It is commonly assumed that modern languages evolved from grunts and groans into the complex forms we know today. Over the eons, vocabulary expanded and grammatical structures became increasingly more organized. Yet the history of modern language points towards the very opposite. The complex grammatical structure of language tends to decays over time.
English is the newest of the modern languages. It emerged some 800 years ago after the Norman invasion of Britain, a synthesis of French and Anglo Saxon, with its primarily German roots. In French, nouns have gender, either masculine and feminine. In German nouns have three genders: masculine, feminine and neuter. But in English nouns have lost their gender (apart from a few exceptions such as ships being referred to as “she”.
Similarly the grammatical case of nouns has been lost in English. In German nouns have four cases: nominative (subject), accusative (object), dative (indirect object), and genitive (possessive). We do still have these cases in pronouns: who, whom; they, them; she, her. But otherwise nouns donâ€™t change their spelling according to case.
If we go back even further to ancient Greek, we find five cases. And in Latin there were six cases. Going back even further to Sanskrit, which is considered to be the root of Indo-European languages, we find 8 cases. The older the language, the more cases there were.
We see a similar trend with verbs. In French and German verbs change their endings according to the personâ€”first, second or third person, singular or pluralâ€”e.g nous arrivons, vous arrivez, ils arrivent. And the same happens in German, ancient Greek, Latin and Sanskrit. There are remnants of this in English where we add an “s” for the third person singularâ€”she comesâ€”but other than that verb endings don’t change. Except in irregular verbs such as “to be” â€“ I am, you are, she is.
In short, grammatical structure appears to decline over time, losing a lot of its complex rules and decaying into simpler and simpler forms. Left to human beings and the passage of time, language does not evolve into more and more complex forms; the evidence suggests the exact opposite. The most complex grammatical rules are in the oldest known languages.
So the question is: How did these complex grammatical structures arise? Where did the eight cases of nouns in Sanskrit come from? Or the variety of verb endings?
I have posed this question to various linguists, historians, and intellectuals of various persuasions, but no one has been able to give me a satisfactory answer.
Some schools of Indian philosophy maintain that Sanskrit was divinely inspired. And there might possibly be some truth in this. Erich von DÃ¤niken and others believe that thousands of years ago humanity was visited by ETs, who appeared as gods to the people of the time. He proposes that they interbred with human beings, jump starting civilization. However, as we now begin to map our genome and those of related species, we find no evidence of any such intervention; there are no sudden gaps or intrusions of new genes.
On the other hand, when we consider the origin of modern languages there does indeed seem to be a gap, a missing link. Could it be that visiting ETs noticed we were beginning to use language, and decided the time was right to introduce to us a sophisticated language with a complex grammar. If so, and if we ever do come in contact with an extraterrestrial civilization, we may do well to try communicating with them in Sanskrit rather the modern English into which it has devolved.
One Reply to “Where Did Language Come From?”
Peter – So a question about this for me has been… – is this language case complexity reducing over time then a matter of the gradual erosion of relationship to the nuance of how the media (language) expression changes with context? If so why? Is there some symptomatic loss of the intimacy of such nuance that has us losing value in such tenses, cases and genders?
I suspect it all resides in how the present nowness in time and verbal speech naturally tended to retain some contextual ‘holos’ in its embodiment. That means the original languages, as well expressed utterance, carried in them these contextual conditional complexities as a way of having language ‘naturalized’ to the focus of the direct ongoing present experience. This way every part actually bespoketh the whole sentence act, just like in a hologram. However, I suspect in this instance there was a migration from physical visually rooted language semantics in a manner that the communication ‘wave function’ would have cross entrainment between all its ‘entangling’ components. Maybe there might be something called ‘holosemantics’ after all at play here, or way back when! 🙂
If so, then is it possible, given how inseparable those hyperconscious observer knew themselves to be in connection to the observed, and ALSO inseparable the process of observing was indeed always functioning in an inseparable way? Did the inherent echoing architecture of experience itself evolve and extrude sound language as a non-arbitrary mapping? In other words, was the old saw of vedic thought and sound being accurate cymatic mapping of form AND thought – and so in its earliest origins, was not even really symbolic at all? That could really holds some scared water! Cheers, Bill