Origins of Language
pages deal with the early history of our language, including the origins
of Indo-European which is the earliest known source language
of English and many other European languages.
origin of language is likely to remain unknown, although many different
theories have been suggested. We do not know whether language emerged
in one or several places or at different times in our history. It is believed
that humans have an innate capacity for producing language.
theory that language began as a way of warning fellow hunters of danger
is balanced by another that women were the first conversationalists, working
at "home" together with language as a social lubricant. Evidence
for the latter theory exists in the fact that girls learn language earlier
than boys, but this is hardly proof.
As spoken language
leaves no traces in the historic record we shall probably never know.
However theories abound and considerable research has been undertaken,
some of which is given below.
Human responses to sounds
The human brain's ability to process sounds has been critical to our survival. The human ear is designed to cope with a broad range of frequencies and volumes and can even bring about physical pain in the inner ear. Responding appropriately to warning sounds and distinguishing them from calming or neutral sounds, knowing when to stay alert and when to relax, increased our ability to survive and flourish.
Sounds are a mixture of frequencies, some audible, some beyond our range yet which we unconsciously react to. The soothing sounds that encourage us to relax include gurgling water, the soft cooing/humming of human voices, the low cackle of friendly fire. In the same way as an environment of dappled shade and running water are said to reflect our natural environment these soothing sounds signal that we can switch off and stop worrying.
Alerting and warning sounds, however, release chemicals into our brains that switch on a stress response. The prolonged screams of a child in pain, or a screech like claws against a hard surface are warnings that make us alert and therefore stressed, suggesting danger. These distress or warning sounds make us focus on that stimulus so we try to change the situation or leave it in haste.
That ability to distinguish between different types of sound and react appropriately to them has given us an advantage in our development which in turn has lead to sound creation, understanding of more complex sounds and eventually to human language itself.
Think of that, next time you hear a screech of brakes, loud discordant music, or a loud drill.
We are quite
sure that, whatever the ultimate "first language" we can certainly
trace English back to a language called Indo-European which originated
8-10,000 years ago.
2003 the magazine Nature reported the work of Russell Gray and Quentin
Atkinson, of the University of Auckland in New Zealand under the heading "Language tree rooted in Turkey - Evolutionary ideas give
farmers credit for Indo-European tongues".
Their findings suggest that farmers in what is now Turkey were the first
speakers of Indo-European - and not later Siberian horsemen, as some linguists
They used the rate at which words change to gauge the age of the tree's
roots - just as biologists estimate a species' age from the rate of gene
mutations. The differences between words, or DNA sequences, are a measure
of how closely languages, or species, are related. Read an abridged version
of the article here.
Salmon as an example of a word which shows
the similarities and differences between a wide variety of languages
of language, showing evolution from 8 million years ago to the invasion
of the Romans
its Family Tree and the words Indo-European languages
have in common.
Indo-European was discovered.
Indo-European language families.