Why are we clattering away at these plastic keys, reaching out to people whom we have never met, and in all probability never will meet? Why are vast multitudes of intelligent beings spending precious hours of their short lives trying desperately to convey thoughts and ideas in such a fashion? Did you ever stop typing long enough to really think about what you are doing and why you are doing it?
It is easy to see how language came about. Primitive man, the hunter gatherer, capable of making vocal sounds. Survival in the dangerous wilderness dictated that some of the first noises that our ancestors made would be sounds of warning to alert our clan to peril. Many animals make warning sounds when a predator is near. But many animals also make sounds to their infants to calm and sooth them. Perhaps cooing to our babies to tell them that they are not alone is as old as sounds of mortal threat.
We evolved, and our sounds evolved with us. We named the objects around us by attaching a sound equivalent to each one. That is a rock, that is a tree, that is a saber tooth tiger. That concept progressed with our ability to make more types of sounds. We strung the sounds together to form more complex meanings. That rock would make a good weapon. That tree has the best branches to make a spear. That saber tooth tiger is getting ready to pounce on you! And this ability to pass on information became the most powerful tool humans have ever invented. We could pass on knowledge. We could make plans. But perhaps most importantly, we could convey emotions and share feelings.
I have a tendency to hum when I hug someone. Maybe it is not so much a hum as it is a purr. It is entirely instinctual, as it must be with cats and tigers. It is a primeval vocalization that says; ‘I feel safe with you, I feel warmth from you, I feel a bond.’
These early sounds we emitted to let an infant know that it was cared for, or to show another person that they could trust us, have evolved into a multitude of complex languages. And many, myself included, might make the argument that the highest levels that language has reached in all our history are the love poems and songs that have so moved us over the millenniums. Love is a powerful emotion, and it is, when you get right down to it, what allows us to continue as a species. Love, after all, is what leads to babies, and there never seems to be a shortage of those.
This post about language seems, as is so often the case with me when I try to use language to express a simple thought, to have taken on a life of its own. I hope you will forgive me if I continue with these thoughts, using more of our most marvelous invention; ‘words.’
Please join me for a ‘part 2’ post later on today. Thank you.