3) Language origin

As far as we know some form of spoken language developed between 100,000 and 50,000 years ago.

There are different beliefs toward language origin.

One of them is “Divine Source”.  In this belief, God gave language to human beings. In most religions the God – given Language has been discussed. The following line is quoted from bible: “Whatsoever Adam called every living creature that was the name thereof”.

 

Some other specialists believe in “Natural Source”. They simply suggest that

●Primitive words could have been imitations of natural sounds which early people heard around them such as animals’ sound like caw caw or coo coo and some other nature – made sounds like splash or bang.

 

●Primitive words may have come from natural cries of emotion such as pain, anger and joy, such as ouch! , yuck! Or ooh!

 

●Primitive words may have been the sounds of people involved in physical efforts. That is, people had to make some sounds while working in groups to make more energy. These sounds led to early languages.

 

There is another belief among some linguists about Language origin. They believe that around 60,000 years ago human being started early speaking when he could stand on his feet, taking an upright posture which led to have a different vocal tract construction. This “Physical Adaptation” caused the production of some consonant – like sounds. Human’s teeth, lips, mouth, larynx, pharynx and brain were all adapted and specialized for speaking.

 

Another source which has believers like Noam Chomsky is the “Genetic Source”. Human baby starts speaking in a very short time. It should be something more than just having suitable organs for speaking. On the other hand, deaf babies develop a good command of sign language without even being exposed to any spoken one.

All these lead to innateness hypothesis which refers to something in human genes. That is, there should be a “Language gene” that only humans possess (adapted from Yule,2006).

Now take part in this discussion:

1. Name 4 suggested Language origins.

2. Define Divine source/Natural source/…

    Provide evidence.

 

 

4) Writing

The first human attempts to represent information visually  goes back to cave drawings made at least 20000 years ago , or to clay tokens from about 10000 years ago. Once, some of the “pictures” came to represent particular images. This form of writing is called “picture–writing or “pictography”. The product is a “pictogram”. For example a drawing of the Sun could be used to refer to the Sun.

 

After a while this picture could develop into a more fixed symbolic form, may be just a circle with a point inside used for “heat” and “daytime” as well as the “Sun”. Now it is used for concepts not just for a visible thing. That is why the system is called idea – writing or “ideography”, and the symbol is an “ideogram”. A key property of both pictograms and ideograms is that they do not represent words or sounds in a particular language.

 

Then, again, the system developed. The relationship between the symbol and the entity or idea became abstract. Now we are dealing with a system which can represent words in a language. This system is called “word–writing or “logography” and the symbol is a “logogram”.

Example of logographic writing is the system Sumerians, in the southern part of modern Iraq, used around 5000 years ago. “Cuneiform writing” is a term used for these kinds of writing because of a wedge – shaped device used as their writing tool.


Then Phoenicians, inhabiting in modern Lebanon between 3000 and 4000 years ago, used Sumerian/Egyptian writing system- logographic writing- and changed it to “syllabic writing” in that a writing system employs a set of symbols each representing pronunciation of a syllable (compare it with logographic writing which employs symbols for words not syllables). For instance, there was a symbol for the syllable /ba/. The symbol could be used in any word with this syllable, like in the word /baba/. 

 

Speakers of the Semitic languages such as Arabic and Hebrew are  pioneers  in using alphabet symbols. They used a system with symbols for consonant sounds in the word while the appropriate vowel sounds being supplied by the reader. For instance there were symbols for /k/, /t/ and /b/ sounds and the Arab readers should supply the vowels in between these sounds to come to the word / kætæbæ /.    This system is called consonantal alphabet writing.

 

The Greeks are known as the first nation who used alphabets as we use them today. They used separate symbols to represent the vowel sounds as well as the symbols for consonant sounds. It goes without saying that this system is called “alphabet writing” (adapted from Yule,2006).

Now take part in the following discussion:

1. Name 6 different writing systems.

2. Define pictography/ideography/…    Provide examples.


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