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

Ask-A-Linguist Message Details

Subject: 'Correct' language in pre-literate societies
Question: Is there any concept of ''correct'' language in pre-literate societies where spoken communication must be understood as a series of sounds rather than words? Is there any concept of grammar, even if only on an instinctive level?
Reply: Writing is new on the human scene (about 4000 years) and language is much much older. Until about 100 years ago, there were more people who could not read and write than who could. Not all languages put gaps between words like English does (for example -- in rather different ways -- Thai doesn't and Chinese doesn't). The reason some languages do have gaps between words is because human languages seem to have a concept of 'word' as a unit of grammar. Grammar existed before writing. Humans who are unable to read and write are just as intelligent and thoughtful as those of us who can. They are not just 'instinctive'. Also, human societies are very prone to stratification. Many pre-literate societies of which we know something had extremely complex social structures and rules for language behaviour. You can be sure that 50,000 years ago, our ancestors were talking about what were good and bad ways of speaking, and expressing horror at the way the younger generation used words. Anthea
Reply From: Anthea Fraser Gupta      click here to access email
Date: 13-Oct-2012
Other Replies:
  1. Re: 'Correct' language in pre-literate societies    James L Fidelholtz     (07-Oct-2012)
  2. Re: 'Correct' language in pre-literate societies    Henrik Joergensen     (08-Oct-2012)
  3. Re: 'Correct' language in pre-literate societies    Geoffrey Richard Sampson     (15-Oct-2012)

Back to Most Recent Questions