• Question: How did all the languages come around?

    Asked by jobyhenderson007 to Faye, Martin, Mus, Pete, Jemma, John, Lisa, Sam, Adam, Samantha, David, Jonathan on 24 May 2012. This question was also asked by preshous333, charlie98766, charl911, sara2012.
    • Photo: Pete Etchells

      Pete Etchells answered on 24 May 2012:


      Great question! I don’t know specifically why a particular language might occur, but it probably comes about first due to different accents arising. Some scientists think that if someone has a bit of a weird way of saying something (just because that’s how they say it), then people they know nearby might pick up saying it in that way. Over time, the entire local community will pick up that way of saying something. If you get lots of different ways of saying things in a particular area, then that eventually becomes an accent. Over much longer time periods, these quite small differences will evolve to become very big differences, which is probably how languages developed! But you can see how similarities in languages like French, English, German and Italian arose out of Latin, which itself might have arisen out of much earlier, primitive languages!

    • Photo: Faye Didymus

      Faye Didymus answered on 26 May 2012:


      Unfortunately there is no consensus on ultimate origin or age of all of the languages. Empirical evidence is limited, and many scholars continue to regard the whole topic as unsuitable for serious study because of the lack of evidence. In 1866, the Linguistic Society of Paris went so far as to ban debates on the subject!! That prohibition remained influential across much of the western world until late in the twentieth century. Today, there are numerous hypotheses about how, why, when and where language might first have emerged. Since the early 1990s, however, a growing number of professional linguists, archaeologists, psychologists, anthropologists, and others have attempted to address this very difficult question!

      Approaches to the origin of language can be divided according to their underlying assumptions. ‘Continuity theories’ are based on the idea that language is so complex that you cannot imagine it simply appearing from nothing: scientists who take this stance think that the languages must have evolved from earlier pre-linguistic systems among our primate ancestors. ‘Discontinuity theories’ are based on the opposite idea — that language is a unique trait that cannot be compared to anything found among non-humans and must therefore have appeared fairly suddenly during the course of human evolution. Another contrast is between theories that see language mostly as an innate faculty that is genetically encoded, and those that see it as a system that is mainly cultural (learned through social interaction). Genesis 11:1-9 gives a different persective again because it states that God created the languages by giving people different languages.

      I guess the short answer is that we don’t know how languages evolved but no doubt scientists are working every day to try and understand how they came about!

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