The Origins of Human Language
How human language was born is a question that has been tormenting researchers for centuries. One of the biggest obstacles in trying to answer it is that we still have no empirical evidence in spite of our great technological advances. This lack of concrete evidence even led at some point to the Linguistic Society of Paris to prohibit any debate about the origins of communication within it. Despite the unknowns, various researchers, including psychologists, anthropologists, archaeologists, and linguists, continue to study this issue. Consequently, the numerous studies on the birth of communication can be divided into two broad categories: vocalization and gestures. In this article, we will focus on vocalization. The origin of language summary
On what date did the language appear?
- 400,000 years ago, homo erectus would have already developed the Broca and Wernicke brain areas , related to the production and understanding of language respectively. Although it may be that he used them for other functions
- There are theories that place the origin of language with that of homo sapiens , which seems to have started its journey 50,000 years ago in Africa, after a severe ice age.
- Other authors propose a possible protolanguage , simpler, about 100,000 years ago .
Does the language come from a single language or from many different ones? The origin of language summary
This is one of the first questions to ask if we start to think about the origin of languages. We must imagine an initial state, in which the language developed, and we have two theories of the origin of language totally opposed:
- Monogenesis argues that the language arose with a first human group in Africa. That is, it maintains that there was a single original language that was fragmented into different languages later.
- Phylogenesis places the beginning of language beyond the origin of homo sapiens . According to this theory the language arises after the human being. And different languages arise in different nuclei around the planet.
So the first question to solve: there was only one protolanguage or the linguistic diversity comes from the beginning? The origin of language summary
Single words or sound blocks falling apart?
This is the last of the great questions regarding the origin of language. We imagine that our ancestors began to speak in single words (like fire or water , for example), but not all theories say this. We tend to identify ontogeny (the development of the child) with phylogeny (the development of the species).
That is, as children begin to speak using simple words with a clear referent, we believe that the first humans did the same .
However, some authors differ from these beliefs. They believe that human language developed through long groups of sounds that denoted specific situations.
That is, of prayers . Based on these sentences, according to this theory , the language was fragmented and the lexicon was generated, etc.
Which of the two positions is correct? That is already your decision, the one that convinces you the most!
The origin of language is unknown The origin of language summary
In the end you may believe in one theory or another, but it seems difficult for us to get to know how and when language originated . The origin of language summary
In any case, this does not mean that the study in this field is not useful to us: looking for answers to such difficult questions will give us other partial answers .
[bctt tweet = »The #origenlanguage is anyone’s guess: in the end you may believe in one theory or another, but it seems difficult for us to get to know how and when language originated. # monogenesis # phylogenesis #wordblocks #loosewords »username =» on_translation »]
For example, studying the history of language we can foresee its future evolution, or understand our history through the lexical changes that have been taking place in a language . Or maybe we could invent a new common language to communicate with .
Our Hyoid Brain and Bone Complexes: Part of What Helps Us Do Something More Than Chatting Like Chimpanzees
Since spoken language is by its very nature somewhat transitory, the best empirical test in this field of study is the hyoid bone. This bone as it appears and works in modern Homo Sapiens is believed to only be found among the following among our predecessors: Homo Heidelbergensis, about 300,000 years ago, and our prehistoric “cousins” the Neanderthals. However, the appearance of the Kebara 2 hyoid in both species does not definitively prove that they were trained to make use of speech or complex language.
That said, many researchers believe that in the hyoid bone lies the birth of speech for humans and that without our hyoid bones with their specific shape and in the exact place, functioning alongside a larynx that has descended precisely, it is believed that the sounds that we would be able to emit would be very similar to those of chimpanzees. The origin of language summary
Therefore, we have wonderfully complex and precise anatomy in our throat, but along with this valuable part of our anatomy, we also need brains complex enough to have something to talk about. The researchers believe that our former ancestors already had what Noam Chomsky calls LAD (Language Acquisition Mechanism), the ability to learn a language and use it creatively. This creativity is evident in the art created between 300,000 and 700,000 years ago by our Paleolithic predecessors.
The Hardware and Software are already in place: Ready to Start?
Combining these two ideas, perhaps our human ancestors were already prepared to start talking (or at least to emit well-modulated sounds for the purpose of communicating some idea) about 300,000 years ago. Despite this, most speech theories pose a much later start date – only 100,000 years ago, when an increase in brain volume also took place. So far a summary of the evolutionary version of language acquisition.
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Opposite to the evolutionary point of view, there is also debate about whether language was a divine gift or perhaps a conscious invention by the first humans. Both theories are based on the complexity of human language.
Apart from trying to specify the date, continuity, and origin of the first word spoken by a human being, another very important question to which specialists have tried to answer is: What did our oldest ancestors say?
The Theories of Origins of Human Language
There are six main theories that were formulated between the early 19th and early 20th centuries that claim to explain the origins of the words we use in spoken language. They have funny names that allude to the idea that underlies each theory.
1. The Bow-Wow Theory
This theory suggests that the first words were onomatopoeic (words formed from the sounds related to the objects or actions to which they refer) such as gargling, cheating, whispering, or tic-tac. The Bow-Wow theory has been discredited by the fact that many “onomatopoeic” words are different depending on the language, they are not actually derived from the original sounds, and were recently created.
2. Ding-Dong Theory The origin of language summary
According to this theory, harmony with the natural environment gave rise to the need for language, and sounds and their meanings would be connected through nature immediately. Although it is true that there are examples of “phonetic symbolism” (for example, words that begin in English with fl- and are related to light and speed), the studies carried out have not been able to prove an innate connection between Phonetics and the meaning of a word. The origin of language summary
3. Pooh-Pooh theory
suggests that language was born thanks to interjections (expressions such as “Oh!”, “Oh!”, “Ha!”). A drawback of this theory is that it can be argued that many animals emit these sounds and others very similar and that is why they do not create words or even less a language. Another weakness of the Pooh-Pooh theory is the lack of interjections that occurs in most modern languages.
4. The Yo-He-Ho Theory
This is a theory based on the grunts and groans that the human being emits when he is doing some hard physical work. Although these sounds can be related to the part of the rhythm of some language, the theory cannot really explain the origin of most words.
5. La-La Theory
6. Ta-Ta theory The origin of language summary
states that words arose from the desire to imitate gestures using the tongue and mouth. For example, the word Ta-Ta would be a language saying goodbye. The obvious difficulty of this theory is that many gestures cannot be represented solely by mouth and tongue.
Despite their failures, most of these theories are still taught today as a starting point for research in the area of spoken human language. The origin of language summary
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Evolutionary Theory of Language and Protolanguage
Nowak and Krakauer are two researchers who used game theory to try to explain the origins of language. Believing that misunderstandings would be frequent at the beginning of spoken language, they created a model that described this problem and limited the number of objects that could be described. Then they tried to discover how to overcome possible communication failures. The results showed that a greater number of sounds did not help to overcome the “limit of errors”, but rather the creation of “words” by combining small groups of easy-to-interpret sounds. The origin of language summary