If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Where Did Language Come From? | Peter Russell

It is commonly assumed that modern languages evolved from grunts and groans into the complex forms we know today. Over the eons, vocabulary expanded and grammatical structures became increasingly more organized. Yet the history of modern language points towards the very opposite. The complex grammatical structure of language tends to decays over time.

English is the newest of the modern languages. It emerged some 800 years ago after the Norman invasion of Britain, a synthesis of French and Anglo Saxon, with its primarily German roots. In French, nouns have gender, either masculine and feminine. In German nouns have three genders: masculine, feminine and neuter. But in English nouns have lost their gender (apart from a few exceptions such as ships being referred to as "she".

Similarly the grammatical case of nouns has been lost in English. In German nouns have four cases: nominative (subject), accusative (object), dative (indirect object), and genitive (possessive). We do still have these cases in pronouns: who, whom; they, them; she, her. But otherwise nouns don't change their spelling according to case.

If we go back even further to ancient Greek, we find five cases. And in Latin there were six cases. Going back even further to Sanskrit, which is considered to be the root of Indo-European languages, we find 8 cases. The older the language, the more cases there were.

We see a similar trend with verbs. In French and German verbs change their endings according to the person - first, second or third person, singular or plural - e.g nous arrivons, vous arrivez, ils arrivent. And the same happens in German, ancient Greek, Latin and Sanskrit. There are remnants of this in English where we add an "s" for the third person singular - she comes - but other than that verb endings don't change. Except in irregular verbs such as "to be" - I am, you are, she is.

In short, grammatical structure appears to decline over time, losing a lot of its complex rules and decaying into simpler and simpler forms. Left to human beings and the passage of time, language does not evolve into more and more complex forms; the evidence suggests the exact opposite. The most complex grammatical rules are in the oldest known languages.

So the question is: How did these complex grammatical structures arise? Where did the eight cases of nouns in Sanskrit come from? Or the variety of verb endings?

I have posed this question to various linguists, historians, and intellectuals of various persuasions, but no one has been able to give me a satisfactory answer.

Some schools of Indian philosophy maintain that Sanskrit was divinely inspired. And there might possibly be some truth in this. Erich von Däniken and others believe that thousands of years ago humanity was visited by ETs, who appeared as gods to the people of the time. He proposes that they interbred with human beings, jump starting civilization. However, as we now begin to map our genome and those of related species, we find no evidence of any such intervention; there are no sudden gaps or intrusions of new genes.

On the other hand, when we consider the origin of modern languages there does indeed seem to be a gap, a missing link. Could it be that visiting ETs noticed we were beginning to use language, and decided the time was right to introduce to us a sophisticated language with a complex grammar. If so, and if we ever do come in contact with an extraterrestrial civilization, we may do well to try communicating with them in Sanskrit rather the modern English into which it has devolved.

Source: Where Did Language Come From?

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