Words by c.z.robertson

Psammetichus and Frederick II

2001-11-13 01:00:00 UTC

In 440 BC, Herodotus wrote about Psammetichus and his experiments to discover the first language spoken by humans, and so discover whether the Egyptians or the Phrygians were the most ancient race. His method was to take two children and have them raised without anyone speaking in their presence. When they did start speaking, he reasoned, they would use the natural human tongue that would have been spoken by the first humans. In the end, the first word they spoke was "becos", the Phrygian word for bread, and so it was concluded that the Phrygians were the most ancient race.

In the thirteenth century, the Holy Roman emperor Frederick II attempted a similar experiment to discover what language would be spoken by children who had not heard any. A group of children were raised without any words being spoken to them, but the emperor's experiment was in vain. All the children died.