Paul Burnett said:

Does this mean that languages evolved rather than that they were the result of intelligent design?

Language change has long been taken as bearing similarities to biological evolution.

We might note that complex structures in language (such as the conjugation of verbs) did not develop by deliberate, purposeful, intelligent design, but by random change (“mistakes”). Nobody designed the forms of be in English: am, are, is, were, been, being. Although there are “language police” who think that if we let random changes take place, we will end up with an impoverished language.

I heard about this on NPR the other day. Fascinating.

However, that ScienceNOW article also raises an interesting point about the rates at which languages diversify.

Bart de Boer, a linguist at the University of Amsterdam, adds that the paper “looks methodologically quite sound.” But he says he is surprised that phonemes can be used to trace language evolution so far back in time—and that over the course of tens of thousands of years phoneme diversities in far-flung areas of the world have not “drifted back to the sizes found in Africa” because cultural evolution of phonemes is “much faster than genetic evolution.” De Boer says that he would be happy if the paper turns out to be correct, but researchers must first be sure that its conclusions are not “caused by some methodological artifact we have all missed.”

It appears as though there is an underlying assumption that phoneme diversity was not as great at the times of the major migrations out of Africa. And even subsets within this diversity would represent a “bottleneck” in phoneme diversity for the population that took a particular route into other parts of the world.

So, if phonemes diversify faster than genes, what would prevent recovery of, or some kind of convergent evolution in, phonemes from different populations?

If the diminishing diversity with distance from Africa does indeed correlate with genetic diversity, this raises an interesting question about whether any of the genetic physiological features associated with language might also constrain the rate of phoneme diversification.

Note that LanguageLog has addressed this paper (http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=3090), and they point out some complexities in the issues involved that are notably poorly addressed. Of course, the paper’s hypothesis (that all current languages trace back to Africa) is probably true; but the tests the paper used also confirm a number of other hypotheses that are almost certainly false; so it doesn’t do a good job at distinguishing. The paper is probably a good idea, but will need to be reproduced with some more detailed classifications.

Very interesting.

It corroborates similar studies comparing genealogical DNA. Those studies like the Genographic Project, https://genographic.nationalgeograp[…]n/atlas.html , indicate that Australian aboriginal peoples were among the first modern humans to leave Africa about 50,000 to 60,000 years ago, predating any migrations to the Americas. (The Genographic Project found Austalian aboriginal ancestor DNA in India.)

Arriving in Australia, they have been isolated until modern times. Now two independent lines of evidence agree.

So how could the Tower of Babel and the dispersion of languages have been in Mesopotamia? Evidently it couldn’t have.

Another vindication for Chomsky. If the generation of language is innate, a result of the structure of the brain then the first language is coeval with the first humans. If there was a Tower of Babel, it was in southwest Africa.

Well of course language originated in Africa. If it had originated only on other continents, that would mean that it had to have migrated back into Africa from elsewhere. Well, either that or multiple origination events.

(This is of course disregarding the alternate model of a tower of babbling.)

Language change appears to be mostly unplanned. Writing, on the other hand, does seem to have been an invention, i.e the result of deliberate attempts to figure out how to record speech in physical signs. We even know the names of some inventors of graphical systems: King Sejong for Korean Hangul and Sequoyah for the Cherokee alphabet. If somebody were seriously interested in developing a non-crank theory of intelligent design, looking at how writing systems got off the ground would be a good place to start. Biological evolution does not seem to have involved design, but cultural evolution did and it’s always surprising to me how little interest people show in studying the role of intelligence in the realm where it really may have made all the difference.

Do we assume neandertahls were mute? Language would have pre-dated our species just as did technology and art.

Sproat says in his review:

“To test the possibility of polygenesis, he considers models with a second point of origin. That analysis posits South America as a second point of origin, …”

Can anyone explain this?

I found this beautiful picture over on the National Geographic website in the jigsaw puzzle section.

The man is a member of the Ngada tribe on the island of Flores, Indonesia.

Note the bone structure; especially the cheeks and around the eyes.

We had expanded out of Africa before language’s invention it is definitely not a cause-effect relationship.

We had expanded out of Africa before language’s invention[.]

How do you know?

[I]t is definitely not a cause-effect relationship.

How do you know?

Paul Burnett said:

Does this mean that languages evolved rather than that they were the result of intelligent design?

Groups like the Académie Francaise have tried energetically to intelligently design language, in their case French. But it evolved anyway.

Like, you know, they ain’t succeeded.

We had expanded out of Africa before language’s invention it is definitely not a cause-effect relationship.

That sounds like you’re confusing the origin of written language with the origin of language.

Henry

I’m thinking that an intelligently designed language wouldn’t have irregular verbs, or assign gender to words to which it doesn’t really apply, or force somebody to guess a person’s gender in order to produce a grammatically correct sentence.

One thing that does strike me as odd .. Its that in the beginning there were the greatest number phonemes, which were subsquently whittled down. It doesn’t make sense to me that the ancestor of all languages had the most phonemes unless..

this indicates that language spent a considearble time incubating in Africa before migrants left. Perhaps that makes sense given that it is claimed that language began 50,000 years before migrations out of Africa.

I understand that the 100 phonemes in modern Africa is also a result of subsequent evolution of language in Africa, but I wonder how many phonemes were present when the migrations began? can that be estimated? If its a large a number, one wonders if that suggests a fairly complex society way back when. Otherwise why have a language dense with phonemes unless you have lot of different types of thought you need to express?

We know for a fact that the origin of one language took place in Nicaragua, and another in the Sinai.

One thing that does strike me as odd .. Its that in the beginning there were the greatest number phonemes, which were subsquently whittled down. It doesn’t make sense to me that the ancestor of all languages had the most phonemes unless..

It seems quite natural if you think how writing later developed as pictures - one picture one described object. Did language start as one phoneme per object - requiring many different phonemes - and language proper only started when it was realized that it was possible to use phonemes symbolically and combine them into words. Compare the number of symbols in pictographic languages with the size of modern alphabets.

I believe that the suggestion is that when a group splits from the original population, it is a smaller group that moves away from the larger group, and the larger group tends to stay put. Smaller groups tend to have fewer phonemes in their languages.

This does not give us any help in understanding the origins of the first language(s).

Extrapolating back in time, it seems likely to me that the original proto language would have contained literally thousands of phonemes. This would be logical in the case of a total lack of grammar. Perhaps the speekers of this language originally needed a different sound for vitually every “sentence”, e.g a single click might mean “There’s a sabre-toothed tiger in that bush over there”. This ties in with Steven Mithen’s ideas in The Singing Neanderthal, in which he postulates that the Neaderthals communicated by means of a highly sophisticated collection of “musical” sounds; a bit like some Eastern languages which use tonality to distiguish between different meanings of the same “word”? The use of tonality by the Neanderthals would have added greater versatility to a grammarless language. It also ties in with recent theory that there is no such thing as a universal, hard-wired grammar as proposed by Chomsky and Pinker.

Linguists are not quite so sanguine about this report:

http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nl[…]90#more-3090

Henry J said:

I’m thinking that an intelligently designed language wouldn’t have irregular verbs, or assign gender to words to which it doesn’t really apply, or force somebody to guess a person’s gender in order to produce a grammatically correct sentence.

If that is what you think, then google “con-lang”

If its a large a number, one wonders if that suggests a fairly complex society way back when. Otherwise why have a language dense with phonemes unless you have lot of different types of thought you need to express?

In fact, complexity of everyday life and level of technology do not necessarily correlate.

A person who drives to work everyday, sits in a cubical, comes home, watches television, and repeats, may not need much of a vocabulary. Of course, the underlying technology itself is complex, but the individual user only needs the vocabulary to deal with basic use. Only a tiny fraction of the population is expert enough to use the detailed vocabulary of, say, automotive repair, and even those fractions only tend to know the technology they specialize in.

A hunter gatherer or low-tech agricultural generalist may encounter many different animal and plant species, weather conditions (which affect them far more than the cubicle worker), may need many heuristics to keep abreast of changing seasons, and so on. In fact, I grew up in an area where elderly people commonly hung on to low-tech agriculture as a “hobby”, and their activities were very diverse and complex relative to a typical modern person. Numerous different times of the year had numerous different complex tasks associated with them, all of which was stored in verbal memory (with neighborly reminders as a backup). And even those people had discarded some knowledge that their slightly earlier ancestors had possessed.

Jim Harrison said:

Language change appears to be mostly unplanned. Writing, on the other hand, does seem to have been an invention, i.e the result of deliberate attempts to figure out how to record speech in physical signs. We even know the names of some inventors of graphical systems: King Sejong for Korean Hangul and Sequoyah for the Cherokee alphabet. If somebody were seriously interested in developing a non-crank theory of intelligent design, looking at how writing systems got off the ground would be a good place to start. Biological evolution does not seem to have involved design, but cultural evolution did and it’s always surprising to me how little interest people show in studying the role of intelligence in the realm where it really may have made all the difference.

Those writing systems used existing systems for their model. The first writing system began in the use of ceramic balls that symbolized cattle ownership. To exchange the cattle, the balls were exchanged. To prevent them being lost, the balls were sealed inside a larger hollow ceramic ball, making a contract. How to confirm what was inside without breaking the contract? Make marks on the outside at the time its sealed. Gradually the marks became more specific. Then they realized you could just make the marks without the balls, and you might as well do it on a flat piece of clay.

One phoneme per sentence doesn’t require a very complex society to develop a few thousand. It might have been an aardvark in the bush, not a sabre-toothed tiger, requiring yet another phoneme.

Helena Constantine said:

Henry J said:

I’m thinking that an intelligently designed language wouldn’t have irregular verbs, or assign gender to words to which it doesn’t really apply, or force somebody to guess a person’s gender in order to produce a grammatically correct sentence.

If that is what you think, then google “con-lang”

A lot of con-langs are intended to mimic natural languages, since they are often created for fantasy or science-fiction cultures. The classic examples are the Elven languages of Tolkien, which have etymologies back to Proto-Elven roots, with sound-law and grammar changes through “time.” These can be expected to share the inconvenient characteristics of natural languages.

However, there’s simply no excuse for the existence of gender in Esperanto.

Joe Felsenstein said:

Paul Burnett said:

Does this mean that languages evolved rather than that they were the result of intelligent design?

Groups like the Académie Francaise have tried energetically to intelligently design language, in their case French. But it evolved anyway.

Like, you know, they ain’t succeeded.

Languages, especially phonemes, evolve according to certain tendencies, which can be described post-even but not always predicted. Some can be predicted to an extent. You’ve already used a great example, “ain’t.” This was in origin a contraction of “am not” to “amn’t,” which is still used in some English dialects. However, two different nasals next to each other are difficult to pronounce separately, so it is common for one of them to collapse into another. English assimilates forward, so the [m] collapses into the [n], giving, in essence, a double [n]. Such collapses cause compensatory lengthening, in which the preceding vowel is lengthened. The idea is that there is a sense that a word takes up a certain amount of time, so the shortening by a consonant is made up for by lengthening the vowel. And voila: “am not” becomes “amn’t” becomes “ain’t.”

This example also shows that there is some unpredicability in changes. Why has a contraction of “am not” become generalized to be used instead of “are not” (as in the example) or “is not?” Beats me.

wm tanksley said:

Note that LanguageLog has addressed this paper (http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=3090), and they point out some complexities in the issues involved that are notably poorly addressed. Of course, the paper’s hypothesis (that all current languages trace back to Africa) is probably true; but the tests the paper used also confirm a number of other hypotheses that are almost certainly false; so it doesn’t do a good job at distinguishing. The paper is probably a good idea, but will need to be reproduced with some more detailed classifications.

One complexity that I see (and that was mentioned in the linked article) is syllable structure. A langauge with a more complex syllable structure does not require as many phonemes to construct distince words. For instance, if only CVC is allowed, we have to have lots of C’s and V’s, but if CRVCC is allowed, such as in English (i.e., “strict”), or even more complex: “stength” is CCRVCC) fewer phonemes are necessary. A chart that measured by syllable complexity might show something completely different. Might it not be possible that as syllables become less complex (something which is certainly possible in language evolution) more phonemes become created? If we assume that syllable complexity is primary, at least in certain cases, we might see secondary diffusions, which could turn these results on their head.

Mind you, I agree with the conclusion of the paper; unless we are going to say that languages evolved more than once, and are to disagree with the Out of Africa hypothesis, it becomes a “dog bites man” story. It’s always nice to have data to back an idea up, but I’m not sure that this data is it.

skwiver said:

We know for a fact that the origin of one language took place in Nicaragua, and another in the Sinai.

By the Nicaraguan example, do you mean Nicaraguan Sign Language? That’s a fascinating story of a language caught in the very act of creation. What is the Sinai example?

Think about the later development of written language - as far as I am aware there was never a written language with one pictograph per sentence - but there were many with one pictograph per concept - with sentences consisting of a list of pictographs.

One phoneme per sentence is what you get with some animals (i.e. call means “Predator Danger hide”) and the number of possible sentences expands exponentially with the number of objects you wish the sentences to refer to. On the other hand if you have one phoneme per object, and objects strung together to make sentences, the number of phonemes needed expands linearly with the number of objects. A language with 100 phonemes - describing 100 different thing can be used to create very many thousand meaningful sentences.

Recording the number of sheep is one thing; recording a natural language is another. Hieroglyphics, whether Egyptian or cuneiform, are not natural signs for objects but symbols for words. That’s the crucial originality of writing, and why enthusiasm for accounts of its origin that rely on an easy transition from clay balls to clay tablets has abated since Denise Schmandt-Besserat proposed such an account in the 90s.

By the Nicaraguan example, do you mean Nicaraguan Sign Language? That’s a fascinating story of a language caught in the very act of creation. What is the Sinai example?

Yes, ISN in Nicaragua, and Al-Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language (ABSL) in the Sinai (more properly Negev) Desert.

The idea that the origin of all languages is Africa, or any single place, is demonstrably false.

Jim Harrison said:

Recording the number of sheep is one thing; recording a natural language is another. Hieroglyphics, whether Egyptian or cuneiform, are not natural signs for objects but symbols for words. That’s the crucial originality of writing, and why enthusiasm for accounts of its origin that rely on an easy transition from clay balls to clay tablets has abated since Denise Schmandt-Besserat proposed such an account in the 90s.

Obviously intellectual leaps are required at every step of the process, but there is no question about the sequence of steps in the archaeological record.

Joe Felsenstein said:

Paul Burnett said:

Does this mean that languages evolved rather than that they were the result of intelligent design?

Groups like the Académie Francaise have tried energetically to intelligently design language, in their case French. But it evolved anyway.

Like, you know, they ain’t succeeded.

Anybody who has tried to learn to speak French would beg to differ with the notion that French is an intelligently designed language…Unless it is considered intelligent to purposefully design a language with pronunciation rules that are so counter-intuitive that no one else can speak it properly.

jkc said: Unless it is considered intelligent to purposefully design a language with pronunciation rules that are so counter-intuitive that no one else can speak it properly.

I’ve been tinkering with Japanese for far too long, and got into French on the side just because, compared to Japanese, it seemed intelligible.

Alas, if Japanese is a syntactic nightmare, French is a phonetic nightmare – Japanese is much easier to pronounce, at least to the level of making oneself understood.

In the case here, however, I think the point about “design” is that the French try to regulate changes in the language, not design it from the ground up. English-speakers and Japanese speakers don’t care that much about regulation, the Japanese borrow loan words like crazy (and mangle them … it took me a while to figure out what a “konsento” was).

Helena Constantine said:

Jim Harrison said:

Recording the number of sheep is one thing; recording a natural language is another. Hieroglyphics, whether Egyptian or cuneiform, are not natural signs for objects but symbols for words. That’s the crucial originality of writing, and why enthusiasm for accounts of its origin that rely on an easy transition from clay balls to clay tablets has abated since Denise Schmandt-Besserat proposed such an account in the 90s.

Obviously intellectual leaps are required at every step of the process, but there is no question about the sequence of steps in the archaeological record.

Along with the sequence of steps, one should take into account the tempo of changes. As Augusta McMahon points out “Compared to the long life of tokens, writing developed rapidly and surely was a response to the state’s need to deal with complex record keeping and transactions.” Incidentally, there are disputes about the sequence of steps. People kept on using bullae after the invention of writing. Indeed, there are bullae that are inscribed with actually writing as well as token marks. Whatever their physical similarities, bullae and tablets had different functions.

I remember how impressed I was when I first heard of the Denise Schmandt-Besserat theory in an article in Scientific American; but as they say about chess games, a brilliant moves is not necessarily decisive and things look more complicated to me as I continue to think about them. Of course it is partly a matter of taste whether you focus on the continuities or discontinuities in history. I expect that bullae, along with seals and tallies and other forms of prewriting, had something to do with the story; but the advent of real writing does seem to have involved the intervention of insight and, as I mentioned in my original comment, we don’t seem to pay much attention to what intelligent design is like in cases where it really did occur.

mrg said:

Alas, if Japanese is a syntactic nightmare, French is a phonetic nightmare – Japanese is much easier to pronounce, at least to the level of making oneself understood.

In the case here, however, I think the point about “design” is that the French try to regulate changes in the language, not design it from the ground up.

Indeed, I was referring to French pronunciation and all of its silent endings. I was being somewhat facetious about its unintelligent design. It’s just that the difficult pronunciations, the Academie’s regulation of the language, and the stereotype of Franch language snobbery all conspire to give the appearance of design.

jkc said: It’s just that the difficult pronunciations, the Academie’s regulation of the language, and the stereotype of Franch language snobbery all conspire to give the appearance of design.

Or maybe the appearance of “designing”.

jkc said:

mrg said:

Alas, if Japanese is a syntactic nightmare, French is a phonetic nightmare – Japanese is much easier to pronounce, at least to the level of making oneself understood.

In the case here, however, I think the point about “design” is that the French try to regulate changes in the language, not design it from the ground up.

Indeed, I was referring to French pronunciation and all of its silent endings. I was being somewhat facetious about its unintelligent design. It’s just that the difficult pronunciations, the Academie’s regulation of the language, and the stereotype of Franch language snobbery all conspire to give the appearance of design.

Maybe French really is actually harder for an English speaker to pronounce than Japanese, but I bet a big reason it seems harder is that written French has even more unpronounced letters than written English, though in either case the reason is language change. We still write Knight with a k because the k sound used to be pronounced and the French used to pronounce many of the consonants that are now dropped from the spoken language. The phenomenon of dropped letters doesn’t occur in transliterated Japanese, of course, so Japanese seems easier to pronounce.

Would an American kid find it harder to pronounce French than Japanese if it were a matter of learning the language orally? I just don’t know. There are sounds in some languages that don’t occur in others. German u with an umlaut or the sound that corresponds to the dh in dharma as pronounced in Hindi, for example, just aren’t found in English and they take some getting used to.

Jim Harrison said: Would an American kid find it harder to pronounce French than Japanese if it were a matter of learning the language orally?

Yes. Japanese is a phonetically strong language, with generally crisp pronunciations. French is a phonetically lazy language, not merely oriented around soft phonemes but with run-together words being proper syntax for the language.

A UK contact who could speak French said there were Britons who were just as bad, mumbling and running their words together. I knew that; while most British videos I watch use proper Beeb pronunciation, a few were skewed to what I call the “London mumble” and I had to turn on subtitles to figure out what they were saying. But in French the same thing is official.

Jim Harrison said: The phenomenon of dropped letters doesn’t occur in transliterated Japanese, of course, so Japanese seems easier to pronounce.

PS: Phonetics in a Japanese dictionary are provided using the Japanese kana phonetic set(s), and Japanese can be written in kana phonetics if need be, though care has to be taken to make sure meanings are unambiguous – Japanese has an unusual number of words that sound the same.

To be sure, it is an artifact of the ideogram-based roots of the language that, while kana can be tricky in places, it’s consistent and doesn’t have silent elements. Read the kana, one knows how to pronounce the word, aside from the proper stress on syllables – which tends to vary from region to region anyway.

So, has Atkinson discovered a Vavilov’s law for languages?

The greatest phoneme/genmetic diversity occurs at the place of origin?

This comment has been moved to The Bathroom Wall.

Golly, you’d think many generations of professional evolutionary lingusts should have noticed this. And here I’ve been accepting the conclusions of lifelong professionals when the answer was right there in a biblical fable all along. Silly me.

Robert Byers said: Not Africa with just a few languages.

I believe the bible says there was originally 70 languages after the split.

There are at least 1500 languages spoken in Africa. There are more than 5000 living languages world-wide. You continue to exhibit sad self-delusion.

It would be instructive to have it explained which Mesopotamian language is easily demonstrated to be related to the language of the following word/sentence:

Angyaliciqsugnarqug-llu.

(It’s Yupik for “Also, he probably will be building a boat.” And the pronunciation is not remotely like one would expect from the usual US English values for the letters.)

Please do not respond to the Byers troll.

Having lived in China for several years in provinces varying from Henan,where it (Chinese writing, culture) all began, to Sichuan, Yunan, and Hainan, I can say a little (definately not more than a little) about their incredible language. Henan is most interesting. I’m sure you’ve all heard tell of the confusion arising when the villager from one location moves into her new husbands village, all of 10km away and cannot understand the dialect. All true I’m happy to say. I had a Western History class where Putongwa (standard Chinese) was the only,and limited way they could communicate. (The students each swear black and blue their particular dialect is both older,and therefor truer to the original Chinese spoken forms, and richer in nuance). When one student, in a University of about 23,000 found a student from their own village, it was like long lost family members had once again found each other; entrancing. The evolution of Chinese characters also took place in Henan, in a small town which was China’s first capital; Anyang. The evolution of this written language is shown at a local World Heritage Site known as the Yin Ruins. I have difficulty with the modern characters but at the character museum, a huge ediface dedicated entirely to character history,etymology and calligraphy, you can see clear evolved, economised brush strokes, as the characters with radicals and modifiers, evolve into the characters known today. Literally hundreds of the characters found at Yin are still indecipherable.

Please note when I said standard Chinese (Putongwa) was a, ‘limited form of communication’, I in no way ment, less good, merely less colourful. In the same way that British dialects vary, and have eclectic localised pronounciation, but standard British english is the norm for News presenters etc.

Also a note to Byers. In my travels, and in teaching a general Western history course, I had to include christianity, impossible to ignore if one is to be at all honest. Touchy subject in China I’m sure you’re aware. My host university patrons on Hainan island were a little worried until they realised my take, and extreme lack of belief, we were all much relieved; they had been burned by several U.S evangelicals prior to me and my cohorts arrival. Interestingly there is an extreme desire for students to learn about Xianity, so I gave them the historical roots and consequences warts and all. Several students asked me about the historical reality of Christ. My answer was always more than likely, via Jewish and Roman corroboration. However when they asked about Jesus’ divinity, I gave the equivalent of, ‘are you out of your fucking mind?’ We all proceeded to have a good chuckle. Incidently you can make a whole class of intelligent, keen Chinese students burst their sides in laughter by pointing out that ‘god’ backwards is ‘dog’. Heh:)

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