THE WORLD’S FIRST WORD: A PERSONAL GRUNT?
An acid test for an Indian mother (who is very similar to Amy Chua’s Tiger mother) would be, when asked in public, “do you remember your child’s first uttered word?”
You’d better know!
Even if somewhere between sleeping out of sheer exhaustion or taking an hour off watching a movie when the child is with the care giver, the mother is unerringly expected to know this, delight in it and exchange notes. The incoherence of the first word itself , that could just be a “buh” or an “aach” notwithstanding, or the precocious ‘amma’ that rhymes notoriously with the sound of the baby’s crying itself, you ought to know.
This matter of historical importance may spoil your family tea party.
The world has a far more lenient view of the word that was the first word ever uttered.
Because no one really knows! We have said earlier in this blog that modern language is an evolved phenomenon, and must have arisen between 90000 and 40000 years ago, while sound and sign language could date 4mn years ago.
Here’s what could have happened
- Unlike skulls and vocal tracts, language can be preserved only by the writing prevalent at that time.
- Sumerian cuneiform is the earliest known writing system. Its origins can be traced back to about 8,000 BC and it developed from the pictographs and other symbols used to represent trade goods and livestock on clay tablets. Other early writing forms are Egyptian Heiroglyphs ( 4000BC) and Proto-Elamite (3000 BC) found across what is today Iran. On the chronological scale, all these are very recent developments…just about 10000 years of history. The spoken language happened before this.
- There are more than 5 to 7000 languages in the world. They evolved in the form of sounds, which meant something specific. By the theory of natural selection, the sounds that were more useful, survived, while the sounds that were not very useful, got discarded.
- It is easy to believe that the world’s first spoken word could’ve just been something of a ‘grunt’, a personal experiment carried out by our ancestors while trying out what they all could do with their mouths. Grunts, gesturing, and some specific sounds to “point out to” directions, objects and people could be the origin of all our eloquence.
It really could be as simple as that.