Word Origins

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Word Origins

Postby Kloiten » Thu 20 May 2010 5:25 am

Okay, so I was thinking about the origin of (spoken) language, and I couldn't find any possible reason as to why all of a sudden, thousands of years ago, people thought up words. Yes, it seems simple. But if you think about it, where did they get they inspiration to say that, for example, this painful burning thing is "fire" (in their language, of course)? The only reasonable idea I came up with was that they used words of onomatopoeic origin, like "hwooooooo" for "wind blowing through a cave" and "slosh" for "water" and "KABLAM" for "thunder". There's one obvious problem with this idea, though: you can't get all that far lexicon wise if you go only by onomatopoeia. There's a lot of things that make no audible sound, even if moved. Like soil. Or the land. Or a mountain. And much more things that I care not to list.

Anyway, if you know anything else about this topic or have an opinion (and/or references to works on this topic), I'd be glad to hear it. I'm really curious to see what people think. Note that all of the above thoughts are self-provoked: while I'm waiting for a reply, I'll do some more research and try to find my answers.

I put this in the Conlangery because I'm going to use the information I gather here to create a proto-language to evolve it through at least five distinct stages. I guess it could be moved somewhere else, but I do believe that this topic could be interesting to other conlangers aiming to create a proto-language.
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Re: Word Origins

Postby Cthulhu » Thu 20 May 2010 5:59 am

Do you subscribe to the whole idea that babies mumbled incomprehensible things and parents assigned meanings to them? I don't, entirely, but an example of it would be how 'papa' is similar in meaning in many languages, and all of the 'papa' like words mean father.
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Re: Word Origins

Postby Kloiten » Thu 20 May 2010 6:05 am

I guess that gives us mother and father. But what about the rest? Perhaps early humans all baby-talked and just assigned meanings...? Interesting idea. Thanks for your feedback!
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Re: Word Origins

Postby Remd » Thu 20 May 2010 10:52 am

Maybe it's an unnecessary comment, but papa, also from onomatopeic baby mumble, means food in Spanish as well, above all baby food. We even say "papilla".
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Re: Word Origins

Postby linguoboy » Thu 20 May 2010 1:40 pm

Wikipedia mentions some intriguing hypotheses. But the ones with really great names are listed here.
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Re: Word Origins

Postby Kloiten » Sun 23 May 2010 5:07 am

linguoboy wrote:Wikipedia mentions some intriguing hypotheses. But the ones with really great names are listed here.


I've already looked at the Wikipedia article where the theories were more like the reasons of starting a language, but not theories of how words formed. Or maybe I didn't understand something. I'll read it again.

As for the second site, that was more helpful. The theories were interesting to read and I'll use some in my conlang plans. It's pleasing to know that one of the theories I thought of by myself. Anyway, thanks for the resource.

linguoboy, what are your opinions on the origin of language?
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Re: Word Origins

Postby linguoboy » Sun 23 May 2010 5:34 am

Kloiten wrote:linguoboy, what are your opinions on the origin of language?

Irrelevant. It's not something we can research, only speculate about, so I haven't spent much time considering it.

I'm also not sure what kind of distinction you're drawing between "words" and "language". One can't exist independent of the other.
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Re: Word Origins

Postby Kloiten » Sun 23 May 2010 6:15 am

The whole point of this thread was asking people's opinions on the origin of spoken language. I believe I said that in my first post. Usually, opinions are based on fact, and I was curious as well as looking for inspiration for future projects.

I admit I was choosing between "word" and "language" arbitrarily, and by my distinctions of words and languages in the wrong spots... however, I don't believe language necessarily has to be spoken. There's sign and body language, after all. (Unless, of course, you consider each gesture a word, then yes, language cannot exist without words.) I think it's highly possible that people came up with unspoken methods of communication before the spoken word developed. Actually, there is little doubt about it, according the information that we already know today. Although we can't go back in time and see what was going on back then, we can make an educated, albeit long shot guess.
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Re: Word Origins

Postby Dan_ad_nauseam » Mon 24 May 2010 5:03 am

If you're going on these lines, remember the Georgian words for mother and father.
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Re: Word Origins

Postby Kloiten » Mon 24 May 2010 5:32 am

Dan_ad_nauseam wrote:If you're going on these lines, remember the Georgian words for mother and father.


Their words for those terms are really creepy. Georgian is just weird. I mean, why is it then that in so many of the world's languages' terms for "mother" usually have an m phone or something similar?
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