Understanding Theories on Origins of Language

Here is one question that must come into your mind once in a while: “when did the language begin?” Let’s leap into the history of civilizations…say hello to the Stone Age! Back in that time, people used to communicate via sign language. Language consisted of signs and actions, not words as Homo Sapiens were in the evolution phase (Darwin’s theory). Gradually words formed, those words converted into sentences. The use of script can be recorded back to the time of Sumerian Civilization. Cuneiform – one of the oldest scripts to be ever discovered, hasn’t been deciphered yet; many assumptions are created from the seals and artifacts found that exposed the language part. 

That’s pretty much interesting, right? There are hundreds (if not thousands) languages dead by now; they do not exist anymore. Similar discoveries in the field of languages and history have disclosed intriguing language origins that you’d probably never heard of. 

Time to Ponder Some Interesting Theories on Origin of Language

Most of us never take the time to learn the historical facts about the language we speak. Ironically, the language we talk about today is far different than what it was in the past (which is obvious). According to historical notions, you will be surprised to learn the origin of languages. 

1. The Bow-Wow Theory  (natural sounds)

As we mentioned earlier, before words were even formed, sign language was the ultimate way to communicate. However, even before the use of sign language, different sounds were used as “language.” Remember the click language in Africa? Your tongue can produce several sounds only if you know how, so back in the day, this was the natural communication order. 

Although some might still argue with this theory, the evidence is seen among the primitive tribes of the Amazon forest and in Tribal lands of Africa. 

2. Ding-Dong Theory (sound)

According to this theory, language development is based on the essential qualities of objects. Once the use of sound language evolved, the words formed gradually. Although now it may not seem like a possibility, let’s take a look at the following examples; 

  • Thunder = boom!
  • Clock = tick 
  • Wind = swish 

So the sounds are the exact image of the action (thunder, clock, and wind). However, this does not mean that these sounds are only relatable to one action only. For instance, the sound “boom” is also produced if a bomb goes off. The clarity of sounds becomes questionable. 

3. The Pooh-Pooh Theory (involuntary and spontaneous)

Can you recall how you start making “gibberish” sounds when words get all lost in anger or while you are crying? The Pooh-Pooh theory revolves around it. When you make certain sounds (or in some cases speak a mouthful of words), this is the “involuntary action or a spontaneous action” that results in a new speech, for instance, cries of surprise or dislike, pain or even hunger, etc., can be the reason behind the development of a language.

It is not only common among humans but according to some studies, the same origin of language is said to be found among animals as well.  

4. Yo-He-Ho Theory (work song)

Are rap songs your favorite? How about the acapella sounds? The music sounds being produced by mouth is considered a skill. But guess what? This is old news!

The sounds of “grunts” and “groans” or chants and “rhythm” is how the earliest civilizations used to communicate with one another in old times. To have better coordination in movement, especially during hunting season, people would use such sounds as signals that sometimes even sounded similar to animal-like sounds. 

According to this theory, the origin of language begins based on these cooperative efforts by humans at particular times. However, this theory doesn’t explain the origin of word development. 

5. The Ta-Ta Theory

This theory brings forward an interesting notion – the origin of language came from the tongue and mouth gestures that gradually shifted to manual gestures and ultimately shaped into the language. The image that develops in your mind related to the word “ta-ta” is goodbye (waving hand as a gesture). 

However, the gesture is speechless, but it does convey the respective meaning to the other person. Likewise, there are a lot of things that we talk about but do not have any gestures related to them. That’s why it is believed the gestures evolved into language and therefore, are not associated with every other word. 

6. The La-La Theory

The first image that pops up in your head with “la-la” is the sound of music. When a person is practicing for choir or trying to pitch the right note and tune, right?

The La-La theory revolves around the fact that the origin of language revolved around playfulness, love, song, or even a poetic sensibility. If you take a closer look, the theory has strong merit as songs have emotional power over languages and minds. 

But even so, which one of the origins of languages is the most truthful is hard to say. 

Modern times

After non-stop predicaments about language origin, does it mean that all questions will remain unanswered about the origin of language? It’s hard to say which origin of speech is the most astute, but it’s a high possibility one origin gave birth to several other ideas. Over two decades now, scholars from anthropology and genetics have concluded that language is a multidimensional domain; it is hard to say how the language originated. Still, it is an imperfect way of communicating yet to date. 

Since our culture is evolving, it does answer that evolution, culture, globalization, and technology are running interference with language development. One can conclude that the origin of language involves three basic factors; cognitive, physical, and social aspects. Now, how far the language progress will continue is yet to be seen. 

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