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The “Origin of Language” is controversial. I am not one to fear controversy. Neither am I about to launch into a detailed analysis of what is now considered to be one of the hardest problems in science. However, there are many hypotheses proposed to explain the origin of language, none proven, all quite interesting, so in brief:
The Gestural Theory states, you guessed it, that human language developed from gestures; the Tower of Babel hypothesis suggests language may have evolved to protect unique populations. The Mother Tongues hypothesis proposes language may have evolved from mothers communicating with their offspring. The Obligatory Reciprocal Altruism hypothesis relies on honest communication between individuals – as does the Gossip and Grooming hypothesis.
There are others too, like the Ritual/Speech Coevolution which suggests there can be no such thing as a “Theory of the Origin of Language”, as language development is not one adaptation, but part of something much wider, that being symbolic culture – the ability to learn and transmit behavioural traditions across generations.
More recent is Simon Baron-Cohen’s Theory of Mind: certain characteristics must exist in order for full language use to develop. Those characteristics being for example, intentional communication, repairing failed communication, teaching, persuasion, deception with intent, pretending and so on. Human characteristics then. It’s a logical progression.
How language came about is then, unproven. But language is here, evolving before our eyes. That is plain to see.
It is the rate at which language evolves that is fascinating. Its rapidity is unlike any other evolutionary process. New words are coming in all the time – selfie, twerk, schmeat, bitcoin, showrooming – and word meaning changes with fashion. Think of the words fantastic, gay, literally, tweet. You will read and hear them, but not necessarily make the language evolution connection. And of course it’s happening globally.
Right on the cutting edge of the English language evolution are language moderators, like those behind the Oxford Dictionaries, which also has software tracking the emergence and usage of new words. In France l’Académie is keeping an eye on changes (and trying to keep French pure). H.L Mencken’s “An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States” continues to provide a benchmark for the American language. Scientists and academics around the world monitor language change.
Does it affect you? In this digital age, content is king more than it ever has been. Verbal identity spend is going up. Being at the forefront of the global language evolutionary process has never been more important as brands realise the potential of their words. As a translation agency this is something we are very interested in. We have translators and transcreators around the world on the same cutting edge as language moderators and purists, so I guess you are in luck then. We’ll take care of your words wherever they go in the world.
You can just sit back and enjoy the evolution.