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The Origin of Language
Transcript of The Origin of Language
by Hope Murphy
The question of how language developed has been around for centuries, and we may never know the answer due to a lack of direct evidence. However, many different scholars try to piece together information in order to form a theory. There are many theories as to how language originated, and there are many opposing viewpoints.
The earliest hypotheses about the origin of language sought to explain who taught the first speakers. Scholars assumed that man would not have been able to create language on their own, and therefore must have been taught by someone or something.
Divine Origin Theory
The divine origin theory was developed in 1746 by philosopher E.B. Condillac and says that that all thinking and language were taught by the "first parents" Adam and Eve, who were first taught by God. Many philosophers agreed with this theory when it was first created, but differed on how they thought language was taught to Adam and Eve. Some thought that the first language was something already created by God, and humans were created with the capacity to learn it. Others thought that they learned language through direct conversation with God. Or that Adam was only taught a few words, and humans developed the rest of the language on their own.
Inner Spirit Theory
Who Taught the First Speakers?
How Did the First Words Come About?
Gestures and Thought
Communicating with Gestures
The Invention of Thought
This theory is the idea that humans had some unconscious knowledge of language before they even knew how to use it. The idea is that once humans had the first words, they could continue to develop language because they were created with a special ability for it. According to this theory, language developed in two stages. In the first stage the "inner spirit" would break out in sounds in response to emotions. For example, a person would say "ow" when they stubbed their toe. At first, these words could not be intentionally repeated. The second stage is when the sounds made became associated with a particular experience and words began to have meaning.
One last theory as the how humans learned language, is that language originated in nature. The idea is that primitive people imitated the sounds that they heard in nature, like saying whoosh in response to wind or boom in response to thunder. Eventually, these sounds became the words that named the thing that was being imitated. This is also known as the bow-wow theory.
After the 1900's, very few scholars believed that language was something given to humans. They believed that the first words were made on purpose by the speaker. Since they no longer believed that language was taught to humans, scholars had to ask themselves how the first words came about, and what were they like.
A theory developed by a German philosopher, Friedrich von Schlegel states that humans created an entire language all at once. He suggested that God had created an entire language when nature was created, and when people first had the thought to create language, they discovered this already existing language.
Already Existing Language
A German social scientist Friedrich Engels believed that language originated as humans worked together to do work like gather food and make tools. Engels wrote that language developed because humans arrived at the point where they had something to say to one another. He went on to explain that talking led to further brain development and development of speech organs, so therefore language continued to develop. Another idea was that as humans needed words, their brain supplied them. The developer of this theory, Jeremy Bentham and English philosopher, thought that early people invented words at first simply to supply the demands of survival. He believed that at first, singular words were equal to full sentences. Eventually though, more words were created to make commands more specific. For example, instead of just saying "go" a person would say "go get some water from the lake".
It is possible that gestures were important in the development of language also. In fact, it is thought that speaking with gestures was used long before oral speech. Diedrich Tiedemann, who published Attempt at a Clarification of the Origin of Language in 1772, thought that the first humans lived at first in an animal state, with no real communication. Eventually, they wanted to form groups and needed a way to communicate, so they decided to use signs and gestures. However, they soon learned gestures were inadequate, and found that they could make sounds like animals do to communicate. Another theory developed by an English scientist Sir Richard Paget, says that language began with mouth gestures that people made to mimic their hand actions. At first humans communicated silently by using their mouths and hands. Eventually they added sounds, and learned that it was much more efficient than using gestures to communicate.
Another important aspect in the invention of words, is the invention of thought. Thought and language are what separate humans from animals, but how did humans think before they had language? Philosopher John Locke developed a theory of simple, complex and general ideas. Simple ideas are based on the five senses, sight, smell, sound, taste and touch. Next the brain compares simple ideas to see how they are alike and different, forming a complex idea. Last are general ideas, where complex ideas are separated and connected.
Two very important aspects of the development of language are the invention of thought and gestures. First, it is believed that humans used gestures to communicate for many years before the invention of speech. Thought is also very important, because before humans had the capacity to think they were unable to create a language.