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How did language begin?

The short answer is no one knows! There is no conclusive theory that explains how language developed and there almost certainly never will be. Language evolution will remain a mystery forever. However, this hasn’t stopped countless theories being put forward over the years. Pretty much all of these theories have been challenged, discounted and often flat out ridiculed.  

Continue reading to find out more about 5 of the oldest and most common theories about the origin of language. 

The Bow-Wow Theory 

If this theory is to be believed, language began when our ancestors began imitating the natural sounds around them. It is proposed that the first speech was onomatopoeic, such as ‘moo’, ‘meow’, ‘splash’, and ‘bang’. However: this theory is challenged as relatively few words are onomatopoeic, and these words vary from one language to another.  

Also, many of the words in our language that actually are onomatopoeic are of recent origin and are not all derived from natural sounds!  

The Ding-Dong Theory 

This theory, which can count Plato and Pythagoras among its champions, is very vague and somewhat confusing. According to the theory, speech arose in response to the essential qualities of objects in the environment. The original sounds people made were supposedly were created in harmony with the world around them. However: Apart from some rare instances of sound symbolism, there is no evidence in language of an innate connection between sound and meaning.  

The La-La Theory 

Danish linguist Otto Jesperen suggested that language may have developed a human need to express love, play, poetry and song. The idea was that emotion inspires music, which he believed could have been the predecessor to language. However: This theory doesn’t account for the gap between the emotional want to express language and the actual development of language. 

The Pooh-Pooh Theory 

This theory maintains that speech began with interjections, such as spontaneous cries of pain, surprise and other emotions, things such as ‘oh!’ or ‘ouch!’. However: No language contains many interjections, so it is unclear how an entire language could have been created from what are effectively intakes of breath which bear little relationship to the vowels and consonants found in actual language.  

The Yo-He-Ho Theory 

According to this theory, language evolved from the grunts, groans and snorts evoked by intense physical labour. However: Although this might account for some of the rhythmic features of the language, it doesn’t go very far to explain where words actually come from.  

Make the most of language with International Translations 

Here at International Translations, we aren’t too concerned with where language came from, our main focus is how we can help you make the most of it! Whether you are requiring document translation or interpreting, we can help

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