Origin of Language: When and How was the Language Originated?

The Origin of Language

With humans, the precise form of language must be acquired through exposure to a speech community.  Words are definitely not inborn, but the capacity to acquire a language and use it creatively seems to be inborn. Noam Chomsky calls this ability the LAD (Language Acquisition Device).  but there are two questions: how did this language instinct in humans originate? And how did the first language come into being?

Concerning the origin of the first language, there are two main hypotheses or beliefs.  Neither can be proven or disproved given present knowledge.

1. Belief in Divine Creation

Many societies throughout history believed that language is the gift of the gods to humans.  The most familiar is found in Genesis 2:20, which tells us that Adam gave names to all living creatures.  This belief predicates that humans were created from the start with an innate capacity to use language.

It can’t be proven that language is as old as humans, but it is definitely true that language and human society are always together.  Wherever humans exist language exists.  Every Stone Age tribe ever encountered has a language equal to English, Latin, or Greek in terms of its communicative potential and grammatical complexity.  Technologies may be complex or simple, but language is always complex., It sometimes seems that old languages are much more complex grammatically than languages such as English (example: English has about seven tense forms and three noun genders. There are no ancient languages, nor are any known to have existed in the past.

It is impossible to prove that humans possess creative language genetically. It is also impossible to disprove the hypothesis that primitive languages might have existed at some point in the distant past of Homo sapiens development.

2. Natural Evolution Hypothesis

It may be possible that during their evolutionary development, humans acquired a more sophisticated brain which made language invention and learning.  In other words, at some point in time, humans evolved a language acquisition device, whatever this may be in real physical terms.  The simple vocalizations and gestures inherited from our primate ( ape, monkeys, Man) ancestors might give way to a creative system of language–perhaps within a single generation or two.  According to the natural evolution hypothesis, as soon as humans develop the biological, or neurological, capacity for creative language, as a next step cultural development would evoke man to form symbols/ language with meanings.

his hypothesis cannot be proven either.  According to Archeological evidence modern humans, Homo sapiens ( modern man, the species man belong to), emerged within the last 150,000 years.  By 30,000, BC all other species of humanoids seem to have been succeeded by Homo sapiens.  there are no evidence either other species of humanoids–Homo erectus ( extinct species of a human being)   might use creative language.  Perhaps they did so. Homo sapiens, “the wise human,” should really be called Homo loquens, “the speaking human” because language and humans are everywhere found together.

3. Invention Hypotheses

Now the other question, if humans acquired the capacity for language either by divine gift or by evolution, then exactly how might humans have devised the first language? There are several hypotheses investigated as to how humans might have consciously invented language.  Each hypothesis is based on the idea that the invention of language and its gradual modification might drive a man to mental development.

For centuries there had been so much fruitless assumption over the question of how language began. The early theories are unsupportable just-so stories and referred to by the nicknames given to them by linguistics.

The Four Imitation Hypotheses

First, there are four imitation hypotheses that hold that language began through some sort of human imitation of naturally occurring sounds or movements:

1) The “ding-dong” hypothesis

Language began when humans started naming objects, actions, and phenomena after a recognizable sound associated with it in real life.  This hypothesis holds that the first human words were a type of verbal icon, a sign whose form is an exact image of its meaning: crash became the word for thunder, boom for the explosion.  Some words in language obviously did derive from imitation of natural sounds associated with some object: the Chinook Indian word for the heart–tun-tun, the Basque word for knife: ai-ai (literally ouch-ouch).  Each of these iconic words would derive from an index, a sign whose form is naturally associated with its meaning in real space and time.

The problem with this hypothesis is that onomatopoeia (imitation of sound, auditory iconicity) is a very limited part of the vocabulary of any language; imitative sounds differ from language to language: Russian: ba-bakh=bang, bukh= thud.  Even if onomatopoeia provided the first dozen or so words, then where did names for the thousands of naturally noiseless concepts such as rock, sun, sky, or love come from?

2) The “pooh-pooh” hypothesis

This holds that the first words came from involuntary exclamations of dislike, hunger, pain, or pleasure, eventually leading to the expression of more developed ideas and emotions.  In this case, the first word would have been an involuntary ha-ha-ha, wa-wa-wa These began to be used to name the actions which caused these sounds.

The problem with this hypothesis is that, once again, emotional exclamations are a very small part of any language.  They are also highly language-specific. For instance, to express sudden pain or discomfort: Eng. ouch; Russ. oi.;  Cherokee eee.  Thus, exclamations are more like other words in that they reflect the phonology of each separate language.  Unlike sneezes, tears, hiccoughs, or laughter, which are innate human responses to stimuli, the form of exclamations depends on language rather than precedes language.  Also, exclamations, like most other words are symbols, showing at least a partially arbitrary relationship between sound and meaning.

3) The “bow-wow” hypothesis

(the most famous and therefore the most ridiculed hypothesis) holds that vocabulary developed from imitations of animal noises, such as Moo, bark, hiss, meow, and quack-quack.  In other words, the first human words were a type of index, a sign whose form is naturally connected with its meaning in time and space.

But, once again, onomatopoeia is a limited part of the vocabulary of any language. The linguistic renditions of animal sounds differ considerably from language to language, although each species of animal everywhere makes essentially the same sound:

  1. a) Dog:bow-wow; Chinese:wu-wu; Jap.wan-wan Russ gaf-gaf, tyaff-tyaff;
  2. b) Cat-meow, Russ.myaoo, Chin–mao, Jap.nya-nya  purr in French is ron ron.
  3. c) Russian rooster: kukareiku.  Japanese kokekoko
  4. d) Russian owl:ukh; Cherokee goo-ku  Spanish, Japanese– no special word

Thus, the human interpretation of animal sounds is dependent upon the individual language, and it seems unlikely that entire vocabularies are derived from them.

4)  “ta-ta” hypothesis

Charles Darwin hypothesized (though he himself was doubtful about his own hypothesis) that speech may have developed from the use of tongue and mouth gestures to mimic manual gestures In other words, language developed from gestures that began to be imitated by the organs of speech–the first words were lip icons of hand gestures. . For example, saying ta-ta is like waving goodbye with your tongue. But most of the things we talk about do not have characteristic gestures associated with them, much fewer gestures you can imitate with the tongue and mouth.

It is very possible that human language, which today is mostly verbal, had its origin in some system of gestures and human communication began in the same way.  Human gestures, however, just like onomatopoeic words, differ from culture to culture. For Example  English crossing the finger for good luck vs. Russian “fig” gesture; nodding for yes vs. for no in Turkish and Bulgarian; knocking on wood vs. spitting over the left shoulder three times.

The Second Hypothesis

The second set of hypotheses on language origin supports that language began as a response to some acute necessity in the community.  Here are several necessary hypotheses for the invention of language:

1) Warning hypothesis.

Language may have evolved from warning signals such as those used by animals.  Perhaps language started with a warning to others, such as Lookout, Run, or Help to alert members of the tribe when some lumbering beast was approaching.  Other first words could have been hunting instructions or instructions connected with other work. In other words, the first words were indicators used during everyday activities and situations.

2) The “yo-he-ho” hypothesis

The language developed on the basis of human cooperative efforts.  The earliest language was chanting to simulate collective effort, whether moving great stones to block off cave entrances or repeating warlike phrases to inflame the fighting spirit.

It is fairly certain that the first poetry and song came from this aspect of beginning speech.  Songs of this type are still with us: Volga boatmen, military marching chants, seven dwarfs working song.  Plato also believed that language developed out of sheer practical necessity.  And Modern English has the saying: Necessity is the mother of invention.

3)  lying hypothesis

  1. H. Sturtevant argued that, since all real intentions or emotions get expressed by gesture, look, or sound, voluntary communication must have been invented for the purpose of lying or deceiving.  He predicted that the need to deceive and lie–to use language in contrast to reality for selfish ends– was the social prompting that got language started.

There are no scientific tests to evaluate between these challenging hypotheses.  All of them seem equally incredible.  This is why in the late 19th century the Royal Linguistic Society in London actually banned discussion and debate on the origin of language as none of the arguments had any scientific basis at all and called it a wastage of time on fruitless discussion.

Each of the imitation hypotheses might explain how certain isolated words of language developed.  Very few words in human language are verbal icons.  Most are symbols, displaying an arbitrary relationship of sound and meaning. (Example: the word tree in several languages: Spanish árbol; French arbre; Slovak Strom; Georgian he; Ket oks; Estonian puu; German Baum; Russian derevo; Latvian koks; Hawaiian lä’au)

And each of the necessity hypotheses might explain how involuntary sounds made out of the need in certain contexts might have come to be manipulated as words for an object even out of context.  However, the extended use of natural indexes still leaves unexplained the development of grammar–the patterns in language which have definite structural functions but no specific meaning. The creative, generative aspect of human language that we call grammar is language’s most unique feature.  Where did grammar come from? There is nothing like grammar (patterns with definite functions yet no set meaning) in animal systems of communication.

In isolated instances it can be shown that a grammatical pattern developed from chance lexical combinations:

  1. a) suffix -hood from OE word haeda= state.  childhood, boyhood, puppyhood.
  2. b) Continuous action: a form of the verb to be + main verb comes from a locative phrase I am working > I am at working– cf. the song I’m a working on the railroad.

But these are isolated instances.  How language developed a complex grammar remains a complete mystery.  This means that how language developed is equally a mystery.  We simply don’t know how language may have actually evolved from simple animal systems of sounds and gestures.