LANGUAGE- WHO UTTERED THE FIRST WORD?
Robert B. Jordan
“Anyone can speak troll. All you have to do is point and grunt.” JK Rowling
A recent issue of National Geographic magazine had a story about “Saving Lost Languages.” The story states the Earth’s seven billion people speak 7,000 languages, and that 78% speak one of the 85 major languages while the remaining 22% speak one of the 3,500 smaller languages, 1000 of which are teetering on the edge of oblivion.
7,000 languages? How did that happen? How did it happen that 7,000
different peoples created 7,000 different variations of sounds
for words that became their language? After all a word is just a sound, or series of sounds that have meaning, and that other people understand. So, many thousands of years ago when those first human beings
emigrated out of Africa onto all the continents of the then world, they
each created a language individual to their particular group. When did their alphabet follow? Or did it come first?
The National Geographic story also says English has 328 million first-language speakers. In many of the world’s tribal villages parents encourage their children to move away from the insular language of their ancestors, and towards languages that can offer better chances for education and success. “Prosperity, it seems, speaks English”, at the cost of losing minor languages. However, the most dominate language is Chinese, including all forms – 2.1 billion.
Wikipedia tells us that empirical evidence is limited in the study of language origins. At one point scholars declared the origins of language unsuitable for serious study. The emergence of language is so far back in history that it left no direct historical traces. Linguists, archaeologists, psychologists, anthropologists, and others began in the early 1990’s to address the problem with new methods, but have declared it is “the hardest problem in science.”
The two main approaches today are that language evolved slowly from
pre-linguistic systems, while the other is that language occurred quickly with Homo sapiens less than 200,000 years ago.
There are many theories within those approaches, but the controversy continues. And, how could it not with the following hypotheses and theories being debated for validity:
The ‘obligatory reciprocal altruism’ hypotheses –
If you speak truthfully to me, I will speak truthfully to you
The gossip and grooming hypotheses –
Manual grooming replaced by verbal grooming
Ritual/speech co-evolution –
Human symbolic culture as a whole
Gestural theory –
Language evolved from gestures
Putting the baby down theory
Human mothers had to put the baby down to forage, so they expressed safety to the baby
Grammaticalisation theory –
Humans care less about niceties than making themselves understood
Self-domesticated ape theory –
Creating cultural niches that provide understandings key to survival
In 1871 Charles Darwin wrote, “I cannot doubt that language owes its
Okay, it’s a known fact that all human populations have a language, but in each of those populations who was the first person to make the sound of a word? And what was it?
Getting back to the National Geographic magazine – it discusses some of the minor endangered languages. It tells how many first-language speakers there are remaining, and gives examples of words within those languages. There are 254 languages that have gone extinct just since 1960; they have no remaining speakers. There are hundreds more languages that are only spoken by the older members of the population.
There are some languages that are down to only one or two speakers: Wintu a native tongue in California, Siletz Dee-ni in Oregon, or Amurdak an Aboriginal tongue in Australia’s Northern Territory. As the story points out “A last speaker with no one to talk to exists in unspeakable solitude.”
In the Tuvan language the word anayim means “my little goat”, and in the Aka language the words nichleu-nuggo means “village counselor” or “wise, compassionate, tolerant.” I would love to know when and why the first Tuvanian uttered anayim when referring to his/her little goat? Who was he/she, and how did they decide on the sound that makes anayim? And that curiosity extends to all populations and languages.
And how about the English language; alphaDictionary.com tells us that around 1000 B.C.E. there was a single language called “Proto-Germanic” everyone understood, but dialects emerged, people dispersed and those dialects became languages called Danish, Dutch, English, Faroese, German, Icelandic, Norwegian, and Swedish.
Other sources say that the English language began when three Germanic Tribes (Angels, Saxons, and Jutes) entered the British Isles in the 5th century. It wasn’t until the 16th century when “Modern English” took hold. Since then words have entered the English language, both directly and indirectly, from no less than 16 other languages.
Even with all this information and knowledge I still don’t know why, where, and how each and every word in each and every language was first uttered, and who uttered it.
This is an unreachable quest, an impossible task, and a complete waste of time. However, I will always wonder. My father was curious about who the first person was that was brave enough to dig a potato out of the ground, and eat it. I suppose it’s hereditary.
By the way – when and who contrived kissing, or applause?
“I personally believe we developed language because of our deep inner need to complain.” Jane Wagner