Understanding Theories on Origins of Language
Since the inception of human beings, the societies that they made, the languages they speak, and the customs and traditions they carried out are in a phase of constant evolution. Also, scholars fondly take subjects for their research and study and share their findings. People often ponder “When did the language begin?”
Modern languages and cultures are a product of multiple historical variations starting from 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 as per Darwin’s theory. Gradually words were coined, and these further led to sentences. The use of script can be recorded back to the time of the Sumerian Civilization. Cuneiform – one of the oldest scripts to be ever discovered, hasn’t been deciphered yet though. The researchers and scientists had different assumptions and also tried to interpret the seals and artifacts that they found while carrying out excavation for facts and truth.
People who are into history and human evolution find this subject quite interesting. There are hundreds, if not thousands of languages dead by now; many of them are endangered already. Similar discoveries in the field of languages and history have disclosed intriguing language origins that you’d probably never heard of.
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Some Interesting Theories on the Origin of Language
Being human, we have this instinct of taking things for granted. We enjoy the perks of modern society and do not much ponder on the evolution and how we get to a part of this world and society which has facilitated us in the best possible way. We don’t have to use sign languages, we don’t have to get our bodies draped in the leaves and there is no more trend of carving information on the stones and living in caves.
Most of us never take the time to learn historical facts about the language we speak. Ironically, the language we talk about today is far different than what it was in the past for obvious reasons.
According to historical notions, you will be surprised to learn the origin of languages. Six of the theories that elaborate on the contribution to early language development are mentioned below.
1. The Bow-Wow Theory (natural sounds)
As we all know that before words made their way to the communication world of homo sapiens, 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, where people used to create different voices with their tongues to communicate and interact.
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.
Johann Herder is a German philosopher who proposed Bow-Wow Theory in the late eighteenth century. The theory concludes that language has originated from animal and object sounds and noises in the environment. According to the belief of Herder, the language has its earliest forms in an imitative or mimetic fashion. The theory proposes that humans imitated animal sounds in order to get their point across to other humans.
For instance, an individual might have mimicked a dog’s bark (that’s bow-wow in English) to inform other people about the danger of a nearby dog. With the passage of time, these onomatopoeic words or animal sounds present in nature evolved into more complex structures and forms. Hence, words became increasingly symbolic and abstract.
According to experts, this theory oversimplifies the language’s origin and fails to answer how so much complexity in modern languages has arisen from just simple animal sounds. However, this idea still remains a critical topic of study that language has a deep connection to the natural environment around us which we can not deny.
2. Ding-Dong Theory (sound)
This language theory endorsed onomatopoeia. According to which words having the quality of uttering natural sounds were used by people back then to indicate or refer to certain events and subjects. So precisely, 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. What is the first thing you think about with the word ‘boom’ or sensing a ‘swish’ across the woods and bushes? This theory educates us about how language evolved further and people communicated with the help of famous natural expressions.
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. This theory came from a British linguist Henry Sweet back during the 19th century.
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. As all animals have to communicate through these sounds. They are often found moaning in agony, and pain and howling in different situations.
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. However, as we see the music industry over brimming with rappers, it is not a new concept or variant of music. This theory addresses an aspect of language development where the labor tasks and their noise helped humans to communicate. This includes rowing boats while enjoying serene travel in water or hauling logs. These expressions evolved even more with the passage of time and contributed to the grammar structures as well.
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. It was Sir Richard Paget who seemed to be under the influence of Darwin who believed that body movement and gestures could help people to contribute to the development of language.
6. The La-La Theory
By the time you reach this theory, you must have started to relate to these theories by the rhymes of their names. Our next theory talks about la-la and the first image that pops up in your head with “la-la” is the sound of music. People practicing for choir or trying to pitch the right note and tune often utter such voices just naturally.
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 we all agree that songs have emotional power over languages and minds. Though this language theory played a vital role in language development, which one of these leads to the origin of languages is the most truthful is hard to say.
But even so, which one of the origins of languages is the most truthful is hard to say.
Language of Present Day
Modern times have a long history to follow and explore in order to know the right answer about the origin of languages. However, the above-mentioned theories did play their part and are relatable. Though it’s hard to say which origin of speech is the most astute, 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 language originated. Still, it is an imperfect way of communicating yet to date.
Digging into the history and knowing the details about the origin of languages and how they shaped the way humans communicate and interact can be an interesting read for people with similar interests. Our culture is evolving since always. Therefore, 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 models and progress take us, is yet to be witnessed.
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