The world’s first language

What did the world’s first language sound like?

The simple answer is that we just don’t know for sure. There could also have been multiple first languages.

But we can make some guesses based on what we know about how languages work. Creoles are often described as languages starting over. They lack complex conjugation, irregular verbs or difficult conjugation. They tend to be isolating. Creoles are languages that came about when a pidgin evolves into a full language. The first language would probably have looked a lot like a creole.

What do we know about the humans that spoke the first language? Linguists estimate that language emerged between 100 000 to 50 000 years ago. The first human speakers would have been extremely similar to us biologically, since 100 000 years is not a long time in the evolutionary time scale.

The humans who first spoke language must have had the mental capabilities to handle language. All humans, outside of those with disorders, can speak a language. This means there must be something in our biology that makes it easy for us to learn our first language.

This is important because it shows that language is part of what it means to be human. Other species just can’t manage to do what we do with language. Animals can be taught commands and even some simple concepts like colour, but none can even approach the linguistic abilities of a 5 year old.

Before we discuss more about how languages might have developed, let us talk a little about what language actually is.

Language is a system of communication that utilises arbitrary utterances (or signs in the case of sign language) to construct arbitrary long sentences (made up multiple of these utterances) that carry meaning.

Language is said to be “productive”. New forms and ideas can be created which adds to the expressive power of the language.

Imagine a situation where you have a time travel device. You go back in time and kill some famous historical figure, William Conqueror for instance. You have now changed history. You could now say you have zayped him.

Zayp means to go back in time and remove something, thus changing history. I zayped Hitler and there was no Second World War. I zayped Ghengis Khan, and there was no need to build the Great Wall. I have just created a word, used it and you understood.

Animals communicate all the time, but their communication system is not productive. They can say “I am sad” “I am hurt” “I need to go take a piss” “Don’t come any closer!” “Stay away from this house” and a few other things. They definitely cannot say, “I really hope some day we will have world peace”.

Language is also “arbitrary” meaning that any word or sign can come to represent any concept and these words or signs, as long as they obey grammatical norms, can be used to form any sentence.

Animals can says some very complex things, like bees can tell other bees where nectar is. But that is all they can say. They can’t talk about how they really enjoy reading linguistics articles where people come up with new words and use them.

Another really important part of human language, and this is more about psychology than the actual syntax of language, is displacement. Humans can talk about things not there.

You can teach an ape how to sign “banana”, “apple”, “mango” and a few other signs. Place a banana, apple and mango in front of an ape, ask them to pick one and they will give you their choice. But if their favourite is mango, they will only answer mango if there is a mango in front of them.

Whether this is true or not, I can say that the weather in Helsinki is very nice today and now you are thinking about Helsinki. Animals can’t do this.

Productivity, arbitrariness, and displacement all require a certain level of intelligence. What happened once all the prerequisites were in place to the emergence of language, we can’t say for sure, but again we can guess.

Humans are very good pattern matchers. If I draw a purple pineapple, and call it a zanka, and then I show you a picture of a purple pineapple in another scene, and ask you what fruit is in the picture, you can answer “zanka”. You have linked the word “zanka” with the concept of a purple pineapple.

So the first step in language was probably assigning arbitrary utterances to certain things. Ugg, the cavemen, would have gone over to an apple and said “muk”. His friend would have given him a quizzical look and he would have repeated “muk! muk!”. Now his friend repeats “muk!”. Now we have a word for apple. These two cavemen understand that whenever one of them says “muk”, they are refering to an apple.

But what if the next day the one caveman sees a banana, does he say “muk” or does he come up with a new word? Maybe he just says “muk” again and now “muk” means “fruit” instead of just “apple”. Over time they come up with vocabulary and share it with their neighbours. This probably happens at various points in time amongst all human communities of the time.

Next they probably invented verbs. One caveman is holding an apple and the other motions toward himself. “sa! sa!” He wants the apple. The other gives the apple. The next day he says “sa” again with the same result. Now they have a word for “give”.

Once humans had the mental capability to imagine what the other might be communicating, and then they started accompanying actions with sounds, humans probably would have quickly started building up a language.

How do we get from “muk! sa!” to
“To be or not to be, that is the question.
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer 1750
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them.”?
A very long time with a whole bunch of developments in between.

Conjugations (the process of adding endings to verbs) probably evolved over time as a sluring of a word following a verb.

The Proto Indo European (the great grandfather of English) word for “am” is *h₁ésmi. The star indicates that we do not have documented evidence of it, but have reconstructed it based on how words change over time. We look at modern languages and use historical linguistics to rewind the clock.

h₁ésmi became *immi in Proto Germanic (the grandfather of English), then “eom” in Old English and finally “am” in Middle and Modern English

To be
I am
You are
He is

“am” has nothing in common with “are” and “is”. But in Proto Indo European, they did.

To be in Proto Indo European
*h₁ésmi (First person singular – I)
*h₁ési (Second person singular – You)
*h₁ésti (Third person singular – He / she / it)

You can see that they all start with h₁é and just have bits added to them (btw, h₁ is a breathy sound called a laryngeal but because no Indo Europeans exist today, we don’t really know what sound it actually was, so we just write h₁).

Over time each word got pronounced differently and eventually morphhed into the words we have today. Just so you know, “are” does not come from *h₁ési (it actually comes from Proto-Indo-European *er- which means to lift or move) but “is” does come from *h₁ésti.

And this all started when some caveman somewhere decided to make a weird sound with his mouth and someone else guessed that he was trying to communicate. The rest as they say, is history 🙂

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Crimean Tatar Introduction

Crimean Tatar Introduction
By Naoki Watanabe

Crimean Tatars are a Sunni Muslim and Turkic ethnicity indigenous to Crimea and actively trying to reassert their culture there. The people are often called “Tatar” and this leads to confusion with the actual ethnic group known as the Tatars (or Volga Tatars), who live in Tatarstan, and while related to Crimean Tatars (as they’re both Sunni Muslim and Turkic), are different as Tatars speak a language from the Uralo-Caspian branch of the Kypchak group of Turkic languages while Crimean Tatars speak a language from the Ponto-Caspian group and because Crimean Tatars have had more influences from Turks and Ukrainians while Tatars have had more interactions with the peoples of the Volga—such as the Udmurts, Mari, Erzyans, and Mokshans (the term “Tatar” or “Tartar” has also been used to denote several other ethnic groups incorrectly such as the Kalmyks and Manchus; Crimean Tatars and their language have also been erroneously referred to as “Crimean Turkish”).

Although Crimea has been controlled by numerous powers throughout its long history, the Crimean Tatars were the ones who succeeded in giving the region its current common name (“Crimea” comes from the word Qırım) and have influenced many topographic names (e.g. the name of Crimea’s most famous city, Yalta, is taken directly from Crimean). Their culture and language has been influenced by several groups in different ways which has led to variations in both which can be seen in the three sub-ethnicities: the Tats, (who make up 55% of Crimeans and whose dialect is the language’s standard), the Yalıboyu (who make up 30% of the population and speak a heavily Turkish-influenced dialect), and the Noğay (who make up 15% of the population and speak a more explicitly Kypchak language). The Crimean Tatar language has about 450,000 speakers and is considered endangered.

Crimean Tatar is unique amongst the Turkic languages because it’s been seen as both a member of the Kypchak group of Turkic languages (which includes Kazakh, Tatar, and Bashkir), and the Oghuz group (which includes Turkish, Gagauz, and Turkmen). Although Crimean Tatar is nowadays usually seen as a Kypchak language, it has had heavy influences from Oghuz languages (especially Turkish), which are most prominent in the Yalıboyu dialect. An example of this is in the words for “goodbye” which are “Sağlıqnen qalıñız” (said by person leaving) and “Sağlıqnen barıñız” (said by person staying) in the Tat dialect, but are “Oşçakal” (said by the person leaving) and “Küle küle” (said by the person staying) in the Yalıboyu dialect (in Turkish, the words for “goodbye” are “Hoşçakal” and “Güle güle”).

There are three alphabets for the language: an Arabic one that is no longer in use, a Latin one almost identical to that of Turkish (with the addition of the letters “Qq” and “Ññ”), and a Cyrillic one preferred by the Russian government currently controlling Crimea. The language’s grammar is almost identical to that of Turkish and shares features like a flexible word order (an example being in the sentence “Menim vaqtım yoq”—“I don’t have time” which can also be rendered as “Yoq vaqtım”, although this is slightly rude) and using the word “bar” (equivalent to Turkish “var”) to indicate possession. This can be seen in the sentences “Deñizde dalar bar.” (Crimean Tatar) and “Denizde adalar var.” (Turkish) which mean “There are islands in the sea.” (“Deñizde” means “at sea” and “adalar” means “islands or archipelago”).

Naoki Watanabe also writes poetry which you can find here: https://www.fictionpress.com/u/929458/PoetOfSaiMiHunManKal
Naoki Watanabe on VK: https://vk.com/poetofsaimihunmankal
Naoki Watanabe on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/naoki.watanabe.566

This post was written by a reader of my Facebook page. If you have cool language articles that you have written and would like some exposure, send a message to the my facebook page, write a comment below, or email me at steve@sillylinguistics.com

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The history of “ch” in English

The sound “ch” in English has an interesting history. Original the sound was a “k” in Proto Germanic. The sound became palatilised in some words, which means that the sound is pronounced with tongue raised against the hard palate. This can often happen so a series of sounds are easier to say, such as “did you” becoming “di’jew”. In IPA this would be [dɪdjuː] becoming [dɪdʒuː]

A star indicates that the word is reconstructed. Linguists look at the oldest literature in Germanic languages and find connections between the languages. They can then theorise as to what the word was in the parent language.

Here are some Modern English words and the words they came from

beseech: Old English be + sēċan, Proto Germanic *sōkijaną
church: Old English ċiriċe, Proto Germanic *kirikǭ
latch: Old English læċċan, Proto Germanic *lakkijaną
much: Old English miċel, Proto Germanic *mikilaz
watch: Old English wæċċan, Proto Germanic *wakjaną

The “k” sound did not palatilise in other Germanic languages and remained a “k”

These are cognates, not translations. This means that the words listed here come from the same word in Proto Germanic. Cognates can often have different meanings

English German Dutch Swedish
beseech besuchen bezoeken besöka
church Kirche kerk kyrka
much michel mekel mycket
watch wachen waken väcka

English is one of the more divergent Germanic languages. It has very different pronunciations than the other Germanic languages and some of the divergence already happened in Old English. English was weird even back then 😀

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Arabic dialects

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Bilingual

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The current state of Silly Linguistics

I wanted to write this to give you guys a bit of an update. This year has been crazy! My page has gone from 30 000 to over 55 000! My book came out and my Youtube channel passed 1000 subscribers! I am blown away by the support everyone has given me so far.

I started this page and the Silly Linguistics group to just share my love of languages. I have always loved languages but it took a back seat to my love of gaming and programming. I got a job working on game technology in 2014, but I had to quit after I got depression. Since then I have been doing freelance work. I started this page in late 2014 and it has been a roller coaster since then!

But there comes a time when you have to take stock of things and work out where you need things to be. My depression is slowly fading away and I feel stronger and stronger. The same I can’t say of my mother. She is a feisty and strong person, but after a family tragedy a few years ago, she has become less so.

I started Silly Linguistics at a time where I was not able to perform at the level required by a full time job, so I thought I might as well work a bit on a page and see what I could do with it. The support people give this page is amazing! Thank you so much for buying tshirts and my book! You are all awesome and I can’t thank you enough. I would have been happy if I sold one!

The hard thing about the situation though, is that the money I am making is not enough to pay all my bills, let alone help my mother who has looked out for me every step of the way. She should be able to relax at home and enjoy a retirement, not slave away at work to support the family.

The time to choose is fast approaching. I have to choose stability and income over hobbies. I am getting strong enough to work now and I want to be able to provide for myself and my family.

So I decided to come to you guys and ask for your help. Will you help me build Silly Linguistics into the best language page, language website and language youtube channel? Will you help me turn Silly Linguistics into a job, a proper job, a job that can help me support my family as well as allow me to expand Silly Linguistics and pay for business things like computers, cameras, rent and internet connections?

I started Silly Linguistics for a bit of fun, but it has become so much more. I never knew that I could have so much fun doing something that is a lot of work. But I have seen a future where languages are seen as an essential part of life and not just a weird curiosity. I have seen a future where people are raring to learn Irish Gaelic, Navajo and Australian aboriginal languages (amongst many many others). I forsee a future where languages memes, videos and articles flow like wine at a banquet. But it is only a dream.

Can you help me make that dream a reality? Will you help support Silly Linguistics? It is all possible if enough of us help each other.

At the end of the day, I need to start earning money. Enough money to support myself and my family. That is going to happen.

The question is, how much is Silly Linguistics going to be a part of that. I have spent two and a half years building Silly Linguistics up, and I want it to continue. There are only so many hours in a day. I will have to spend time on others things at some point, unless you can help me turn Silly Linguistics into a full time job.

So here’s the plan:

With at least $100 coming into my Patreon every month, I will have enough time along with every thing else I am doing to create a comic every week.

At $200 per month, I pledge to make a podcast every week about an interesting language topic.

Above this, who knows. Expect language lectures, videos about ancient languages and plenty other fun stuff.

Or I can just post a funny pic every day while I make programs for people.

I know which one I would like, and I am sure you will agree with me.

Let’s make Silly Linguistics into what it can be and let’s not let this opportunity slip away.

Even if you can only contribute $1 / month, I would be over the moon that you are willing to help Silly Linguistics grow.

It is a tough time for me, but it’s not a situation with no solution. I hope I can convince some of you to help me make language, language learning and the language community a more vibrant, interesting, enriching and exciting place.

I hope you have a great day

Steve the vagabond and silly linguist (but my friends call me Rolf) 🙂

You can also make a one time donation to my PayPal

https://www.paypal.me/RolfWeimar

Patreon

https://www.patreon.com/stevevagabond

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Mental illness

I wanted to take a break from the language to write about something that affects my life and the lives of many people around the world.

When someone breaks their leg, no one says “Walk it off, it will get better eventually. Suck it up, it’s just a bit of leg pain”

So why do people do this for mental illness? There seems to be this weird idea out there that the brain is somehow different. I suppose it makes sense. The brain is the seat of the soul, emotions and personality. It’s what makes us human.

But it is an organ just like any other. And it can get worn out.

Your leg can get injured. Your arm can get injured. All organs can suffer damage. And the brain is unfortunately exactly the same in this regard.

If you are stressed for too long, in a bad situation, no hope for things getting better, your brain can get overworked and tired. Eventually things stop working. You lose your appetite, and the once vibrant colours in your life turn to grey. You might eventually even forget who you are.

I think because our minds are such a central part of our lives, there is a lot of superstition and misinformation about it because it is scary to look for the actual truth. We want to believe that we can last forever.

We want to believe we can trail every path and conquer every mountain. Maybe we can, but not if we do it the wrong way, and definitely not if you are already stressed and worn out.

If your leg is break, you take the weight off it. If you are tired, sad and worn out, give your mind a break. The stigma around mental illness is lessening as we understand it better.

I hope that anyone who may be suffering out there sees this message and realises it’s not their fault. If they had a medical problem with some other part of their body, they would get it sorted out. But there is so much hanging around our ideas of the mind.

If you are suffering, please get some help from a professional. You are not a failure for reaching out. Actually, it is a sign of strength. Facing the truth can be hard, but it will get better in the end.

I lived my own delusion for too long, and I can’t believe the places my life is going now that I have broken through to reality.

I hope everyone who reads this has a great day, and please let everyone you know that is suffering that there is no shame in getting help

Steve the vagabond (but my friends call me Rolf)

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Frisian, the closest relative to English

Frisian is the language outside of the British Isles that is the closest relative of English

It is my kat
It is my cat

It is in griene doar
It is a green door

Ik haw brea
I have bread

Ik hear dy
I hear you

Wat is jo namme
What is your name

English diverged a lot after the Norman invasion and Frisian has been influenced by Dutch, but even a thousand years later, we can still see both are very much Germanic and are very similar in some sentences

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The origin of the word “blood”

The word “blood” comes from Old English “blod” which comes from Proto Germanic *blodam and both of those mean “blood”. However, *blodam is descended from Proto Indo European *bhlo-to- which means “to swell, gush, spurt”. The word “blood” is descended from a completely different word that other Indo European languages.

“blood” in Latin is “sanguis” which gave us French “sang” and Italian “sangue”. This word comes from Proto Indo European *h₁sh₂-én- (by the way, h₁ and h₂ represent two consonant produced in the general area of the larynx but linguists are not certain where exactly, so they are simply written as h₁ and h₂). It is cognate with Sanskrit “असृज् “‎ (asrj) and Ancient Greek “ἔαρ” ‎(éar).

In very common words such as numbers, there is a huge amount of similarity
Note: t and d are pronounced in the same place in the mouth, only voicing is different. Sometimes only voicing changes between two different stages of a languages evolution

English – two
Afrikaans – twee
Swedish – två
German – zwei

Portuguese – dois
Spanish – dos
Catalan – dos
French – deux

Breton – daou
Irish Gaelic – dó
Scottish Gaelic – dà

Russian – dva
Polish – dwa
Bulgarian – dva

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Vote for Steve the vagabond and silly linguist :)

Vote for Steve the vagabond and silly linguist at the bab.la Best Language Page competition 🙂

Top Language Lovers 2017

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