How Language Develops
The ability to speak and communicate in a manner that make people understand each other is one of the distinctive attributes that make human beings different from other species. The human population all over the world is composed of more than 7000 languages (Chomsky & Özsoy, 2009). But the question is: How did all these languages develop? Many scholars have come up with different theories and ideas of how language developed. For instance, Noam Chomsky, a well-known linguist, appreciates that human language developed from genetic mutation (Chomsky, 2015). He backs this claim with different theories.
Human languages developed from genetic mutation. Noam Chomsky (2015) claimed that before the exodus of human race from Africa, genetic mutation took place in the body of a single human whom he referred to as Prometheus. The Merge process was therefore created in the mind of this Prometheus. From this single person, mutation took place and led to the development of almost all the 7000 languages that Pinker (2009) claims are being spoken in the world today. But why are these languages different if they came from a single mutation process? French is so different from English and so is Albanian. Chomsky claims that the difference in all these languages is brought about with differences in external environments where people speaking these languages live. People live in different parts of the world and are there adapted to different environmental features (Chomsky & Özsoy, 2009). Their interactions and other social activities in these places also differ and that is why their languages differ. The other cause of difference in language is that the genes were passed down to different kids who passed them over to their kids. In the process, changes occurred. Finally, languages keep changing. The interactions of different groups of people gave birth to different languages (Pinker, 2009). For instance the Caribbean English is different from the English spoken in Wales. This has been attributed to the high mingling rate of different groups of people in Carribean region than in Wales. Therefore, mutation, as Chomsky claims is the mother of all languages in the world.
Chomsky expounded that the concept of Merge came into place when two objects in the mind came together to form a single and bigger object that functions as one. The mind of a child for instance can begin by conceptualizing a single word like “dad”. The mind then realizes that this is a noun and after some time, it also gets to know a verb such as “come” (Chomsky & Özsoy, 2009). The mind can therefore join these two words in a single sentence of “dad come”. After some period of time, the mind develops, learns and emblazes more phrases such as “late”. When this is added to the first sentence, it gives the sentence a different meaning; “Dad come late”. More nouns can still be learned and be added to this sentence structure. The mind can learn the word today and if this is added to the sentence, it will form a sentence with a totally different meaning. This will be dad come home today. Therefore, the concept of Merge can easily be realized in the way the mind learned each word and linked them together into one large sentence (Chomsky, 2015). Chomsky furthermore explains that the mind merged these words with consideration to grammar. He asserts that in the first six to twelve years of the development of a child, the grammar is usually good.
The concept of merge occurred in the mind of Prometheus in the first place. Chomsky (2015) claims that before this merge took place, human being were using other communication types such as gestures and cries. Therefore, when merge happened in the mind of Prometheus, it made it easy for him to start constructing sentences in his mind. He started with simple phrases and words and then into complex sentences. Since Prometheus was the first to be able to come up with language, it was still hard to communicate this language to other people since they had little knowledge about it. They in fact kept using their gestures and cries as a means of communication. However, since these genes were in Prometheus, they were inherited by his children. He started talking to them from that tender edge. The children then passed this Merge gene to their children and this trend went on. The result of this is that people who had this gene came to dominate the African continent. And as the population of people who could speak stated increasing, it also made those who did not have this Merge gene to learn and use the common language that was being used. So when people moved from Africa to other parts of the world, they spoke differently because of their environmental differences (Chomsky, 2009). Therefore Merge occurred in the mind of Prometheus in the first place before being inherited to his children and further to their children’s children.
Many theories and explanation have been brought forth by Chomsky in his efforts to illuminate more light in the concept of how language developed. The first theory is the theory of universal grammar (Berwick & Chomsky, 2016). According to Chomsky, many human languages follow same patterns and rules. Most of these languages demand that a certain type of grammatical rules need to be followed both when speaking and when writing. For instance, a common rule is starting a sentence with a capital letter and finishing it with a full stop. In as much as some differences may exist however, there are very little as compared to the large number of common rules. The second explanation of that Chomsky brought forth is that people are born with the capacity to speak (Chomsky & Özsoy, 2009). Here Chomsky expounds that the ability to speak is already in every person. That language is in us and we will only speak the language that we are exposed to. Those who are exposed to English speaking environments will speak English while those who are exposed to Zulu speaking environments will speak Zulu. Human beings have the need to learn the language that they are exposed to and that is the reason why children can start speaking at their tender age. Finally, the last evidence that explains the development of language is that the acquisition of language takes place during stages of development. As early as twelve month, a child usually starts learning words and pronunciation of his or her language. And as the development goes on, the child keeps learning more about that language that he or she is exposed to. After around 24 months, the child will have the ability to construct sentences and call out for what he or she needs (Chomsky, 2009). If the language gene was not in-born, the child would not have the ability to learn any language at an early age as twelve month.
It is clear that language is what makes us different from other creatures who cannot communicate by speaking but through gestures such as those of baboons, songs as in birds and cries. Human beings have more than 7000 languages spoken in different parts of the world. Noam Chomsky has claimed that human language developed from genetic mutation. He backs this claim with different theories and explanations such as the theory of universal grammar, people are born with the ability to speak and language acquisition take place in different development stages.
Berwick, R. C., & Chomsky, N. (2016). Why only us: Language and evolution. The MIT Press
Chomsky, N. (2015). Aspects of the theory of syntax. The MIT Press
Chomsky, N. (2009). Cartesian linguistics: A chapter in the history of rationalist thought. Cambridge University Press.
Chomsky, N., & Özsoy, A. S. (2009). Noam Chomsky on language and cognition. Muenchen: LINCOM Europa.
Pinker, S. (2009). Language learnability and language development, with new commentary by the author. Vol. 7. Harvard University Press.