Did you ever wonder why a chair is called a chair? Why the large grey mammal with the inordinately long nose is called an elephant? And as for the Duck-billed platypus; what’s that all about?
Our need to communicate is part instinct and part necessity. How on earth would we get anything done if we couldn’t communicate and understand each other’s ideas and emotions? The phrase “no man is an island” is biologically true, of course (we are each not a patch of land surrounded on all sides by water) but it refers to our need to be around each other. We are social animals, and life without words would mean we all standing around separately, scratching our heads and all excruciatingly lonely. Words bring us together.
The Birthday of the First word
“The Hardest Problem in Science” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origin_of_language
So, we’ve established need to talk. When was the first word? I wish I knew? This is a question that has been the subject of investigation by many scholars all over the world for centuries. There is simply not enough direct evidence to answer that question. Wikipedia talks about the alternative studies of fossils, the comparison of human language with the various systems of communication amongst animals, more specifically primates, and also language acquisition. This question has frustrated so many of us in the past that the subject was even banned across much of the world until late in the twentieth century. If the leading linguists, anthropologists, psychologists and archaeologists have yet to find the answer, then I don’t hold out much hope for myself. I suppose the investigations will continue until the end of time, with new ideas and innovative new methods of doing so, because that is what we do, but sadly we may never know for sure.
By Walter Callens [CC-BY-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
We do know however, that 30- 40,000 years ago people started drawing pictures on walls and caves, so the need to express ourselves was evident and compelling. There were also notches engraved on stones which could mean a way of counting. Ah numbers, one of the three universal languages, the other two being music of course, and love. We don’t need a dictionary to experience those.
Let’s Break It Down
“The Building Blocks of Our Thoughts” http://hotword.dictionary.com/semiology/
The first interesting gentleman I encountered on my quest to find out about words was a Swiss linguist called ‘Ferdinand de Saussure. He was a teacher in the late 1800s, and was one of the first people to study language, our need to interpret the world around us and communicate our thoughts with one another. He decided that words were simply ‘the building blocks of our thoughts’ and that they were our concept (understanding) and a sound image in our mind. Hot word uses the word ‘tree’ as an example, but I like the word Duck-billed platypus, because it’s cute, so I will use that to illustrate what he means.
Close your eyes and picture a Duck-billed platypus in your mind. Can you see the reasons for the specific parts of the word? That one’s easy, but what about elephant, or something that isn’t an object, but a feeling or description?
“There are only eight kinds of words!” http://www.rfwp.com/samples/grammartown.pdf
Most of us know that we categorize types of words into verbs, nouns, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, interjections, conjunctions and prepositions, each describing the function of that particular word. This is beginning to sound like an English lesson, so I’ll briefly describe the function of each category, and move on to where the alphabet came from, which is essentially the foundation of all of our language communication.
These are words used to express action, condition or a state of being i.e. fight, visualize, and be.
Nouns are the words that name a person, place, thing or idea i.e. Chair, item, sausage. Louise, America and England are proper nouns which name specific things.
Pronouns are words used in place of nouns to shorten a repeated noun that has already been mentioned. They are words like it, which, I, who, that, his, herself.
Adjectives are colourful words that add more information to the nouns and pronouns in the sentence i.e. She is a hilarious person!
Adverbs give more information about a verb, adjective or other adverbs i.e. The man ran quickly.
A preposition is essentially a link between an object in a sentence to the rest of the sentence i.e. the vase is on the table.
A conjunction is a word that connects words, or groups of words, to tell something about the relationship between these words i.e. are, and, it.
Interjections are often sentence fragments that indicate emotion or surprise. It can be a word or a short phrase I.e. Stop! This is exactly what I’m going to do, and go back to the more interesting tale of where some of our words came from!
A, B, C …………..
"Writers spend years rearranging 26 letters of the alphabet; it’s enough to make you lose your mind day by day” Richard Price (Novelist).
Originally, the English alphabet began with 30 signs, and was known as the Semitic alphabet. It was used in an ancient Phoenicia around 1600 B.C., and the symbols created were only consonants.
In 1000 B.C., the Greeks twiddled around with it and adapted a shorter version which reassigned some symbols as vowels. Later on the ancient Romans (those who first started the Roman Empire) lived in southern Italy, around where Rome is today. They probably did a lot of trading and fighting with their neighbour, the Greek islands. All of this to-ing and fro-ing resulted in exchanges of culture and the alphabet was one of those exchanges. The Romans then went on to develop their own version of the Greek (Ionic) alphabet which they eventually brought to England, and this is used by many languages today.
Of course, that isn’t the only alphabet used today. There are about 46 different alphabets in use today. Languages of Western Europe, Africa, and the Americas use a modified version of the Latin alphabet. The Cyrillic alphabet, which is used by many countries in Eastern Europe-like Russia, Serbia, and Bulgaria-is based on the ancient Greek alphabet. Modern Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic all have their own alphabets and some are written left to right, while others, right to left.
Where do new words come from?
If you have ever listened to your 15 year old describing a friend as ‘sick’, and rushed to the medicine cabinet, only to realise that this was her cool way of saying she liked the person, then you’ll know that the meanings of words can change from generation to generation. I wanted to know how actual new words were created and added to the dictionary so I checked out: http://grammar.about.com/od/words/a/Etymologywords.htm
This site introduced me to etymology, which tells us where a word came from and what it used to mean. Some new words are partly derived from other languages (borrowed), and others overlap like ‘motor’ and ‘hotel’ creating ‘motel’. The definition I was most interested in was one called ‘Literary and Creative Coinages’. These are the deliciously spontaneous new words bursting forth from our exciting and creative minds. The possibilities are endless! The B.F.G springs to mind:
“I thought all human beans is full of brains, but your head is emptier than a bundongle….”
Other fabulous words from Lewis Caroll like jabberwocky, galumph, and runcible, are equally inviting but sadly, not all of the modgelaristic, boshriflic new words make it to the dictionary. A word has to be sufficiently widespread and well known before it is considered important enough to gain entry into this word bible.
So clearly we have advanced from the hairy caveman dragging us by our hair to the wood fire, indicating that he requires a cooked meal. Our communication with one another is beautifully intricate and fascinating. Words are progressing and expanding every single day, in every single language. Who knows what the future of language will bring? Maybe one day we won’t have to open our mouths to speak? We could become psychic, learn telekinesis, or develop advanced empathic abilities. If we travel to other worlds and meet aliens, we’ll have even more languages and methods of communication to learn! Who knows? I’m ready! Beam me up Scottie I’ve go sooo much to tell you!!!