I enjoy nondogmatic speculation on issues where the Bible isn’t entirely clear. Did Jews build the Trojan horse? Did Elijah use Ba’al’s myths against him? We probably won’t know for sure on this side of eschatology, but they are fun things to think about. They can also be edifying topics for discussion because they force us to analyze what is written in the Word and give it precedence over what isn’t written in the Word.
I have developed a hypothesis that Joktan was the first creole speaker in recorded history. This hypothesis begs a few questions: 1) What is creole? 2) Who was Joktan? 3) Why did Joktan speak creole? and 4) Are you sure?
1. What is creole?
The official definition:
a language that has evolved from a pidgin but serves as the native language of a speech community” (source).
Let’s start with pidgin. A “pidgin” is always a second language (or third, fourth, fifth) that develops as a middle ground between two or more other languages.
For example, in 18th century Louisiana, colonial Frenchmen would have to communicate with African slaves (don’t even get me started on what bad theology contributed to the sin of African slavery!). Few of them spoke the others’ languages, so they would have to form some kind of middle ground. The colonialists welded the most power, so a new, simplified, French developed that two cultures spoke to each other.
A creole is an evolved pidgin that serves as a complete and native language. Over the generations, people would speak this pidgin more and the grammar and vocabulary grew. Eventually, people began speaking this language as a first language and it became a beautiful creole that has evolved into what we can still hear in Louisiana today.
Here are some examples of John 3:16 in some English based creoles from around the world:
Kaa, yu si, Gad lov di worl so moch dat im gi op im wan dege-dege Bwai Pikni, so enibadi we chos iina im naa go ded bot a-go liv fi eva. (Patois – Jamaican Creole)
Cos God jin sayang everybody arh, so He gave His only Son lah. So arh, anybody belib Him buay mati lah, but then hor live forever lor. (Singlish – Singaporean Creole)
Gɔd so lɛk mɔta lman dat i gi in wan gren Pikin we i lɛk; so dat ɛnibɔdi we biliv pan am nɔ go day, bɔt i go gɛt layf we go de sote go. (Krio – Seirra Leonean Creole)
See the English influence there? These are different languages, but they all developed from a previous pidgin.
2. Who was Joktan?
Gen 10:25 – And to Eber were born two sons: the name of the one was Peleg because in his days the earth became divided [Heb. niphləgah] and his brother’s name was Joktan.
Short answer: Joktan was Peleg’s brother, the son of Eber. There are some different theories about some of the details, and I would encourage you to look into them and form your own theory (even if you disagree with me).
Before the Tower of Babel incident, there was only one universal language. God confused the languages “so that they may not understand one another’s speech” (Gen 11:7b) by giving every individual his own confused language.
Now, every individual has forgotten his native language and received one that nobody else understands. Everyone could only choose a handful of people to have community with, so naturally they turned to their family units and developed pidgin languages amongst themselves. Every business in the city that relied on communication with non-family members would close, thus driving people from the city to find land to start farms and new civilizations based on family pidgin languages.
Eber had a son, Peleg, and a wife whom we’ll call Amber. All three have a unique language and have to form a pidgin based on the three. Peleg was a kid, so Pelegeese was probably not as influential as Eberite and Amberian, but eventually an Eberite Pidgin developed that all three could communicate in.
But, that’s just the immediate family. Eber’s father, Shelah, would have only been 65 years old, his grandfather, Arpachshad, only 100 years old, and his great-grandfather would have only lived out about 200 of his 700-year life. Surely some of the extended family went with Eber’s family, and some more pidgins had to form between the extended families.
…and then Joktan was born.
3. Why did Joktan speak creole?
Joktan was not given his own language like the rest of his family, so like the rest of us, he learned language from folks around him. He probably learned Pelegeese from his brother, Amberish from his mother, and Eberite from his father, but his personal heart language would have been the first fully fluent form of Eberite Pidgin aka Eberite Creole.
That entire generation of humanity would be first-generation creole-speakers, and, unless they want to marry their sisters, they would need to learn other creoles or create new pidgins for their own families. Over time, creoles and pidgins in certain areas would start to become more stable and similar to each other and language families would form.
By the way, I made up the word, “Eberite,” earlier. The Hebrew word for “Hebrew” is “eevreet” and actually means “Eberite.” Eber’s great-uncle, Aram is where the word, “Aramaic,” comes from, as in the Aramaic language that some of the Old Testament is written in. Both Hebrew and Aramaic are part of the Semitic language family, which is named after Eber’s great-grandfather, Shem.