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The origins of language

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The origins of language

  1. 1. The origins of language 14 & 15 February 2012
  2. 2. QUIZZES• Quizzes take place on Wednesdays during the first period (8:50-9:35)• Venue: the computer lab: E LES 202• You will log on to Edulink and receive a password to start the quiz• The quiz will deal with work from the previous lecture• All quizzes are submitted directly on Edulink and will contribute 10% towards your semester mark!• Bring your prescribed book to the quiz!!!
  3. 3. LIN1A11• Robyn’s tutorials: B Ring 513 – Tuesday: 13:50-14:35 – Wednesday: 11:20-12:05 – Consultation times: • Tuesdays 13:00-13:45 • Wednesdays 10:30-11:15 – Email: Robyn.stewardbb@gmail.com• Wendy’s tutorials: B Ring 513 – Thursday 11:20-12:05 – Thursday 13:50-14:35 – not enough students for a tutorial group, either join Robyn’s group or make an individual appointment with Wendy – Consultation times: • Mondays 12:00-13:00 • Thursdays 12:10-12:55 – Email: wbissett15@gmail.com
  4. 4. LINEX1A• Leane’s tutorials now with Laurinda: B Ring 513 – Mondays 13:50-14:35 – Consultation times: • Mondays 14:35-16:00 – Email: laurinda14@gmail.com• Laurinda’s tutorials now with Leane: B Ring 513 – Wednesdays 12:10-13:00 CHANGES TO 13:50-14:35 due to venue availability – Consultation times: • Mondays, Tuesdays & Thursdays 9:00-10:00 – Email: rokebrandleane@gmail.com
  5. 5. • Who is registered for the Language Practitioner course?
  6. 6. OUTCOMES• identify and discuss the six main theories/explanations on the origin of language according to Yule (2010)
  7. 7. The origins of language• Ability to produce sounds is located in an ancient part of the brain which we share with all vertebrates (fish, frogs, birds, mammals)• Spoken language probably developed between 100 000 and 50 000 years ago while writing only dates back to about 5 000 years ago => no direct evidence about the development of speech• A lot of speculation about the origins of language, but little known about the topic => little physical evidence on language our ancestors used
  8. 8. • Where do you think language comes from?
  9. 9. The origins of language1. The divine source (Yule 2010:2; Fromkin 2011:309)2. The natural sound source3. The social interaction source4. The physical adaptation source5. The tool-making source6. The genetic source
  10. 10. 1. The divine source: ChristianityIn the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and theWord was God (John 1:1)And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of thefield, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to seewhat he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every livingcreature, that was the name thereof (Genesis 2:19)And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all onelanguage; and this they begin to do; and now nothing will berestrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us godown, and there confound their language, that they may notunderstand one anothers speech. So the Lord scattered them abroadfrom thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to buildthe city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord didthere confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did theLord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth (Genesis 11:7-9)
  11. 11. 1. The divine source: HinduismThere grew in the centre of the earth thewonderful ‘world tree,’ or ‘knowledge tree’. It wasso tall that it reached almost to heaven. It said inits heart, ‘I shall hold my head in heaven andspread my branches over all the earth, and gatherall men together under my shadow, and protectthem, and prevent them from separating’. ButBrahma, the creator-god, to punish the pride ofthe tree, cut off its branches and cast them downon the earth, when they sprang up as wata trees,and made differences of belief and speech andcustoms to prevail on the earth, to disperse menupon its surface.
  12. 12. 1. The divine source: The AmericasThe Aztecs’ belief maintains that a great floodoccurs and only a man, Coxcox, and awoman, Xochiquetzal, survive, having floatedon a piece of bark. They find themselves onland and beget many children who are at firstborn unable to speak, but subsequently, uponthe arrival of a d0ve, are endowed withlanguage, although each one is given a differentspeech such that they cannot understand oneanother.
  13. 13. 1. The divine source: AfricaThe Wa-Sania, a Bantu people of East Africanorigin, have a tale that in the beginning, thepeoples of the earth knew only one language,but during a severe famine, a madness struckthe people, causing them to wander in alldirections, jabbering strange words, and thisis how different languages came about.
  14. 14. 1. The divine source: AustraliaIn remote times an old woman, named Wurruri, livedtowards the east and generally walked with a large stick inher hand, to scatter the fires around which others weresleeping. Wurruri at length died. Greatly delighted at thiscircumstance, they sent messengers in all directions togive notice of her death; men, women and children came,not to lament, but to show their joy. The Raminjerar werethe first who fell upon the corpse and began eating theflesh, and immediately began to speak intelligibly. Theother tribes to the east, arriving later, ate the contents ofthe intestines, which caused them to speak a languageslightly different. The northern tribes came last anddevoured the intestines and all that remained, andimmediately spoke a language differing still more fromthat of the Raminjerar.
  15. 15. 1. The divine source• In most religions, a divine source gives language to the humans• Nearly all divine theories believe that languages originated from a single source and are thus monogenetic theories of language origin• Over the ages, people carried out experiments to rediscover this original, God-given language
  16. 16. 1. The divine source: The first language• Experiments: if human infants grow up in isolation, they will automatically begin to use the original God-given language!??!• Psammetichus (Egyptian pharaoh) let two newborn babies grow up in the company of only goats and a mute shepherd 2 500 years ago – they are reported to have started saying the Phrygian (Turkey) word ‘bekos’ (bread) = original language? – however, it is more likely that the children imitated the sounds they heard the goats make• King James of Scotland carried out similar experiment around 1 500 – the children are reported to have started speaking Hebrew = original language?
  17. 17. 1. The divine source: The first language• BUT: Children discovered living in isolation do not confirm these findings but grow up with no language at all• Criticism: Divine source is impossible to prove/disprove and the ‘first language’ is impossible to reconstruct!!• Plato argues that a legislator gave the correct, natural names to all things• In many religions, only “special” languages may be used in prayers and rituals
  18. 18. The origins of language1. The divine source2. Natural sound source (Yule 2010:2-3; Fromkin 2011:310)3. The social interaction source4. The physical adaptation source5. The tool-making source6. The genetic source
  19. 19. 2. The natural sound source: bow-wow• 1. Primitive words started as imitations of the natural sounds early humans heard around them (bow-wow theory)• The imitations of sounds were then used to refer to the things associated with the relevant sound (onomatopoeia still exist in our language today: splash, rattle, boom, ...!)• For example, when a bird flew by making the sound ‘coo-coo’, it would be called ‘cuckoo’.• Criticism?
  20. 20. 2. The natural sound source: bow-wow• Criticism: how would soundless things and abstract concepts have been referred to??• Criticism: Language is more than only a set of names
  21. 21. 2. The natural sound source: pooh-pooh• 2. Original sounds may have started as natural cries of emotion such as pain, anger and joy (pooh-pooh theory)• Criticism?
  22. 22. 2. The natural sound source: pooh-pooh• Criticism: these are produced with sudden intakes of breath, which is not the case for ordinary speech!! => emotional reactions contain sounds not otherwise used in speech production
  23. 23. 2. The natural sound source
  24. 24. The origins of language1. The divine source2. The natural sound source3. Social interaction (Yule 2010:3-4; Fromkin 2011:310)4. The physical adaptation source5. The tool-making source6. The genetic source
  25. 25. 3. The social interaction source: yo-he-ho• Language arose out of the rhythmical grunts of people working together, involved in physical effort that has to be coordinated (yo-he-ho theory)• Early humans may have developed a set of grunts, groans and curses used when lifting and carrying trees/mammoths• Makes sense as early humans must have lived in groups, which require some form of organisation and hence communication to maintain => development of language placed in a social context• Criticism?
  26. 26. 3. The social interaction source• Criticism: apes and other primates also live in groups and use grunts etc without having developed the capacity for speech!!
  27. 27. 3. The social interaction source: la-la• Language originated from song as an expressive rather than a communicative need
  28. 28. The origins of language1. The divine source2. The natural sound source3. The social interaction source4. Physical adaptation (Yule 2010:4-5; Fromkin 2011:26-28))5. The tool-making source6. The genetic source
  29. 29. 4. The physical adaptation source: Early ancestors• Homo erectus (from Africa to Europe & Asia) – originated 1.8 million years ago – extinct 0.5 million years ago – hunter-gatherer – tool-making – able to control fire – brain size increased – not capable of producing sounds of complexity comparable to modern speech
  30. 30. 4. The physical adaptation source: Early ancestors• Homo Neanderthalensis – Brain size increased – average 1412 c.c. (homo sapiens; 1487 c.c.) – consonant-like sound distinctions – 35 000 years ago – features emerge that resemble homo sapiens
  31. 31. 4. The physical adaptation source• Answer question by looking at physical features that distinguish humans from other creatures• Transition to upright posture & bipedal locomotion => front limbs free• Differences between skull of gorilla and Neanderthal => Neanderthal may have been able to produce some consonant-like sounds• Fossilised skeletal structures that begin to resemble modern humans => partial adaptations that appear relevant for speech => features are more streamlined compared to other primates• Features themselves may not have triggered speech but give good indication that the creatures possessing them were capable of speech
  32. 32. 4. The physical adaptation source• Physical features that distinguish humans from other creatures may have supported speech production• Evolutionary development resulted in partial adaptations making speech possible for early humans: – Teeth – Lips – Mouth – Tongue – Larynx – Pharynx
  33. 33. 4. The physical adaptation source: TEETH• Upright position, not slanting outwards like those of apes• Roughly even in height• Good for grinding and chewing• Very helpful in making sounds such as ‘f’ or ‘v’
  34. 34. 4. The physical adaptation source: LIPS• More intricate muscle interlacing• More flexible• Capable of a wider range of shapes• Suitable for making sounds such as ‘p’ or ‘b’
  35. 35. 4. The physical adaptation source: MOUTH AND TONGUE• Relatively small mouth compared to other primates: can be opened and closed more rapidly• Smaller, thicker and more muscular tongue that can be used to shape a wide variety of sounds• Airway through the nose can be closed off to create more air pressure in the mouth
  36. 36. 4. The physical adaptation source: LARYNX AND PHARYNX• Larynx is “voice box” in your throat containing the vocal folds or vocal chords• Due to upright position, head moved directly above the spinal column and larynx dropped to a lower position• As a result, the pharynx (cavity above the vocal folds, acts as resonator) became longer => increased range and clarity of sounds• Disadvantage: due to lower position of pharynx, humans may choke more easily on food => ability to speak must have outweighed this disadvantage for humans• Criticism?
  37. 37. 4. The physical adaptation source
  38. 38. 4. The physical adaptation source
  39. 39. 4. The physical adaptation source• Criticism: Certain birds and parrots are able to also produce a wide variety of sounds
  40. 40. The origins of language1. The divine source2. The natural sound source3. The social interaction source4. The physical adaptation source5. Tool-making source (Yule 2010:5-6; Fromkin 2011:26-28)6. The genetic source
  41. 41. 5. The tool-making source (hands)• Humans started making tools and manipulating objects using both hands• Manual gestures may have been a precursor of language: oral gesture theory• Bringing words together like bringing two rocks together to make a tool
  42. 42. 5. The tool-making source (brain)• The functions for object manipulation and for speaking are very close to each other in the left hemisphere of the brain (lateralisation) => there may have been an evolutionary connection between the use of tools and the use of language in early humans• This theory allows for structural organisation inherent to all language (even sign languages), not only articulation of sounds to denote objects
  43. 43. The origins of language1. The divine source2. The natural sound source3. The social interaction source4. The physical adaptation source5. The tool-making source6. The genetic source (Yule 2010:6)
  44. 44. 6. The genetic source• Young babies go through developments: small brain, larynx higher in throat => changes take place => Almost automatic set of development• Even children who are born deaf become fluent speakers of a sign language claim that human offspring are born with a special capacity for language (innateness theory)• Capacity for language genetically hard-wired into newborn humans?
  45. 45. 6. The genetic source• This applies to all language in general, not one specific language• Crucial mutation in human genetics, special “language gene” that only humans possess• This would mean that language did not result from a gradual change but happened rather quickly as a crucial genetic mutation (unlike physical adaptation, for example)• No certainty when this genetic change might have taken place and how it may relate to physical adaptation• If we have a special gene for language, can other creatures also learn language?
  46. 46. The origin of languageTheories Arguments for Arguments against DevelopmentThe divine source Suddenly(monogenetic)The natural sound Existence of Soundless things and Graduallysource (bow- onomatopoeia abstract conceptswow/pooh-pooh) Produced with intake of breathThe social Early humans lived Other primates also Graduallyinteraction source in groups live in groups and(yo-he-ho) use gruntsThe physical There’s evidence for These changes would Graduallyadaptation source the evolutionary not themselves lead(teeth, lips, mouth, changes to speech productionlarynx & pharynx)The tool-making Accounts for Graduallysource (brain) structural organisation of languageThe genetic source Automatic set of Suddenly(innateness theory) developments in young children
  47. 47. READINGYule (2010), Chapter 1• The origins of language (pp. 1-9)Fromkin, Rodman & Hyams (2011):• In the Beginning: The Origins of Language (pp. 308-315)• The Development of Language in the Species (pp. 26-28)
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