How did it happen that human language differentiated itself from animal sounds? Why doesn’t human speech consist of barks and sound like the trill of birds. Was it an invention of the human mind or rather a gift from the gods? The question about the origin of language is a riddle that still hasn’t been solved by linguists, but there are a few interesting theories out there:
1. Divine revelation – the Bible says that the first people (Adam and Eve) were created with an ability to talk and communicate. When the human race decided to disobey God by building the Tower of Babel that was meant to reach Heaven, he punished them by confusion of their languages. This may not be the most scientific answer but it actually is one of the earliest theories.
2. Bow-wow hypothesis – another possibility is that people invented language by imitating the sounds of animals. The problem with this hypothesis is, however, that onomatopoeia is only a limited part of language. This theory does not explain modern languages that are complex and dynamic systems. Moreover, the sound of animals differs from language to language. For example, an English pigs ‘says’ “oink, oink”, and a Polish “chrum chrum”.
3. Yo-he-ho hypothesis – this theory says that language originated from the groans and grunts evoked by physical labour.
4. La-La hypothesis – the Danish linguist Otto Jespersen suggested that before the invention of words people could have been communicating by melodies.
Of course all of these theories are just speculation but that should not stop us from looking for the right answer. Maybe we can find it by analysing fossils or maybe it is encoded deep in our psyche. What do you think?