Everything has a beginning. Stories, people, and arguably time all have a beginning, and so does language. But, when and where did human language start evolving? What is the story when it comes to the origin of language?
It’s quite interesting to think about this and even more interesting to explore its origins which is why it has been an ongoing topic of debate among scholars for centuries.
Come, go on a journey with us, back in time as our Day Translations blog uncovers the history of human communication and the origin of language.
Theories on the Origin of Human Language Evolution
The origin of language is quite an enigma. No one knows exactly how spoken and written languages came about or originated. Over the centuries there has been much speculation and several theories explaining its origins and language evolution. However, they have been challenged and only account for a small portion of what we know about human language today.
Let’s look at a few of these basic theories and how they contribute to our knowledge of early human language and communication.
The Bow-Wow Theory on How Human Language Evolved
Language, according to the Bow-wow theory, came into existence when our human ancestors began copying the natural noises they heard around them. In particular, animal sounds were top of the list to imitate.
The initial speech sounds during this time were very onomatopoeic in nature, with words like moo, meow, splash, cuckoo, and boom. This, according to the theory, human language evolution is closely tied to sound symbolism.
Unfortunately, this hypothesis only works to a certain degree because it is quite difficult to imitate the sound of an inanimate object. Additionally, many onomatopoeic terms are recent, and not all are derived from natural sounds.
The Ta-Ta Theory
The overall essence of the Ta-ta theory is that spoken language evolved through the mimicking of physical movements with tongue and lip gestures.
Saying ta-ta, for example, is equivalent to waving goodbye with your tongue. However, most of the conversations we have in real life do not involve distinctive movements connected with them. In fact, there are far less motions that can be imitated with the tongue and mouth than this theory purports.
The Yo-He-Ho Theory
Human language, according to the Yo-he-ho theory, was developed from grunts, snorts, moans, and chants elicited by heavy physical work from humans. The quintessence of this theory claims that language originated from the cooperative efforts of human beings. This is exemplified through the marching chants and working songs that were made up as people toiled on a daily basis.
The Yo-he-ho theory is quite effective at explaining the rhythmic features of human language. However, the origin of words is in no way explained by this theory which leaves it lacking in this regard.
The History of Human Language
So we’ve covered some theories purported by scholars trying to explain how communication came into existence, some of them are more convincing than others.
Let’s now turn our attention to the history of human language and see what we can gather from there in our quest to find out how language originated.
Let’s get going.
The origins of spoken language can be traced back to Egypt’s Twenty-sixth dynasty. The earliest known human language experiment was undertaken by Pharaoh Psammetichus I (The First).
Some of the oldest theories regarding language are known as ‘Divine Source Theories’. According to these ideas, the gods bestowed humans with the power to communicate.
The Tower of Babel
One bible story that stands out is ‘The Tower of Babel’ which explains the origins of the multiplicity of languages. The Babylonians, according to the book of Genesis, aspired to create a name for themselves by constructing a huge city and a tower “with its summit in the heavens”.
According to the Bible, God became enraged one day as mankind was constructing the Tower of Babel, so he confused humans by giving them various languages so that they couldn’t communicate with one another. God then spread these humans along with their new languages across the world. This biblical narrative can indeed explain the current language variety that we see in our modern world.
Another analogy goes according to Greek mythology with the earliest humans who spoke Zeus’ own language. Their belief is that language was a gift from the deity Vé, who was Odin’s brother.
Additionally, another theory, according to the Wa-Sania people of East Africa, is that all our human ancestors once spoke a single vocal language. But then an illness struck, causing them to go insane and speak new words. And this resulted in the development of diverse languages.
There is also a detailed account of another emerging theory from Aboriginal Australian tradition. It is said that an elderly woman named Wurruri died. As a result of her death, many different tribes of people gathered to devour her carcass. Each tribe that came to the gathering spokes a different language after consuming a different section of Wurruri’s body. And this is how dialects in a language evolved.
There was a lot to unpack with this topic, don’t you agree? There were several different theories and analogies for us to take into consideration on our journey of trying to understand the origin of language.
Of course, from our findings, there are a number of theories claiming to explain the origin and evolution of language. But based on what we know to be the languages of today, there was much to be desired from the conclusions these theories made on language origin.
At this time, we still can’t say exactly how and when language developed. But we do know that communication is needed for humans to function together.
Do you believe in the divine source theories? Or that the Ta-ta and Yo-He-Ho theories contributed to the origins and language development? We know for sure that language has come a very, very long way!
With this in mind, it’s safe to say that language and effective communication is at the center of translation and interpreting, and because of this, us here at Day Translations are devoted to providing you with world-class translation, interpreting, and localization services.