Where did human language come from? To be clear, we are using the word language in the sense of the human ability to speak, not a particular language such as English or Spanish, German or Latin. Obviously, the origin of language is outside the scope of repeatable, observable scientific experimentation. But by studying current languages, one can see the puzzle pieces scattered across the board, waiting to be put together. Of course, there are a lot of missing pieces. Human language is very complex, and much more complicated than the gruntings of animals. How did language – how could language – begin?
Let’s start with animal “language.” Their method of communication is a “closed system,” according to Johnson Jose. Animals have no way to combine expressions into long sentences. Humans, on the other hand, can communicate almost any feeling or idea to one another. If we evolved from animals, how did we get from simplistic grunts to complex sentences?
There are plenty of different theories, all with the most bazaar nicknames! For example, there’s the “Yo-He-Ho” theory, which claims that language developed through the groans emitted during hard labor. Gradually, these changed into more sophisticated words, such as the ones in use today. This theory, however, only goes so far. How could groans and sighs develop into words, especially words that represent abstract ideas? So other theories have been developed – the “La-la” theory, for instance. It suggests that language may have been developed in connection with “love, play, and (especially) song” (Nordquist). But this gives no particular reason for more rational, less emotional words. Yet another theory, the “Mama” theory, holds that, “Language began with the easiest syllables attached to the most significant objects” (Boeree). But all of these theories (and many others) leave a tremendous gap in the account as to how language developed from sounds to words and sentences!
If people evolved, maybe their language could be traced back to one smart ancestor to discover how it developed. But Dr. C. George Boeree states that, “many say we can only go back perhaps 10,000 years before the trail goes cold” (Boeree). So where did language come from? Boeree says, “perhaps we will simply never know” (Ibid).
But maybe we should consider the problem of language from a different angle: What if humans were designed to be able to communicate?
Language is extremely complex. Yet, despite this, it is not really necessary to life; animals do not have anything like language, and they manage just fine! For the purposes of survival, human beings do not have any reason to think about things like abstract numbers, the motion of the stars, and how to improve technology. If people had evolved from animals, how could they have developed such complex thinking abilities? These abilities are not essential to life on earth; how would they develop? According to Charles V. Taylor, “Chomsky insists that grammar is not learnt in the child by trial and error, or else children could not make new grammatical sentences which they have never heard before.” That means that even before individuals can speak, they already have an understanding of language that an ape does not. Mere circumstances cannot account for the complexity of language; many believe that, “the ease and speed with which children learn language requires something more” (Boeree). In fact, many linguists say that learning your first language is, “a mixture of genetic maturation and social learning,” essentially meaning that at least part of learning how to speak in the first place is the work of something inside you (Taylor). It could not have gradually evolved over generations. Instead, as a human grows and matures, his language also expands. An animal, for this reason, cannot learn to speak like a human (and no animal ever has). If an ape cannot even be taught to speak, how can it be supposed that it could develop language all by itself? If language was not developed slowly over time, there remains only one alternative – it must have been given at some point in time. Clearly, such a thing would require superhuman power belonging only to God. Language is a gift from God. Its complexity allows no other explanation!
As Augustine stated in his work Concerning the Teacher, “when words are uttered, we either know what they signify or we do not know. If we know, then we remember rather than learn, but if we do not know, then we do not even remember, though perhaps we are prompted to ask” (87). Language itself, expressed by means of words, has no ability to teach anyone, but rather, one needs to already know what the words mean. Obviously more complicated words can be explained by the use of simpler expressions; but the cycle will soon become endless. Open a dictionary in some unknown language and you’ll soon see! From a logical standpoint, whatever makes basic words understandable must have been with humans from the beginning, and this is the cornerstone piece of the language puzzle. When God made men in the beginning, He gave them language for a purpose, thus pointing them once again toward Him as the Creator who spoke things into existence. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). “All things were made by him,” and he made men and women, “in his own image,” capable of thinking and communicating with Him, and even of knowing Him (John 1:3, Genesis 1:27). “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ,” that Word, “whom thou has sent” (John 17:3).
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Augustine, Aurelius. Concerning the Teacher. 1938. Hobbs, NM: The Trinity Foundation, 1994.
Boeree, Dr. C. George. “The Origin of Language.” Ship.edu. Web. (accessed 9 September, 2012)
Jose, Johnson M. “The difference between animal and human communication.” HubPages. Web. (accessed September 14, 2012)
Nordquist, Richard. “Where Does Language Come From?” About.com. Web. (accessed 12 September, 2012)
Taylor, Charles V. “Origin of Language.” Creation Ministries International. Web. (accessed 11 September, 2012)