The Theories of Language Origin


The theories that explain the beginning of language usage by human beings can be broadly categorized into two major groups. The two hypotheses are the divine creation and the natural evolution theories. The divine creation has it that human beings were created as remarkable creatures who could communicate using a language (Urban 26). A good example is in the Book of Genesis in the Bible where Adam is ordered by the Creator to name the other animals and plants created. It is a sign that human beings were created with the ability to use languages. The ability enabled the first man created to name all the other creatures as ordered by God.

  On the other hand, the natural evolution hypothesis implies that the art of communication was acquired by human beings as they went through the evolution stages. According to the theories in this category, people acquired a more sophisticated brain as they evolved from the Stone Age period to the civilized world. The improved brain enabled man to invent the use of language in stages since learning became easier (Mitchell, Myles and Marsden 42). Some of these theories include the Bow-wow, Ding-dong, Pooh-pooh, La-la, and Ta-ta theories.

 The Bow-wow Theory

 The theory asserts that the origin of language can be linked to the period when the ancestors began to imitate the sounds made by things surrounding them. Here, the environment played a significant role in the invention of languages. It is the sounds made by the things in the environment of the early man that are attributed to the origin of language according to the bow-wow theory (Armstrong 65). In specific, the sounds from animals were the most imitated from the environment. Therefore, the theory believes that the vocabulary used in language communication originated from the animal noises. Here, onomatopoeic words were considered to be the first words used in a language.

 However, the theory has some limitations that critics use to attack it. One, nearly all languages in the world have very few onomatopoeic words. According to bow-wow, echoism was the origin of words thus languages should have a lot of words out of the principles of onomatopoeia. The other challenge is that most of these onomatopoeic words vary in different languages, yet animals from the same species make the same sound across the world.

 The Ding-dong Theory

 It is a theory that links language to the quality of the things that surrounded the early human beings. It has it that the sounds made were related to the understanding of the environment. The theory states that the meanings of words are connected to the sounds that were made by the early people as they invented the use of speech. Max Muller, an old-time linguist, supported this hypothesis stating that indeed sounds correspond with the words’ meanings.

 The major setback of this theory is that it does not mention the origin of the names for things that do not produce any sound. Ideas such as love, knowledge, the sun, and the moon do not make any noise. Therefore, if this theory is picked to be the origin of language, then the origin of names of such concepts cannot be explained. Apart from that, there is no convincing evidence in all the languages that connects meaning to sound.

 The Pooh-pooh Theory

It is a theory that claims the origin of language was from the sounds made by the early human beings as they reacted to different feelings. The cries and other verbal reactions to pain, fear, dislike, pleasure, and surprises are considered to be the roots of speech as per this theory. In the theory, it is asserted that interjections marked the beginning of communication through speech.

The pooh-pooh theory faces a lot of criticism due to that fact it has many unresolved questions behind its concept. Critics have raised concerns that there is nearly no language with many emotional exclamations as suggested by the pooh-pooh theory. The interjections are just a representation of a small part of different languages. Secondly, the various languages across the globe have different exclamations. For instance, in Russia pain is ‘oi’ while it is ‘ouch’ in English. It shows that sounds could have been different if at all they originated from interjections. It is important to note that animals also react to the sudden feelings they experience using sounds. However, animals did not end up having languages as human beings.

 The Ta-Ta Theory and Its Evidence

It is a theory that is influenced by the findings of Dr. Charles Darwin on the evolution of the early man. The theory suggests that the human language originated from the body movement of the early human beings. The unintended imitations of these body movements vocally led to the development of language as a mode of communication. Linguist Richard Paget, a follower of Charles Darwin, asserts that speech developed as the vocal body organs started to copy the hand gestures used by the early man.

 Some pieces of evidence can support the Ta-ta theory of language origin. One of the proofs is the common act of all the members of the primate group using gestures to communicate. For instance, the chimpanzees are well-known for their ability to share effectively information among themselves using gestures. Human beings are considered to have evolved from apes according to Darwin. That tells us they used the hand gestures to communicate in their early life as apes. Apart from that, human beings are also primates thus it is most likely that they evolved from the behaviors of the other primates (Woll 42).

 The stone tools used by the first members of the Stone Age developed at a slow rate for almost two million years. However, the brain size of these early beings was increasing rapidly (Woll 55). Some linguists and other scientists have argued that this symbolizes the early Stone Age people used their forelimbs more on communication thus they could not improve their stone tools at a faster rate.

 A study done on the sign language of the deaf by some scholars can also be used as evidence for this theory. The research revealed that the complexity of speech and sign languages are the same when viewed from a grammatical point of view. Also, it was discovered that both sign and spoken languages use the same part in the left hemisphere to trigger communication. Therefore, it can be noted that gestures and word languages are connected.

 There have been many debates that try to discuss the issue of the origin of languages for many years. It is due to this that many theories and hypotheses have been developed to bring people close to finding the truth about it. However, none of the many hypotheses have ever been approved or disapproved completely. Therefore, all the theories remain viable in trying to explain the beginning of language.