Language fossils

There are many interesting ideas about the origins of language being discussed on a blog I discovered recently called Babel’s Dawn. One recent post puts forward the idea that some short expressions we use, such as “What me worry?”, might be fossils of an early stage in the evolution of speech before the development of complex grammar.

Another post suggests that babbling might have developed before speech, perhaps among Homo Habilis, as a way for babies and children to bond with their parents, and this probably increased their chances of surviving into adulthood. In fact parental instincts in humans extend not just to our own offspring and other children, but also to other species. This is not the cases for other apes, or usually for other animals.

Anyway, if you are interested in the origins of speech, I highly recommend this blog.

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This entry was posted in Language.

8 Responses to Language fossils

  1. Considering the origin of language, I must point out that there’s no need to speculate about such things. The Holy Scriptures tell us that Man was capable of speech when he was first created, and thus God created language as well as everything else.

    I certainly do not want to start an argument, but it seems very futile to discuss how language might have developed from a simpler form to the more complex tongues we speak today since it is clear that humans were able to use fully developed speech from day one. Of course, this argument will only hold for those who believe that the Bible is God’s Word, but as a Christian I just wanted to point that out.

  2. Polly says:

    That is certainly one theory. (And Simon has presented it in as many iterations as his site contains languages. See )

    However, it might be worth investigating natural history for the answers, just in case there are still things to be learned that aren’t covered in the scriptures. It never hurts to look; you never know what you might find.

  3. David says:

    My nextdoor neighbour has a 2 year old and she told me that he is going through this stage called “Gabbling”. In the book she read this from, it says that babies will use other sound from different languages, other than english, e.g. “Or” could be pronounced as “Eur” (as in french) or “House” could be pronounced as dutch “Uis”.

  4. Ben L. says:

    Benjamin, you said:

    “I must point out that there’s no need to speculate about such things.”

    and “I certainly do not want to start an argument…”

    What this amounts to is that you want your statement that “God created language as well as everything else” to go unchallenged. This is not how a dialog works and I think it’s a bit rude to imply it is.

    I do appreciate your proviso that “this argument will only hold for those who believe that the Bible is God’s Word”; it would have looked a lot better before the rest of your statements.

    The very idea that “there’s no need to speculate” strikes me as an idea we would label as being from the “Dark Ages”. And that is an irony which I’m sure you, as a well-read and progressive Christian, can appreciate: indeed the Church during the era between Rome’s breakup and Europe’s rebirth could be said to be science’s greatest benefactor.

    Sadly, a devotion to placing bronze-age myths before science or even common sense has deteriorated its position in those regards. That myth-before-fact spirit, as embodied by Christian fundamentalists, now finds itself as a haven of ignorance.

    So Benjamin, I challenge you to explain why you believe as you do on the forum:
    http://www.omniglot.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=1057#1057

  5. David – This may not be strictly on-topic, but it seems to be a fact that normal human beings have all the physiological requirements to produce all speech sounds used in human languages – and then some. We do not use all of them (in fact, we do use but a few), so many become forgotten or atrophied by disuse. But not to worry, almost all of us are able to pronounce an Arabic “‘ayn”, a German “ich-laut” or a Turkish “dotless i”… 8^)

  6. There’s no reason why both the scientific and theological explanations can’t be true simultaneously. If one believes, as I do, that God spent millions of years shaping the vessel that was one day to contain the human soul, then it would not be surprising if the first fully-shaped, fully-self-aware human to be endowed with a soul (i.e. the person we know by the name of Adam) to be the first with the capacity for a complete language. As you’ll remember, Adam is described as having at least somewhat of a hand in the creation of language, having been tasked to come up with whatever names for the animals he found appropriate.

    I do not, and never will, see what’s contradictory about accepting both accounts–one as an explanation of how, and the other as an explanation of why (with a dose of racial memory thrown in for good measure).

  7. Aeneas says:

    Could we keep religion out of this? This is one of the last few blogs where every second post isn’t about Jesus this or God that. You can believe what you want in your own time, but we’re having a scientific discussion about the origin of language. Saying “God made us speak” is simply extremely frustrating and leads the discussion astray for no good reason.