Featured Linguist!

Jost Gippert: Our Featured Linguist!

"Buenos dias", "buenas noches" -- this was the first words in a foreign language I heard in my life, as a three-year old boy growing up in developing post-war Western Germany, where the first gastarbeiters had arrived from Spain. Fascinated by the strange sounds, I tried to get to know some more languages, the only opportunity being TV courses of English and French -- there was no foreign language education for pre-teen school children in Germany yet in those days. Read more



Donate Now | Visit the Fund Drive Homepage

Amount Raised:

$34674

Still Needed:

$40326

Can anyone overtake Syntax in the Subfield Challenge ?

Grad School Challenge Leader: University of Washington


Publishing Partner: Cambridge University Press CUP Extra Publisher Login
amazon logo
More Info

Ask-A-Linguist Message Details

Subject: Age of a language
Question: How is the age of a language, without any written evidence,
determined?

Reply: Hi, James,

Aside from the 'exception' noted by Dr. Pyatt (another would
perhaps be so-called 'mixed languages' -- arguably a similar
phenomenon to creole/pidgins; note also that both these phenomena
could be dated in principle just as far back as the [various]
languages which contributed to the mixed or pidgin language), a
somewhat separate question is whether human language developed
only once (presumably in Africa) or many times independently, and
in different places. (A very difficult question adroitly
sidestepped by Dr. Pyatt.)

The bottom line here is that modern human language is generally
accepted by most linguists to have first developed *at least*
50,000 years ago. Most would say more than 100,000 years before
the present (B. P.) and some would postulate 500 millennia ago or
more. These last, however, base their supposition principally on
tools having been found associated with early fossils. This
argument loses its force with the discoveries of tool use among
some of our primate relatives, and their teaching by mothers to
youngsters in at least some cases, and with all current
indications pointing to there being *no* (count them, no) cases
of other primates having acquired a truly human-like language.
{Please note that I am not claiming that other primates are not
intelligent. Many of them are more intelligent in some areas than
we are. But they cannot speak, period (because they have no
pharynx, but that discussion is for another time). That they
cannot speak is *probably* why they have never developed the
specialized brain areas specific for language (for example,
Wernicke's area), though this also would require a long, separate
discussion.

The bottom line is that, arguably with the exception of some of
the pidgin/creole languages we have mentioned, *no* language can
be traced to its ultimate origins.

In my view, there is some evidence to indicate that human
language developed at some time after the development of the
pharynx, which fossil evidence indicates must have been after
350,000 BP and before 100,000 BP, from when the first fossils
like modern man are dated.

Jim

James L. Fidelholtz
Graduate Program in Language Sciences
Instituto de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades
Benem'erita Universidad Aut'onoma de Puebla, M'EXICO

Reply From: James L Fidelholtz      click here to access email
 
Date: 24-Oct-2012
 
Other Replies:
  1. Re: Age of a language    Geoffrey Richard Sampson     (24-Oct-2012)
  2. Re: Age of a language    Elizabeth J Pyatt     (24-Oct-2012)
  3. Re: Age of a language    M J Hardman     (24-Oct-2012)
  4. Re: Age of a language    Anthea Fraser Gupta     (27-Oct-2012)

Back to Most Recent Questions