AD's English Literature : How Did Language Originate?

Friday, February 25, 2011

How Did Language Originate?

 No one knows exactly how language originated. And because of this, there is no dearth of speculations about the origins of human speech.

Language is a ‘System of sounds, words, patterns, etc. used by humans to communicate thoughts and feelings’. (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, 1989).No one, however, knows exactly how language originated. And because of this, there is no dearth of speculations about the origins of human speech. Let us briefly consider some of these.

 The Divine Source Theory: According to one view, God created Adam and “whatsoever Adam called every living creature that was the name thereof” (Genesis, 2:19). According to Hindu tradition, language came from goddess Saraswati ( goddess of knowledge and enlightenment). Read More Philology In most religions, there appears to be a divine source that provided humans with language. Generally, every society has a divine story to tell about the origins of its language. We also notice that the alphabetical symbols or ideographs used in writing are often associated with divine images.

The Natural Sound Source Theory: Another view of the origin of human speech is based on the concept of natural sounds. The theory suggests that first words were imitations of the natural sounds which early men and women heard around them. the fact that all languages have some words which seems to echo naturally occurring sounds could have led to this theory. “Cuckoo”, “bang”, “buzz”, “hiss”, “bow-wow” etc., are some examples from English. In fact this type of view has been called the “bow-wow theory” of language origin. Read More Philology

Although it is true that a number of words in every language are echoic or onomatopoeic, it is difficult to understand how the abstract ideas and emotions could have been referred to in a language that simply echoed natural sounds. Another argument against this theory is that our language also seems to influence the way we hear and imitate the sounds of nature, e.g., the roasters crow ‘cock-a-doodle-doo’ in English , ‘kuk-ru-ka-roo’ in Hindi and ‘kikeriki’ in German. 

The Pooh-Pooh Theory: In 1971, in his Descent of Man Darwin proposed that like man himself his language also developed from a more primitive form, probably from expressions of emotions. Read More Philology For example, a feeling of contempt is accompanied by the action of puffing of air out through the nostrils or the mouth and this action makes sounds like “pooh” or “pish”. The critics of Darwin’s theory scornfully name it as the Pooh-pooh theory. 

  The Ding-Dong Theory: Muller, a contemporary of Darwin proposed the ding-dong theory of the origin of language. According to this theory there was a mystic relationship between sound and meaning. Read More Philology There was an instinct in the primitive human being, by which every impression from without received a vocal expression from within. Just as a particular sound is produced when any object is struck by a solid body, similarly human being’s mind gave a particular response to every impact the world made upon it. For example, the sight of a snake rang a bell and the primitive human instinctively said “snake”. 

So Friends, as is clear from the above discussion, it is a big puzzle as to how language began. To reach the origin is a complex study of linguistic science and again no conclusion can hardly be drawn. 


Ardhendu De

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An English Teacher;    M. A.(English) , D. Ed., B. Ed., UGC- NET Qualified

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