The Origin of Language: One or Many?

Visionary-Origin-of-LanguagTokyo, Japan is the largest city in the world boasting a population of 37 million. Just taking a look at pictures of the mega city is overwhelming. With its massive sky scrapers, intertwined highways and all the city lights that make it visible from space it’s a wonder in human growth and invention. It really shows you how far we have come.

If you walk through the streets of one of these mega cities or any city for that matter you will see and hear many different things. But one thing remains constant among all the world’s cities no matter which culture you are a part of or place you reside.

Language.

You can hear it in the mouths of the citizens or blaring out of radio on a passing car. You can see it on billboards, t-shirts and pieces of newspaper which have been taken on a ride via the wind. It is everywhere and it comes in so many different forms.

There are so many different languages that are spread throughout the world and all of them have their own unique attributes that make them different. Some languages are verbal, others are written and some are just gestures made with the hands and arms.

Where did all these languages come from?

Is the origin of languages similar to a lone tree where they all started from a single source and moved up towards the sky where they branched off in multitude, forming branches off of branches with some branches dying off from not enough nutrients while others flourished? More commonly called monogenesis.

Or was it more like multiple trees that sprouted up close to one another and as they grew, branches on one tree would affect another while others remained distant and distinct? Or called polygenesis.

Before we go right to the answer we need to understand language change which can be explained with the children’s game called telephone.

the game works like this: A number of children sit around a circle and one of them decides on a message which is relatively long. The child then whispers their message into the ear of the person on their left who in turn whispers the message to the person on their left, and so on. The message is passed from one person to the next until the message comes back to where it started and is then said out loud followed by the original message. Normally the message has become distorted and holds little resemblance to its original meaning.

Now imagine that each child sitting around the circle is a generation and the message is their language. It is spoken and taught from one generation to the next but with each new generation it changes and evolves. With each passing generation the language becomes more obscure from what originally was.

It’s time to go back, all the way to the start where languages are thought to have been conceived. The theories for where languages started are broken into five different theories with some being more legitimate then others. The Yo-He-Ho Theory states that our first words were created as a result from the sounds we make performing heavy physical labor. From the moo of the cow to the splash of water the Bow-Wow theory suggests that originally language began with people imitating the sounds they heard from beats and birds. If you ever hurt yourself you know the “Ouch!” sound, the Pooh-Pooh theory says that our first words started as the responses to pain and other emotions. You can tell from the name of the La-La theory that is proposes that we were singing creatures and so our words reflected that nature. The Ding-Dong Theory states that all things have a unique natural quality and that is where human words were developed.

But we have a problem, because the previous theories and all theories related to what happened after language was first conceived are undocumented territory with little or no evidence to support any theories. While these theories seem to be good explanations for the origin of languages there is not enough evidence to prove much of anything near the beginning of language so they remain theories and little else.

We are stuck in the unknown.

But not all is lost. In recent years academics from many different disciplines are coming together to answer this question. Maybe we will see an answer in the next couple years or maybe we won’t. But, what is guaranteed is that once we get an answer it will give incredible insight into human development and evolution.

Thanks for reading this week’s post. What do you think about the origin of human language? Do you think it came from one source or many different sources? Let us know in the comments below.

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