I think the title says it all, but let me elaborate.

I would like to ask which languages have been known at certain time. Maybe one could elaborate the question by focusing on a special region or place, even if that wouldn't be may primary goal. Of course by known at a certain time I will mean that we have historical proofs of that and that a large amount of the population would speak/use them.

But are questions on "the history languages or language development/derivation" on-topic and to what extent is a focus needed?

Note I've asked the same question on history.meta and the only answer there was not encouraging.

Edit: Well may Question could be something like:

In the book of Genesis the story of the Tower of Babel is narrated which is -apparently- meant to explain the origin of different languages. Is it possible to say how much languages where known at that very time? As we know that a lot of languages we use now have been derived from older languages... like Aramaic etc. -> Hebrew, Arabic

2 Answers 2


The question seems to be sufficiently on-topic, but the wording is not ideal. You should try to write it so there isn't any question about what you're asking. We often have to guess at the intended question based on the title: your title suggests the question is about historical development of languages, but the body asks about how many languages were known to exist at a certain time. The title and body should ask the same question. You include the text "Aramaic etc. -> Hebrew, Arabic" which we can't interpret: I would guess that you're claiming that "Aramaic etc." developed into Hebrew and Arabic, which is false and meaningless given that we don't know what "etc'" refers to. Anyhow, that final bit of text is a distraction.

The core of the question seems to be simply "Is it possible to say how many languages where known at that time". There are two obstacles to answering such a question: (1) known by whom? and (2) at what time. First, you need to refer not to a biblical story, but to a concrete time period -- such as "during the reign of Darius" (okay, too late) or "around 2,000 BC". Second, you need to contextualize the knowers – I think the answer w.r.t. the Germanic tribes is "a couple", and the answer w.r.t. the average educated Mesopotamian resident is, errh, dozens, and the answer w.r.t. the handful of people who represent the pinnacle of Mesopotamian science might be a hundred.

There is a third problem with the question, which might suggest that the question is not suited for this site, but that is not my intention. The problem is that the question almost certainly would only generate speculative opinions and not true facts. Or, it would generate the 1-word answer "no". I basically made up my numbers, any the next guy can make up different numbers. The problem is that the question reads like a request to know how many languages people were aware of at a certain time, and we have next to no basis for answering that question. The bulk of your question seems to be about that; yet what you as is "Is it possible to say...", which is really about research methodology.

So I would think carefully about whether you are asking a methodological question, or a historical-factual question (about actual awareness of languages), and then make the question fit your intent.

  • Well I mean at a certain time there have been Aramaic language and at least the Syriac and Hebrew scripture have been derived from this -AFAIK-, I consider this as a development. But you indeed pointed at some problematic parts I'm aware of, but I really want to know. My major problem is that the question would allow different answers or an answer list ... And that we might have no historical facts for example for America and Australia, at least I suppose.
    – Medi1Saif
    Commented May 4, 2016 at 10:04

Welcome to Linguistics SE!

Yes, I think the question you seem to be describing would be on topic. Even if your question had problems, I'm sure users will suggest you what to fix to make it work better.

  • What kind of problems would you recognize at first sight?
    – Medi1Saif
    Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 13:01
  • 1
    @Medi1Saif I guess that depends on the question. If you want, you can include an example with the wording of the actual question you'd ask in your Meta question (this one). You can "blockquote" it, that'd get you more specific answers.
    – Alenanno
    Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 13:03

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .