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Who invented words?

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I have always wondered how words were discovered. Who did it, and how?
My school teachers and parents don't know.
I am in Year 8 in the English educational system, which is like the American grade 7

Madi G
student - Norwich, Norfolk, England


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Hi, Madi. I had the same question at your age. Cats "meow", cows "moo", pigs "oink", and dogs "bark". Similarly, bells and telephones "ring", mosquitoes "buzz", people who don't know the words to a song "hum", and chalk can "screech" across a blackboard. Thus the first words may have just been an attempt to echo the sounds that were heard. Google the term "onomatopoeia" to learn more along this line.

At a young age my teachers introduced me to the first stanza of Edgar Allen Poe's "The Bells" =>

... and I still remember the occasion. Read the first verse out loud a few times. Keep repeating it if necessary until you say "OH!!" and you may have an experience that you will remember for a lifetime, as well as an answer to your question.

(If you gave up, the poem is about bells, but hearing it out loud, it actually sounds like the ringing of a host of different bells. The last line of the poem reads: "From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells." Now, doesn't the word "jingling" sound a lot like jingle bells sound? And doesn't the word "tinkling" sound a bit like the sound of a very small bell? And guess what . . . "jing" and "ting" rhyme with "ring".).

44464
pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey


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Madi, did your math teacher ever make you show your work both forwards and backwards? Then you might add to your question "Is there a known civilization that did not have words"? If you can find a civilization that didn't have words, you might be able to deduce the answer to the question "where did words come from"?

Sheldon Taylor
   supply chain electronics
Wake Forest, North Carolina


+++++++

Madi, words evolved from sounds. We have all heard animals making noises - lions roar, dogs growl etc. Whales are probably the best communicators as they can "talk" to each other across thousands of miles of ocean, just by making sounds in the water. Most animal sounds are usually warnings, but are still a simple form of communication. When you get to the apes, like chimpanzees and gorillas, they make more complicated sounds that can mean different things to another ape. Words simply evolved from these sounds and became more developed as our brains developed.

Trevor Crichton
R&D practical scientist
Chesham, Bucks, UK


+++++++

Hi Trevor, I might disagree a little bit with telling Madi that. It gives the inference that people sometime in the past might have been pointing at things and making the sound "oook, oook" to communicate with each other. I can see this thread getting relegated to the opinions page real quick :-)

Sheldon Taylor
   supply chain electronics
Wake Forest, North Carolina

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Sheldon, I am sure that some years ago people did communicate by making strange noises and pointing at things. You just have to look at when European settlers arrived in (to them) unknown lands - not only did the original explorers not know of the existence of these places, they certainly were not fluent in any local language! The only way they could communicate, if they ever wanted to, was by having an object and making sounds that represented that article in their own language. This is your "oook oook" and is still the way we learn foreign languages and even how we learn to talk. Watch how a parent communicates and teaches their new born baby words and sounds - it is little better than "oook oook", but the baby soon gets the idea and starts to recognize the sound and relate it to an object or action.

Remember a word is a totally artificial thing - it is our definition of a mechanism by which we communicate. Indeed, the English "word" is "Wort" in German, "mot" in French, "parola" in Italian and "palabra" in Spanish - they all are different spellings and sounds but they mean the same thing.

A word is simply a unit of language that comprises a series of morphenes that link together to create a series of letters or sounds that have a recognised phonetic value and that carries a meaning.

Homo sapiens have developed a means of communication that relies of sounds being produced that have a certain structure to them and are within a certain audible range. Other animals have developed other methods of communication that use different frequencies (or audible ranges) and (probably) different syntaxes, although I cannot confirm this last comment as I am unfortunately exceedingly poor at speaking whale or dolphin; furthermore, I do not know anyone who is capable of communicating with such animals.

I do agree that this could develop into a silly thread, but it is almost summer and the "silly season", so perhaps it may be allowed to evolve,........ like language?!

Trevor Crichton
R&D practical scientist
Chesham, Bucks, UK


+++++++

Hi Sheldon,

Heck, I sure agree with Trevor, a masterpiece of dialogue.
Bleedin' 'ell, I hadter look up dat word MORPHENES

Maybe some of your ancestors were Neanderthals? And they would sure grunt a lot but NOW, thanks to England, you speak English for the most part and we can, hopefully, understand you... which is the Art of Communication.

Poor old Madi ... I do hope that this will be of some help to her and her poor ole parents.

freeman newton portrait Freeman Newton
- White Rock, British Columbia, Canada
freeman newton died


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... Dr. Richard G. Klein of Stanford University and others believe that some major genetically based neurological change, like the development of language, occurred about 50,000 years ago.

...from the "Ice Age Civilizations" website.

Sheldon Taylor
   supply chain electronics
Wake Forest, North Carolina

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Freeman,
A more modern word for morphene is phoneme - it is a basic unit of sound that builds up into a word or phrase. In fact I have found morphene used in this sense in only a very few very old references, so it is probably an obsolete term now... Just shows how language evolves!

Trevor Crichton
R&D practical scientist
Chesham, Bucks, UK

First of three simultaneous responses -- +++++++

Madi, don't believe anyone that tells you your ancestors were Neanderthals. Poor kid.

Sheldon Taylor
   supply chain electronics
Wake Forest, North Carolina

Second of three simultaneous responses -- +++++++

I think we need to differentiate between language, speech, voice and sound, as well as words. As I said above, words are a representation of something. To use words, you need a means of communication; this can be by sound, as in speech, sight, as in reading or by signs as in sign language. Hence, we do not need to be able to talk to be able to communicate and use words - we can all read and that uses words, but we don't need to be able to talk to read. However, the most basic form of communication is by either sound or gesture, although words can be formed by a wide range of methods. I am quite prepared to accept that the ability to speak is a recent event, in terms of evolution, but I still subscribe to the belief that the use of words does not require speech, as we understand it, or the ability to speak - it just needs a method of communicating a concept to another being, be it animal or human.

Trevor Crichton
R&D practical scientist
Chesham, Bucks, UK

Third of three simultaneous responses -- +++++++

This is from a text that I just finished for a reading class:

Morpheme--The smallest unit of meaning such as the /s/ in boys.

A phoneme is the smallest part of SPOKEN language that makes a difference in the meaning of words. Notice that in cat, there is a c, a, & t sound that are all the same size and make a difference.

THEY ARE VERY NEARLY THE SAME, BUT ARE NOT IDENTICAL.

James Watts
- Navarre, Florida


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Language....is not evolving from simple to complex, as evolutionary theory would predict. Evolutionists would expect that as man's brain evolves and becomes more capable, language should become richer and more complex.

Fortunately, I went to high school back in the days when four semesters of Latin were required to graduate from high school. Now one can graduate from college without taking a single semester of Latin. As a result, most younger Americans don't know how to decline a noun, or conjugate a verb--and it certainly shows in the e-mail we get! Language skills are devolving, not evolving!

Suffice it to say that scientists who study languages realize that the origin of human languages is not consistent with the theory of evolution.(Jones) "www.scienceagainstevolution.org" Seven Mysteries of Evolution, 2004.

Sheldon Taylor
   supply chain electronics
Wake Forest, North Carolina

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Yes, Sheldon, language skills are devolving -- although I blame it on a video orientation, a youth culture, and a general abhorrence of rigor. But please let's not bring an evolution debate here :-)

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey

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Trevor started it! :-)

Sheldon Taylor
   supply chain electronics
Wake Forest, North Carolina

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I must get in a word endwise !

Early language was a series of grunts ... which is what many animals still use.

I sure agree 100% with what Sheldon says about language.
But an American (?) who learnt latin? I didn't think that U.S. schools taught it.

But I got my comeuppance in in Germany... my friend had a cop friend, we were all about 22 years old ... and instead of saying It's a Matter of Taste (Geschmacksache) I retorted haughtily De Gustibus Nihil Disputandem Est ... and said cop replied in fluent latin which shot me down in flames.

Since then I have had an inferiority complex.

Ars langae, vita brevis.

Freeman Newton
- White Rock, British Columbia, Canada

December 13, 2008

I've always wondered if they were called words before they were written. Much further up this page there was talk of Neanderthals using 'ook ook' as a word. Well surely that's rather childish. Assuming Neanderthals existed (I just can't be bothered taking sides) and assuming that it IS true that their brain capacity was larger then ours (as has been presented by science before) then we must assume that they are worth more recognition then two repeated syllables.

There are an infinite amount of possible combinations in spoken words and syllables. It is just as likely then, is it not, that they called fire 'petrifying light of man'. They may have just had different meanings for the words.

Personally I believe that language has existed as long as any animal has. Even an animal creating a noise to protect their habitat has a 'meaning' to their sounds right?

So as long as there has been sound from animals, there has been language.

However I'm 15 and failing English, so what do I know? :P

Stephen Holt
- Wiltshire ,England


December 17, 2008

Thanks for joining the discussion, Stephen. I subscribe to the theory that Neanderthals existed, and they disappeared for as yet unknown reason. Maybe warfare with "us", maybe a plague of some sort. Maybe intermarriage with "us" -- with their genes so strongly recessive that the remnants quickly dwindled out.

I'll advance a theory that Sheldon may like. It has recently been demonstrated that the old saw about blind people hearing better than the sighted is true and has a biological basis. Brain scans are proving that the dividing line in the brain between the area reserved for processing images vs. the area reserved for processing sounds actually gradually moves after a person loses their sight. The brain doesn't like to waste space, and the area for visual processes atrophies while the aural processing area grows into the newly available brain real estate.

Isn't it possible that speech grew gradually more important with each generation and that, even if mankind hasn't evolved an iota, the speech area of each infant now grows bigger and more capable these days than in prehistoric time because of the demand we put on it? It is also well known that young children learn foreign languages much more easily than adults. Isn't it possible that it's because their brain has not filled and "burned in" as much, leaving more room for those foreign language areas to easily grow?

And Stephen, you are obviously a smart guy. If you're failing English, maybe you can see if your school or another local school has a summer course in "Philosophy of Language". It might make English fascinating instead of a drudge -- I know it worked for me.

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey

March 10, 2009

I've always wondered who invented words. But, however, no one knows..I've asked my parents and other people the answer was always 'I Don't Know'. So one day I had the idea to google it.The problem was I didn't find anything that I didn't know before.

Thanks,

Lindsay B
- Deatsville, Alabama


March 13, 2009

Hi, Lindsay. How about this hypothesis then: Some languages are so completely different from others that it proves they do not have a common origin; that is, multiple people invented words.

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey

May 23, 2009

I had the exact same question, but if people find the answer, it may take us centuries back in time!

Hafsa Y.
- England


January 1, 2010

I think that you guys are right.

I am only young but have read through some of this and your theories are very interesting.

Maybe the sounds and things did make the words? I don't know but these all sound correct.

thank you for answering my question!:)

kina agius
- sydney, new south wales, australia


February 15, 2011

Hi,
Hoping this would contribute to the question. My answer is based in the Bible and it runs this manner: In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God. Thanks! :)

Rogelio Jose
- Pasay City, Metro Manila, Philippines

April 28, 2011

This is my opinion, heed it to an extent.
All things are, and forever will be sealed as long as we bicker, no one can say for sure whether anyone's right;
hell even the world we perceive may be different than the world that is, and all we know is as long as we see things in our own degree of intellect, we'll never truly evolve or learn, I believe we are born with the knowledge that we "learn", that we never really learn anything new.
that is my opinion.

Ideas to ponder, this is my own lecture to you adults, I'm only sixteen years old, and I'm already a philosophy student at Washington State University; I graduated from high school almost one year ago, and I am still unlocking the thoughts of the past.

Thank you for your time, I really do enjoy these kinds of subjects.

Daniel B.
- Vancouver, Washington, America


Hi, Daniel. Thanks for the thinking points.

My understanding is that Plato agreed with you that "the world we perceive may be different than the world that is". He said something roughly to this effect (you'll probably learn the story correctly in your studies): We are all born chained spread-eagle inside a cave, face to the wall, our backs to the opening to the outside world, believing that the shadows that we see playing across the wall are the whole of reality.

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey

May 6, 2011

When do you think words so to speak were invented?

my parents say not long ago but I don't believe them.

molly jdeleted
I'm 10 - Florida

May 6, 2011

Hi, Molly. Homo Sapiens (humans) first existed about 150,000 years ago. All other forms of humanoids were extinct by at least 30,000 years ago. The best guess of a lot of people is that words were invented by Home Sapiens, and it was sometime in that period. You are probably too young to understand much of it, but pandora.cii.wwu.edu/vajda/ling201/test1materials/origin_of_language.htm has very good coverage of all of the theories.

Some of these things we don't really know and may never know, so it's a matter of guessing. My own guess is that, because some languages are so completely different than others, the real development of language occurred after the great migration, which started about 80,000 years ago. But guesses are only guesses :-)

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey

July 23, 2011

Good:
That was the most intelligent and loving blog sequence I have ever seen.
Because of the honesty of that which was said and more importantly for that which wasn't said. What really hit me was the love everyone had/has in their answer to a little girl, who sadly never checked back in and heard the beautiful answers. Proof that in life folks are what it IS all about.

Bad(A bad entry-even though it is what I think):
If only as adults we could all treat each other with such love. But then there are people (politicians) who use words to manipulate ignorant people to enslave the free independent thinkers to implement their crony capitalism, socialism, and communism. It constrains everyone's individuality by enslaving each individual's time and focus. We is slaves immaculate! As all new ideas (and value) comes from a single individual, there is a Pandora hope. As long is there is money there will be attempts to loot your time and money with institutionalized parasitic behaviors in the name of God, government, or country. Yes these are all words you were indoctrinated with in the brainwash schools of thought. My advice to children is never give up your decision and fire anyone who tries to change you or your decisions when you know you are right. But if you are wrong own up to the consequences. An error is not a mistake until it is not corrected for most of us. If you care about yourself and others you will make the right decisions, but they will be your decisions. As you grow people, philosophers, mystics, and street bums will use these sounds and words to try to control you, usually to get your money because they are sloths. But you are really free now. Free using concepts that were expressed in words which were expressed in sounds. Now go forward and do great things, because you decide to and do it for yourself. You will love life and your cup will runneth over to all your loved ones and you will be happy. Only a truly ignorant person will always do what they are told.

Charles Nicol
- USA

January 4, 2012

Hello.
A few days ago I began to wonder; Who invented the things we see today, like math, and the English language. I began to question how they might be able to DO that. How do you think up a plus sign, a letter, or a punctuation mark? When I looked it up, this was the first thing to pop up. Read over previous posts, and I found it very helpful. ^_^ tho slightly confusing...

Amada Reeve
- Tennessee, United States


April 26, 2012

I recently heard the song by nas and damian marley... It's thought provoking. The song title is patience... I quote "who made up words who made up numbers and what kind of spell is mankind under....". Had a lot of answers of my own like that it depends on whether you believe in creation or evolution. For those who believe in creation then the answer is simple: it's the creator himself. For those of evolution, I believe words originated the same way sound did; to understand my point let's ask the question who made up sound? How do we know that sound is not words at its raw form. I mean early humanoids used sound to communicate and they understand each other perfectly as we do today. They would use different sounds to communicate different things, just like we use different words to communicate different things. In my opinion Trevor's theory is incorrect -- sounds are ancient words and sounds were not made by anyone. Therefore it's safe to say that words were not made at all. They were there when the first creature appeared; which brings us to the big bang theory(one theory that makes all other scientific theories a lie) ... Another story for another day...

carly_mccall
CARLY McCall
- johannesburg, gauteng, South africa


April 26, 2012

Hi.

I'm not familiar with the song you speak of, Carly, although I love Damian's father's music. But when I hear a song that I like a lot, I often get this strong deja vu feeling that the words and melody always existed, the song has always been out there, and the only thing that I've been specially graced with is having a name with which to refer to that pattern.

And I may be right in a way: Mathematicians who work on number theory are especially familiar with this feeling because the weird facts and relationships of number theory which they discover were, in fact, always there. They just weren't obvious because of all the chaff they were hiding in.

Maybe you are right that the words were always there and we just began to "see" them, in the same way Pythagoras and other mathematicians "saw" the number relationships that have always been out there.

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey

April 27, 2012

I totally agree Mr Mooney (hope its safe to call you that).. However number are a totally different story unlike words they don't function in the same way.. Numbers are more of complex and systematic..

Words came naturally.. And there are no set of rules governing them as for numbers I believe they were made up by someone because and that someone is of high intellect in conclusion numbers we constructed millions if not billions years after words and its a group of people not one, its also evident that numbers keep improving or improved by people.

My point is words were not made, and numbers were... Once a word is formed there is no improving it or checking whether it accommodates the existence of other words as for numbers they hey have to accommodate and validate the existence of others.. For example if 1+3=4 and 2+2=4 then 1+3=2+2 so the number 4 can never be anything 3+ any number greater or less than one... a number must always have an equivalent and are restricted to and govern by equivalent of others..

So its safe to conclude by saying that the complex nature of numbers prove that the were made and the simple nature of words shows that they came naturally. Like sound, they were biologically programmed in our DNA. I mean even a humanoid of extremely low intellect could communicate. I'm not sure they could count. Numbers are things that were made now.

Just hope you understand my point, I tend to complicate things.

For the love of knowledge,
CARLY

carly_mccall
CARLY MCcall
- johannesburg, Gauteng, south africa


April 28, 2012

Thanks for that, Carly. I love knowledge and thinking, too! But when I look into subjects that I like, such as philosophy, quantum mechanics, number theory, and consciousness, I realize that I don't have quite the brain power I wish I had; beyond a certain depth, I just can't follow deep subjects.

He's hoping that, in the immortal words of Louis Armstrong, you'll learn much more than I'll ever know ...

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey

December 16, 2012

I'm nothing but an inexperienced 13 year old, but I look forward to contributing to this thread.

Let's think about time. Right now, it's almost time for me to go to bed. Yet, time is nothing but an organizational scheme that allows us to give some purpose and channel our lives in a more meaningful and accepted way.

This elaborate system of time is nothing but an entity devised by humans to make their lives easier. Not only is it universally accepted, but its effectiveness has been proven time and time again by people like us, who live out our lives every single day. Furthermore, if another person came up with their own system of time, they would be operating on a schedule different to the rest of us and convincing others to change their universally accepted system of time would be extremely difficult.

Similarly, language is nothing but an elaborate system of sounds combined to make sense to other members of a species. One language is not universally accepted, but is generally accepted by at least a small group of people, which is why kids make secret languages to communicate between themselves. It gives them their own sense of expression and identity, as well as a sense of mystery and excitement.

Mandarin is currently the most spoken language, but English the most recognized, therefore it would follow that English is nothing but an elaborate systems of sounds designed so that people could communicate within each other. You could potentially come up with your own words, but unless it was generally accepted, nobody would understand or agree with them. For example, try substituting, "flubberglubber," for "the" for a day. Enjoy watching your friend's reactions... don't try it in class.

So I think that words are nothing more than small combinations of sounds in a more elaborate combination of sounds which are generally accepted so that people can communicate with each other.

Taher [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Dubai, UAE

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