“I recognize but one mental acquisition as a necessary part of the education of a lady or gentleman, namely, an accurate and refined use of the mother tongue”.
___ Dr. Charles W. Eliot (President of Harvard for a third of a Century).
Language till date remains the most important human invention. The earliest account of the emergence of language can be found in different religious texts. For example the Bible states that in ancient times, man had a universal language which was confused and became diversified at the Tower of Babel. The idea conveyed in Genesis 2:20 of Adam giving names to all living creatures presupposes that humans were created from the start with an innate capacity to use language.
But what is the scientific account of the origin and nature of language? To answer this, we must turn to anthropology, history, archaeology, linguistics and philosophy. Imagine a scenario where humans have just evolved from a lower sheath – (products of evolution). Archaeological evidence indicates that modern humans, Homo sapiens, emerged within the last 150,000 years. By 30,000 BC, all other species of humanoids seem to have been replaced by Homo sapiens. Scholars agree that the different group of humans (Homo sapiens) had already, embedded in their genetic make-up, the capacity and disposition to acquire and speak a language. The natural evolution hypothesis holds that at some point in their evolutionary development, humans acquired a more sophisticated brain which made language invention and learning possible. Words are, scientifically speaking, not inborn, but the capacity to acquire a language and use it creatively seems to be inborn. Noam Chomsky calls this ability the LAD (Language Acquisition Device). There is also a consensus among experts that human language must have evolved from inarticulate sounds, produced by our ancestors in the course of human evolution. However no one can say exactly the point or date when language finally emerged. But then, there is incontrovertible evidence that the human brain evolved the capacity for spoken language in tandem with the modification of the organs in the mouth particularly the larynx which makes speech possible.
Regardless of whether language was a special gift from God, a natural evolutionary acquisition, or an ingenuous, conscious human invention made at some point in our species’ history, what is not in doubt is that about 6000 languages exist in the world today. Perhaps an important question to ask is whether there was one or more than one original language. Three schools of thought have attempted answers.
The Monogenesis school holds that there was a single original language. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, this language was confused by divine intervention at the Tower of Babel. But exactly what this first language was remains a matter of controversy. Basque, German, Greek, and Sanskrit have been suggested. A Swedish philologist claimed that in the Garden of Eden, God spoke Swedish, Adam spoke Danish and the serpent spoke French. One wonders if this is true, how they were able to understand one another.
The Mother Tongue theory is a variant of the monogenesis school, though without the latter’s religious colouration. It holds that one original language spoken by a single group of Homo sapiens perhaps as early as 150 000 years ago gave rise to all human languages spoken on earth today as a result of colonisation of other humans across continents, leading to the diverging of this original mother tongue to form the numerous languages spoken today.
The Polygenesis school holds the view of parallel evolution. They hold that as humans evolved parallel in more than one location, each group developed its own unique language. For them, given the genetic predisposition for language, the exact language spoken by different human groups all over the world is a reflection of environmental factors. Like other social animals e.g. the bees, the elephants, the dolphins, the chimpanzees, etc., human beings evolved language as a means of intra species communication. The first mode of communication was inarticulate sounds which were accompanied with gestures. Gradually, and as a result of continuous process of evolution, man developed what is now described as the Second Signal System – Language...........to be continued
by........Emmanuel Ogheneochuko Arodovwe
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