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English – an essay - Charles Barber - The Origin of Language

English – an essay - Charles Barber - The Origin of Language

Jan Stria, OI - 2

Evidence about the Origins of Language

There are many theories about how did language arise. The whole history of human culture has been one of an accelerating rate of change. It took man about half a million years to develop through the Old Stone Age to the higher material culture of the Middle and New Stone ages, but mere 5,000 years to give way to the Bronze Age and perhaps 1,000 years for the Bronze Age to develop into the Iron Age. Since the Industrial Revolution, the pace has become dizzying. It is perhaps arguable that the rate of change in language has been parallel to that in material culture. It is noticeable among primitive people how closely their languages are adapted to their material needs. In general a primitive people tends to have words for the specific things that are materially important to it and to lump together other things under some generic expression.

Studying higher animals can help by suggesting what man was like in the prelinguistic stage immediately before he became man. The expressive noises, signals, and gestures of the higher apes show what man started from in his creation of language but apes are on the other side of language because they have smaller brains than men.

Emphasis on one type of evidence has led to different theories of the origin of language. It also depends on each author – there are many different points of view. 22119xje53uxu7k

The Bow-wow Theory

This theory comes from the idea that primitive language was an imitation of natural sounds. Supporters of this theory point to the large number of words that are directly imitative of natural sounds. It is likely to believe that a primitive hunter may have imitated in gesture and sound of game he had found. This theory doesn’t explain how language gained its articulated structure. When inventing an imitative word people use already existing language system but man in the prelinguistic stage had no language system, so it is insufficent for the rise of language.

The Pooh-pooh Theory

Another theory called pooh-pooh argues that language arose from instinctive emotial cries (for instance pain). It claims that the earliest utterances were interjections – exclamations that meant some emotional states. This theory seems to Charles Barber suggest some of the material which language may have used more than process by which it arose. Littly, the theory does a bridge between expressive cry and symbol. It means that a symbol came from that cry: a cry of fear could easily become a signal which warned others of danger – but this can be seen at higher animals as well. jx119x2253uxxu

The Ding-dong Theory

This third theory is so-called nativistic. It explains nothing because it only descibes the facts in different words – in fact it is a pseudotheory.

On basis that there is a harmony between sound and sense in a language, it says that primitive man had uncustomed ability to give vocal expression to every external impression he had received.

The Yo-he-ho Theory

The theory by scholar Noiré comes from the nineteenth century and it examines language from the view that it arose from the noises made in joint labor or effort. While exerting powerful muscular effort everyone trap the breath in ones lungs by closing the glottis (i.e. little space among vocal cords). Noises made in the intervals between the bursts of effort, opening the glottis and releasing the air often contain a consonantal sound as well as vowel.

According to the author, this theory has two great virtues. The first one is that it gives a likely explanation for the origin of the consonant-vowel structure of language and the second one – it study the origin of language in a situation involving human cooperation.

The Gesture Theory

It takes the view that gesture language preceded speech. One of the popular examples can be the sign language, which was used by the Indians of North America. They used it for negotiations between tribes with different spoken languages. It is true that speech and gesture has something in common – the centres in the brain which control hand movements are closely linked with those that control the vocal organs. But it doesn’t prove that gesture came earlier than speech. Some animals also use gestures, for example chimpanzee uses both bodily movement and vocal noises.

But there is also an extreme form of The Gesture Theory and it has following point of view. Speech arose very late – around 3500 B.C. – and was derived from early pictorial writing and this itself from gesture language. But Charles Barber finds this incredible – it is difficult to believe that man could have built up New Stone Age apparatus without speech. Gesture language has grave disadvantages in comparsion with spoken language. They are: you have to have your hands free, it cannot be used in the dark or separated by obstructions, you cannot attract someone’s attention looking in another direction, etc.

Sir Richard Paget and Icelandic professor Alexander Jóhannesson argued Mouth Gesture Theory, which is a more attractive version of the gesture theory. Primitive man at first communicated by gestures, with developing his intelligence he used more exact gestures and found that he has his eyes and hands were more occupied by craft, so the gestures became copied by movements of the tongue, lips and mouth. After that he also discovered that if air was blown through the nose or mouth the gesture was hearable. Language became something like pantomime of tongue and lips.

The Musicial Theory

This theory sees the origin of language in song. It was put forward by Otto Jespersen, Danish linguist. He thought that all bow-wow, pooh-pooh and yo-he-ho theories could explain the origins of parts of language, but none of them could the whole of it. His method was to trace the history of language backwards what long-term trends were and from it he assumed that some trends had existed since the beginning of language. He writes: ”Language was born in the courting days of mankind; the first utterances of speech I fancy to myself like something between the nightly love-lyrics of puss upon the tiles and the melodious love-songs of the nightingale.”

The Contact Theory

A former professor of psychology at Amsterdam, G.Révész, advanced the theory that sees language as man’s need to contact his fellows. He thinks that the first kind of speech was imperative language, which consisted only of commands. Révész spends emphasis on the need for contact but doesn‘t explain how human language came to be articulated.

Conclusion – my opinion

At first, I would like to point out that it would be really interesting to know not only Origin of Language but also all the history, the way it really happened.

All the theories mentioned by Charles Barber are interesting but if I had to choose, I wouldn’t choose any. In my opinion, origin of language arose from need for communication and human cooperation - the most suitable for me are The Bow-wow and The Yo-he-ho Theories.

I agree with Charles Barber - he writes: ”it is plain that no finality is possible at present, and that it is merely a matter of weighing the probabilities.” It can take such a long time to determine what was the real origin of language or which theory is correct with definite validity but maybe this question will never be solved – this could be another option.