The repetition of “bar bar” in the Greek barʹba·ros conveyed the idea of stammering, babble, or unintelligible speech; hence the term “barbarian” was originally applied by the Greeks to a foreigner, particularly one speaking a different tongue. At that time it did not indicate lack of civilization, refinement, or good manners, nor did it convey any feeling of hostile contempt. “Barbarian” simply distinguished especially non-Greeks from Greeks, much the same as “Gentile” divides off non-Jews from Jews. These non-Greeks did not object or feel insulted because they were called barbarians. Some Jewish writers, including Josephus, recognized themselves as being designated by the term (Jewish Antiquities, XIV, 187 [x, 1]; Against Apion, I, 58 ); Romans called themselves barbarians until they adopted Greek culture. It is in this not unfavorable light, then, that Paul in writing to the Romans used an all-inclusive expression: “Both to Greeks and to Barbarians.”—Ro 1:14.
The principal factor separating Greeks from the barbarian world was their language; hence the term had special reference to those who did not speak Greek, as, for example, the inhabitants of Malta who spoke an unrelated tongue. In this instance the New World Translation gives meaning to barʹba·roi by rendering it “foreign-speaking people.” (Ac 28:1, 2, 4) Writing on the gift of tongues, Paul twice calls one speaking in an unintelligible tongue barʹba·ros (“foreigner”). (1Co 14:11; see also Col 3:11.) Similarly, the Greek Septuagint uses barʹba·ros at Psalm 113:1 (114:1 in Hebrew and English versions) and Ezekiel 21:36 (21:31 in English).
Because the Greeks felt that their language and culture were superior to all others, and because they suffered indignities at the hand of their enemies, the term “barbarian” gradually assumed its common disparaging connotation.