Sta Hungry Stay Foolish

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

A blog by Leon Oudejans

The Origin of Languages (2) and The “not invented here” syndrome (3)

The study into our Origin reflects one of our deepest desires of knowledge: the birth of a human, the birth/origin of mankind, the birth/origin of our Earth and of our Universe, and even what could have predated the birth of our Universe. This quest for understanding is deeply rooted in mankind.

The oldest pillar of this study is based on visual evidence (eg, archeology, astrology, astronomy). More recent ones are based on genetics and sounds (eg, linguistics, interstellar space). The scientific challenge is to get the same results while using different sources (ie, genetics, sounds, visual).

Carbon-dating of organic material gives accurate results. Genetic dating allows “geneticists to look back in time and trace the history of past populations from analysis of the DNA of people alive today” (NYT). Linguistic dating is a rather new discipline. There was a long-held belief by linguistics that the origin of spoken language only dates back some 5,000 or 10,000 years. (NYT-1NYT-2)

On 15 April 2011, Quentin Atkinson published his rather revolutionary research in Science Magazine claiming that “an origin of modern languages predating the African exodus 50,000 to 70,000 years ago puts complex language alongside the earliest archaeological evidence of symbolic culture in Africa 80,000 to 160,000 years ago” (Science).

Obviously, this research got a lot of attention (eg, NYTWSJ) and was also severely contested (eg, Max Planck InstituteNatureScience). NYT 2011: “A researcher analyzing the sounds in languages spoken around the world has detected an ancient signal that points to southern Africa as the place where modern human language originated. The finding fits well with the evidence from fossil skulls and DNA that modern humans originated in Africa”.

NYT: “It also implies, though does not prove, that modern language originated only once, an issue of considerable controversy among linguists. The detection of such an ancient signal in language is surprising. Because words change so rapidly, many linguists think that languages cannot be traced very far back in time. The oldest language tree so far reconstructed, that of the Indo-European family, which includes English, goes back 9,000 years at most“. And suddenly, the “Not Invented Here syndrome is back again! Given the dating of civilisations, languages must follow.

The timing of the oldest language is rather crucial as there is little doubt that language is essential for migrating from hunter/gatherers to advanced civilisations (eg, my 23 March 2015 blog). In my view, there is also little doubt that ice ages and their reversal (eg, interglacial period, Great Flood) mark the natural ending – and new beginning – of human civilisations, including languages.

Since the start of mankind, some 3 million years ago, the earliest of humans have tried several times to expand from Africa into Asia and Europe (Out of Africa I and II). Each time these earliest human civilisations were not advanced enough to survive the glacial periods in Asia and Europe. Only areas near the Equator (eg, Kenya) allowed human survival during these Ice Ages. The last expansion was successful, some 60,000 to 125,000 years ago. Also see my 2015 blogs of 26 April and 22 June.

According to a 2016 Bloomberg article, it’s the first time ever that humans have been able to delay the next Ice Age with some 100,000 years. Every cloud (eg, global warming) has a silver lining.

Kate Bush – Cloudbusting (1984) – artist, lyrics, Wiki-1, Wiki-2


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