Essay on the evolution of language in human society


The anthropologist Studies the evolution of language. He must know the language of the field in which he works. Without a working knowledge of local language he cannot succeed in his research work.

The languages of civilized societies are generally taught in the universities. The study of tribal language however, is possible only with the help of a member of a tribe. The study of language starts with the study of its origin and proceeds to the study of its evolution. There are the following important theories about the evolution of language.

1. Inter sectional Theory.


Propounders of this theory believe that language evolved out of stimulations. Many sentiments take the form of gestures, sounds and words when stimulated. Darwin has supported this viewpoint. This view has been generally rejected.

2. Divine Origin Theory.

This is the oldest theory. According to it language has originated and evolved in Divine power. Such has been the explanation of Vedas in India. Most of the religions plead for divine origin and evolution of the language of their scriptures. This however fails to explain the wide variety of language created by the same God.

3. Theory of Roots.


This theory was first presented by Maxmuller Heyse. According to him sound was a natural reaction of man to things and events in his environment. This sound gives rise to roots of words. This theory does not consider the contribution of human brain to the evolution of language.

4. Theory of Evolution.

According to this theory, like all other animals man also used to emit certain sounds in the beginning. Gradually due to the sharpness of his brain he developed language. He developed language by imitation, interjection and symbolism. This theory fails to explain the relation of sound and meaning.

5. Gesture Theory.


According to this theory, in the beginning men made and used to express themselves by means of gestures like dumb persons. Gradually they developed certain sounds which evolved into so many words. This was done by collective decision. Here, it is difficult to understand as to how human beings could take collective decision in the absence of language and words.

6. Theory of Symbolism.

According to this theory men assembled and fixed symbols for different things and event and thus evolved language. It is however, difficult to understand how could people in group communicate to fix symbols in the absence of language.

7. Theory of Yo, ho ho.


According to this theory language has its origin in labour. Labourers emit certain natural sounds which help them in performing labour. These sounds of you, ho etc, gradually developed into words. These words however, do not have any important place in any language. Therefore, it is important to explain the origin of language with particular reference to these sounds.

8. Ding Dong Theory.

According to this theory men imitated sounds emitted by natural objects and animals such as in the case of words like Dazzle, Gazz and Turnder, etc. All the words in any language, however, cannot be explained like this.

9. Onomatopoetic Theory.


According to this theory words have their origin in imitation of the sounds emitted by natural objects, animals and birds, etc. This theory fails to explain the origin of majority of words.

10. Synthetic Theory.

According to this theory, as is clear by its name, almost all the above mentioned theories have some element of truth, which is arrived by a synthesis of all these theories. This synthetic theory is the most widely accepted theory today. This will be clear by the following discussion of the elements of language, language and culture, power of words, importance of language and development of language in human child.

Elements of language

Social interaction depends upon social stimulation. It is necessary that there should he some direct relation between two individuals. Social stimulation is of two types, which are as follows:

1. Primary social stimulation.

Primary social stimulation is that in which individuals directly and mutually stimulate each other. The main among these are gestures, emotional facial expressions, postures and movements, interjections, articulate speech, physiognomy or facial expression in repose and laughter.

2. Secondary social stimulation.

This type of social stimulation comprises those forms in which the relationships between individuals is of an indirect nature.

At this stage, having got over the preliminary description of the various forms of social stimulation it would be proper to go into details about them. Hence, as follows:

1. Gestures.

As a general rule almost every individual has recourse to gestures in the course of conversation in expressing or clarifying his idea. A dumb man may talk only through the media of gestures. Even the normal individual may use a variety of gestures such as winking, lowering the eyes, glaring, raising the hand, distorting the mouth, stamping the feet, furrowing the brow, etc., in order to give expression to his feelings and emotions.

Evidently, all the various physical organs work in the process of manifesting emotions through the media of gestures. It is often said of women that their eyes talk more eloquently than their tongue.

They may even make their hands talk. And it is said of the legendary Sherlock Holmes, the wonder detective, that he could discover the truth or untruth of a statement by merely studying the manner of moving the lips of the speaker. This tendency to make the most of the body is fully exploited in literature where the signs and gestures made by the eyes for expressing some subtle motions are a regular stock in trade.

All port has classified gestures according to their respective bases and their nature. The following are its various classes:

(i) Emotional gestures.

As a evident from the name, these gestures give expression to emotions and they are also born out of emotions. Some examples of this type of gestures would be grinding of the teeth, stamping the feet, making fists of the hands and shaking the head violently.

There are different gestures for different emotions and in specific cultures these gestures differ from individual to individual within very narrow limits. And from these gestures, it is possible to deduce the internal emotional state of the individual.

(ii) Demonstrative gestures.

This particular type includes those gestures by means of which an individual points to something. For example, the finger is used to point out things or persons. People raise the arm to indicate a particular route. Similarly, the eyes are also used for the purpose of expression.

(iii) Graphic gestures.

Herein are included all those forms of gestures whereby imitation is effected. For example, it is not necessary to call someone fat, since the same effect can be achieved by making an expansive gesture of flinging the arms out, or by twiddling the finger to point out the thinness of a person, or to draw in the cheeks to indicate an undernourished person and other such caricaturing.

This gesture serves a dual purpose in as much as it not only helps to describe the individual but also to form a picture of him in the mind of the listener.

(iv) Symbolic gestures.

Many of the thoughts and feelings of the individuals are expressed by him through the use of symbols. When a gesture is used to indicate these symbols then it is called a symbolic gesture. One very good example of this would be the dance form called bally in which a story or incident is enacted on the stage in the form of a dance. The dance rhythm, the various parts of the body and the expressions on the face express the incident to which expression is to be given.

(v) Habitual gestures.

In some cases it is seen that people develop a habit of making gestures and then they keep on repeating it from a sheer force of habit rather than any inherent necessity. Evidently, it is not possible to make any sense from such gestures though they may mislead any person who is not acquainted with the person who makes them. For example, some people keep on furrowing the forehead, or moving the shoulders while some others have a habit of shaking the head.

(vi) Autistic gestures.

These gestures can be said to be autistic in two respects-one, that the person who makes the gesture is not aware of his intention in so doing while in the second respect the person observing them cannot make any head or tail out of them. In order to find out their meaning it is necessary to analyse the case seated in the unconscious.

The function is performed by psychologists and psychiatrists. Some of the gestures of this kind are biting nails with the teeth, biting pencil or any other objects held in the hand, etc. It is generally believed that such gestures arise from some mental conflict or restlessness.

2. Emotional facial expression.

It is a commonly known fact that people can guess the mental state of the individual from his face. It is a proverbial saying that the face is an index of the mind. Not many people can successfully conceal their emotions because their feelings are expressed by their face.

The facial expression is altered when a different emotion becomes prominent in the mind. For example, the face lights up in happiness, becomes elongated and haggard in distress, red in embarrassment, etc.

3. Postures and Movements.

Posture implies the position of the body and its various parts such as standing upright, or standing bent, lying in horizontal position, preparing to run, etc. Movements of the body include such activities as running, shivering, falling, etc.

These different postures and movements also perform the function of gesture and serve to indicate some definite state of mind. For example, standing straight and upright indicates the intention of opposing another person.

4. Interjections.

The emotions of awe, fear or wonder spread on the face of an individual indicate his mental state concerning some object, person or circumstance.

5. Articulate speech.

Man uses the instrument of speech in order to express his feeling and even resorts to oratory. This mode of expression, viz., and language makes adequate use of symbols and gestures.

6. Physiognomy or facial expression in response.

The expression on an individual’s face even when he is not excited by any emotion seems to manifest his feelings.

7. Laughter. Laughter is a social stimulus.

We feel like laughing when we observe a person who is amused but what is even more amusing is the eccentricity of other individuals. While laughter is a means of relieving internal tensions, it is also a mode of expressing one’s feeling for another. The meaning that is inherent in laughter is derived from the context in which it arises.

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