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Who invented words?

Q. 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

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 were probably 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 several 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.).

Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

"The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language"
by Christine Kenneally

on AbeBooks

or eBay or


(affil links)

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
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
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
Sheldon Taylor
supply chain electronics
Wake Forest, North Carolina

"The Prehistoric Roots of Language: Uncovering the Origins of Human Communication"
by James Daniel

on AbeBooks

or Amazon

(affil links)

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 a 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
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 [deceased]
R.I.P. old friend (It is our sad duty to
advise that Freeman passed away 4/21/12)

A. 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
Sheldon Taylor
supply chain electronics
Wake Forest, North Carolina

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

simultaneous replies

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

Sheldon Taylor
Sheldon Taylor
supply chain electronics
Wake Forest, North Carolina

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

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.


James Watts
- Navarre, Florida 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) "" Seven Mysteries of Evolution, 2004.

Sheldon Taylor
Sheldon Taylor
supply chain electronics
Wake Forest, North Carolina


Yes, Sheldon, language skills are devolving -- although I blame it on a video orientation, a youth culture, and a general abhorrence of rigor. But an evolution debate? :-)

Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

Trevor started it! :-)

Sheldon Taylor
Sheldon Taylor
supply chain electronics
Wake Forest, North Carolina

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 portrait
Freeman Newton [deceased]
R.I.P. old friend (It is our sad duty to
advise that Freeman passed away 4/21/12)

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 13, 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.


Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

Q. 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.


Lindsay B
- Deatsville, Alabama
March 10, 2009

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


Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

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

Hafsa Y.
- England
May 23, 2009

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
January 1, 2010

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
February 15, 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
April 28, 2011

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.


Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

Q. When do you think words so to speak were invented?

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

molly j [last name deleted due to age of poster]
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 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 :-)


Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

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
July 23, 2011

thumbs up sign 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
January 4, 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...

- johannesburg, gauteng, South africa
April 26, 2012


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.


Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

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 MCcall [returning]
- johannesburg, Gauteng, south africa

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.

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


Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

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
December 16, 2012

Q. Who invented words is all I wanna know!?

Angelina L [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Denver Colorado
May 18, 2016

A. Okay Angelina. You can ignore all the previous postings. Words were invented by Jorge Perez in Buenos Aires, Argentina on June 16th, 1513. The first word he invented was "flabbergasted"; it was not "flubberglubber" as Taher claims above -- it couldn't have been, because the letter "u" wasn't discovered until 1561 at the bottom of an abandoned silver mine.


pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

No one knows for sure that any of the things you said are true. It is kind of like God no one knows if he is real or not but yet people still make up things about him so everyone could be wrong ... guess we will never know

cymoria collin
- springfield, Illinois
January 24, 2019

Hi Madi & everyone,

It feels thrilling to read all thoughts and theories on here about the creation of words.
I've always pondered it myself but now i realize everyone is just as clueless as I am because there's no precise or accurate answer on the subject, so here are mine own thoughts...

First we should note that - WORD AND SOUND cannot exist apart from each other, hence I will say that they have both been in existence since First Life occurred, because species are all interactive within themselves and that is what we have been doing one way or the other since the dawn of existence.

There are two broad theories one might use to thoroughly decipher the origin of words but i wouldn't want to go into that debate, they are the theories of Evolution and Creation, though i would root in favor of the latter mentioned theory because that's the only theory that holds a plausible inception.

In a nutshell, if you ponder the existent significance of words, first we'll all agree that it's to communicate simple & complex inner feelings to another, and judging based on both theories of creation and evolution, that significance remains unchanged.

COMMUNICATION is what should be looked into, not "WORDS". Communication is the process of passing informations or signals between organisms of similar species.(in other rare cases occurs between organisms of different species) - Sound, Words, and Actions are means of communication.

SOUND - to man, is a lot of things, but in terms of species-communication WE generally see sound as a method of communication between lower organisms capable of such tendencies.
It encompasses all verbal utterances that WE can not translate, but can be sometimes perceived to stand for certain emotions like - danger, excitedness, presence of food, intruder alert etc.

WORDS on the other hand is simply the communication method of Man spp.
Utter a word or a cluster of words to someone and you have communicated something, try it with a toad and you'll laugh at yourself in the end.

Sound is the rawest form of communication while Word is simply refined sound, hence why words can not exist without sound, you take away the sound from any word it becomes useless - no data to translate.

The word "words" simply arose from man's relentlessness to control and dominate the earth, we put names to things that's what we do ... We named Fishes, we named Dogs, no one knows if that's what they call themselves in their own species-communication system OR if they even know that's what WE call them.

Bottom line is, if Man did not genetically inherit words, i am quite certain we inherited the ability to produce sounds, and so words arose from a thoughtful & complex man-made system of alphabetic clusterings...

The only mystery to all of it now is that no man, past &/or present, dead &/or alive, has come out and owned up with clear undoubted evidence to prove that words were actually formed/created OR naturally inherent and instinctively just happened, we can say all we want but in the end it's all speculative theories.

Do not eat your brain up thinking of this one thing okay ...

irock kester
- Nigeria
March 12, 2024

thumbs up sign This is such an interesting conversation, odd to find it here but ok!

It does seem somewhat noteworthy that many apes have been taught to communicate through sign language, and are capable of forming rudimentary sentences in this manner. From this we can conclude that the primate brain developed the capability to equate symbols (i.e., words) to other objects and actions, prior to evolving the capability to verbalize complex sounds. Of course, true language did not develop without the complexities of human speech being available. However, the animal kingdom is full of vocalizations and other things (dancing bees for example) used to communicate specific information to each other.

We might also observe that certain birds have excellent vocal capabilities, being able to mimic human words easily, but yet do not have any language, at least not one more sophisticated than other bird species. They can, at best, equate a few words to objects and actions, much as a well trained dog can, but it does not reach the level of what an ape can learn, and is far below human language.

One would imagine that the human brain's language center and the human vocal cords evolved alongside each other, slowly, over a great period of time, with spoken language becoming increasingly complex as those capabilities allowed. Complex language being an evolutionary advantage would have kept pushing it further. Sadly the origins of specific words can only be traced back so far.

ray kremer
Ray Kremer
Stellar Solutions, Inc.
supporting advertiser
McHenry, Illinois
stellar solutions banner
March 21, 2024

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