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Period Piece by Joyce Cary

In: Novels

Submitted By sofiefang
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1. It is an intriguing question, to which we may never have a complete answer: How did we get from animal vocalization (barks, howls, calls...) to human language?
2. Animals often make use of signs, which point to what they represent, but they don’t use symbols, which are arbitrary and conventional. Examples of signs include sniffles as a sign of an on-coming cold, clouds as a sign of rain, or a scent as a sign of territory. Symbols include things like the words we use. Dog, Hund, chien, cane, perro -- these are symbols that refer to the creature so named, yet each one contains nothing in it that in anyway indicates that creature.
3. In addition, language is a system of symbols, with several levels of organization, at least phonetics (the sounds), syntax (the grammar), and semantics (the meanings).
4. So when did language begin? At the very beginnings of the genus Homo, perhaps 4 or 5 million years ago? Before that? Or with the advent of modern man, Cro-magnon, some 125,000 years ago? Did the neanderthal speak? We don’t know.
5. There are many theories about the origins of language. Many of these have traditional amusing names (invented by Max Müller and George Romanes a century ago), and I will create a couple more where needed.
6. 1. The mama theory. Language began with the easiest syllables attached to the most significant objects.
7. 2. The ta-ta theory. Sir Richard Paget, influenced by Darwin, believed that body movement preceded language. Language began as an unconscious vocal imitation of these movements -- like the way a child’s mouth will move when they use scissors, or my tongue sticks out when I try to play the guitar. This evolved into the popular idea that language may have derived from gestures.
8. 3. The bow-wow theory. Language began as imitations of natural sounds -- moo, choo-choo, crash, clang, buzz, bang, meow... This is more...

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