Question Cabin Wednesdays: What are the Origins of Language?

Linguist Danny Hieber, Editor in Rosetta Stone’s Endangered Language Program answers a language origins question from one of our Facebook Fans, part of our Question Cabin Wednesdays Series.

Transcript below:

My name is Danny Hieber. I’m the Editor for the Endangered Language Program here at Rosetta Stone, and recently we had a Facebook Fan ask, “What are the origins of language, where did languages come from, did they all originate from one original language?” This is actually one of the questions that linguists know the least about. As a matter of fact, in 1866 the Linguistic Society of Paris banned any discussion about language origins from their society for about 100 years because it was such a hot topic. To this day, there are many different theories of language origin. Historical linguistics looks at how language has changed and evolved over time, and this started in 1866 when Sir William Jones-actually that was 1788–when Sir William Jones discovered that most of the Romance languages seemed to have been descended from or related to the Sanskrit languages, and this sparked a huge furor of investigation into language origins and how different languages were related. And the discussion and the theorizing has never stopped since. In fact, it wasn’t until maybe the past 25 years or so that this became a topic that linguists felt comfortable discussing in public again without getting angry at each other too much. But it does, there are different theories. You have the Tower of Babel theory, in which there was one original biblical language from which all others split. And different scholars have at different times tried to theorize what that language might have looked like or which language it stemmed from. Other theories suggest that there was a natural process of evolution and that language was fully evolved about 40,000 years ago and has continued evolving since. So it’s a really hot topic–definitely a fun one for linguists to debate.

Allison Harper

Allison is the manager of social media marketing at Rosetta Stone. She holds a B.A. from Harvard University. She lives in D.C. She retains her Texas "y'all."
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