The Origin Of Language

The+Origin+Of+Language

Shivani Pujari, Dedicated Writer

Introduction

People have been speaking their respective languages for more than 100,000 years. For most children—learning their mother tongue comes easily. Why is that? And how did these languages come to be what they are today? Most languages come from preexisting ones, for instance, Hindi and Dravidian languages come partially from Sanskrit and English is derived from many languages, but mainly from Latin and Greek. Nevertheless, the first language had to start somewhere, which could possibly be the human brain.

1. The Science Behind Languages

(Image courtesy of Uma Muthurajan)
(Image courtesy of Uma Muthurajan)

The first language appeared more than 100,000 years ago. But, if it was the first, then it couldn’t have developed from any other language. Some scientists have “…claimed that it started out as cries of pain, which gradually crystallized into distinct words. Others traced it back to music, to the imitation of animal grunts, or to birdsong.”. Today, people will probably describe their pain in great detail if something hurts themwhich was not the case long ago. A simple cry or shout would have alerted fellow animals of pain. It was important that organisms could communicate this pain to one another, and how to avoid it. Because of this, language was a case of natural selection—animals had to communicate with each other to start making complex connections and find better ways to live. So their genetics evolved and consequently, animals began to communicate. “In 2001 a team of British scientists announced the discovery of a gene, called FOXP2, that seems to be essential for language.”. The specific gene needed for learning is called FOXP2. This gene produces foxp2 protein that helps land vertebrates learn how to make and learn specific sounds that are comprehensible to others of the same species. For example, “Researchers have shown that the gene is associated with vocal learning in young songbirds, which produce higher levels of foxp2 protein when they need to learn new songs.”. All land vertebrates have this gene, and they all utilize it in their respective ways. But if the vertebrate lacked the gene, they will have trouble communicating. For instance, if a human had a mutation in FOXP2, they could leave out the beginnings of words, so instead of saying ‘strapping’, they might say ‘tapping’. Or they could misinterpret sentences; they could interpret ‘the mouse is chased by the cat’ to be ‘the mouse is chasing the cat’.

The FOXP2 gene—once it came into existence through evolution—was necessary for the emergence of language. Without this gene, organized societies would be non-existent. Language is the basis of almost all elaborate human connection and “Because our ancestors could talk to each other, they became a powerfully cooperative species.”.

2. Dravidian Languages and The Origin of (Some) Southeast Asian Languages

Dravidian languages are a “…family of about 23 languages that appears to be unrelated to any other known language family.”. These languages are found in south-central India and northern Sri Lanka, they are spoken by more than 200 million people, and are known for their liquid and backward like sounds. Some of these languages are Tamil, Telugu, and Malayalam. These languages came partially from Sanskrit like most other languages in India, but other than that, they have no other obvious relation to different languages.

Sanskrit, as mentioned before, is the origin of several southeast Asian languages. “Sanskrit language is the 

(Image courtesy of Uma Muthurajan)

oldest formal written language of India and the basis of many modern Indian languages, including Hindi and Urdu.”. Sanskrit can be spotted in these languages; the script of Hindi is very similar to the script of Sanskrit. And the shapes of the Urdu alphabet are somewhat similar to the alphabets of Sanskrit. Butrealize thismost languages “…developed from Sanskrit over a period of several hundred years.”It takes time for a language to develop. After all, there may not be any reason to change a language and its script until several hundred years later. But, when the need arises, language can be changed and developed by humans to meet a society’s new needs.

Sanskrit is now a dead language, but like Greek and Latin, lives on in poetry and plays and songs.

3. Greek

The Greek language has heavily altered English. Many scientific words come from Greek, including “…astronaut, ecology, geography, and psychiatry. Words of Greek origin used in the arts include architect, criticism, music, and poetry.”This is because Greek words can be broken up into several different parts; some can be added to the beginning of words and others to the end (prefixes and suffixes). For instance, ‘geo’ means relating to the earth, and ‘graph’ is a diagram that shows the relationship between two or more objects. So, geography would mean a diagram showing the relationship of features of the earth. And many letters of the English language are similar to the alphabet of the Greek language. But, Greek is a little bit different than other languages because “The geography of Greece greatly influenced the development of its language.”. If a citizen of Greece lived far away from a school and had to cross many physical features, they may not be able to get there very often. And if many people who lived in that city-state did not get the education they needed, they would probably have a different dialect than those who lived closer to a school. But, these dialects always stayed relatively close to the proper form of the Greek language. Even if people were less educated than others and had a very complex dialect, it would never differ “…so much that the Greeks of one region could not understand those of another.”.

Language is not just the words that are spoken, but is also script. Script is the written version of a language. “Greek at first was written from right to left. Later, one line was written from right to left and the next line from left to right.” Several languages—such as Korean and Japanese—can be written right-to-left or left-to-right; these languages are called ideographic languages. Some scripts are written either right-to-left or left-to-right depending on what type of script is used. “For example, Azeri can be written in any of the Latin, Cyrillic, or Arabic scripts. When written in Latin or Cyrillic scripts, Azeri is written left-to-right (LTR).”. Greek was technically an ideographic language. English however, can only be written from left to right.

4. Origins of the English Language

The FOXP2 gene, Greek, and Sanskrit: all three have influenced the English language. Because of the British annexation of several parts of the world, English is used internationally. Many people learn it as a second language in addition to their mother tongue. English comes from many languages “…including Arabic, French, German, Greek, Italian, Latin, Russian, and Spanish.”. In some words of English, these languages can be spotted, for example, the word ‘beautiful’ comes from French. An easy way to see this is to realize that most words with the three vowels in a row come from French descent (vowels like ‘eau’, ‘oue’ and ‘iou’). Or cappuccino—from Italian. The ‘cc’ of ‘cappuccino’ makes a ‘ch’ sound. Many Italian words follow the same pattern: two c’s that make a ‘ch’ sound.

But—of course—like all languages, English first had to come from somewhere. “The earliest source of the English language was a prehistoric language that modern scholars call Proto-Indo-European (PIE).”. PIE is the origin of many Indo-European languages (languages that are spoken over a substantial part of Asia and Europe) and English is derived from many of them, so English will naturally have some traces of PIE in it. 

Languages also develop within themselves. A few prominent examples of this in the English language are words “…such as doghouse and splashdown, were formed by combining other words.”. English is constantly changing and developing, and as well as words being combined, some are blended together. Like, the word ‘blog’ comes from the two words ‘web’ and ‘log’.

Like how words are combined and blended, they have also been abbreviated in different ways. Humans have changed language in a way that makes it more efficient to type when writing an electronic letter of any sort. Texting language includes TTYL (talk to you later), ASAP (as soon as possible), and BRB (be right back). People have developed English’s script and way of speaking it, and have changed it so that it becomes more adaptable to devices. 

Conclusion

Language is just an interconnected web of written letters. Language is just written and spoken sounds. But it has so much more meaning and is so much more powerful than that. It is an integral part of society and is constantly changing, growing, and developing. First, the FOXP2 gene enabled the human race’s ancestors to communicate with each other. Hundreds of thousands of years later, English emerged from a plethora of different languages, some tied to Sanskrit, which is tied to Dravidian languages. And English, as one would expect, is still expanding. All of this was because of the human brain, and shows just how powerful natural selection can be.

 

Works Cited:

(The quotes in this article, as well as most of the information, comes from these websites)

Script Direction and Languages

WBO Student

Dravidian Languages

When Did Humans Start Talking? 

The Brain