Theories on the Origin and Evolution of LanguageThe expression language origins refers to theories pertaining to the emergence and development of language in human societies.
Over the centuries, many theories have been put forward—and almost all of them have been challenged, discounted, and ridiculed. (See Where Does Language Come From?) In 1866, the Linguistic Society of Paris banned any discussion of the topic: "The Society will accept no communication concerning either the origin of language or the creation of a universal language." Contemporary linguist Robbins Burling says that "anyone who has read widely in the literature on language origins cannot escape a sneaking sympathy with the Paris linguists. Reams of nonsense have been written about the subject" (The Talking Ape, 2005).
In recent decades, however, scholars from such diverse fields as genetics, anthropology, and cognitive science have been engaged, as Christine Kenneally says, in "a cross-discipline, multidimensional treasure hunt" to find out how language began. It is, she says, "the hardest problem in science today" (The First Word, 2007).
Observations on the Origins of Language"Divine origin [is the] conjecture that human language originated as a gift from God. No scholar takes this idea seriously today."
(R.L. Trask, A Student's Dictionary of Language and Linguistics, 1997; rpt. Routledge, 2014)
"Numerous and varied explanations have been put forth to explain how humans acquired language—many of which date back to the time of the Paris ban. Some of the more fanciful explanations have been given nicknames, mainly to the effect of dismissal by ridicule. The scenario by which language evolved in humans to assist the coordination of working together (as on the pre-historic equivalent of a loading dock) has been nicknamed the 'yo-heave-ho' model. There's the 'bow-wow' model in which language originated as imitations of animal cries. In the 'poo-poo' model, language started from emotional interjections.
"During the twentieth century, and particularly its last few decades, discussion of language origins has become respectable and even fashionable. One major problem remains, however; most models about language origins do not readily lend themselves to the formation of testable hypotheses, or rigorous testing of any sort. What data will allow us to conclude that one model or another best explains how language arose?"
(Norman A. Johnson, Darwinian Detectives: Revealing the Natural History of Genes and Genomes. Oxford University Press, 2007).
Theories on the Origin and Evolution of Language
The term 'language origins' refers to theories pertaining to the emergence and development of language in human societies.