There are many many theories as to why people started using language, and some of them are ones where you
want it to be true because it’s cool. There’s one theory that it started with people singing and that that became language.
There’s another theory — and this is interesting — the idea is that humans are the only primates who aren’t hairy enough
for infants to hold on all the time because there isn’t enough hair. So you have to put the infant down while you’re foraging.
There’s a theory that speech began because human women could coo at their child and keep the child calm, as opposed to, if
ou’re a chimpanzee where the child can always be up against you. But I think it probably started with humans needing to group
together to scavenge animals dead at a distance that were too big for one human, or even one little group of humans to deal with.
Regardless of why language started and developed as it is, I would think that there would have been a large incentive for
everyone to speak the same language. Whether it’s utilitarian, or gossip, or singing, or cooing to one’s family, it would
just seem like there’s a lot less transaction cost if we’re all speaking the same language. How did it come to be and why
did it come to be that so many languages bloomed?
Language is inherently changeable not because change is swell but because as you use a language over time and you pass it on to
new generations, brains tend to start hearing things slightly differently than they were produced. After a while you start producing
them that way. Next thing you know, you have a new sound.
So it's Telephone before there is such thing as a Telephone.
It is exactly that. That is as inherent to language as it is inherent for clouds to change their shape. It isn’t that that happens
to some languages and not others. That’s how human speech goes.
Is a lot of the linguistic diversity or the linguistic splintering that we’re talking about largely a function of the fact that spoken
came so much before written? If there had been written that we wouldn’t have splintered?
If writing had come along immediately, quite certainly there would have been less change from place to place. But instead, because
until really about 10 minutes ago language was just spoken, it was allowed to change at the speed that it normally does. That change
can happen in any one of various directions, which means that once you have two human groups, then their language after a certain
period of time is not going to be the language that the original group spoke, just because say the sound “ah” might become “eh.” It
might become, “uh.” You can see how a language would become a new one over time. Next thing you know, you have thousands of languages
instead of one just because languages change like cloud formations.
Given our pretty advanced development of language and communication, what are the big problems with language as it now exists?
Well, we have 7,000 languages, and it’s safe to say that about half of them are severely endangered. Another thing that many people
would consider a bad thing is that certain, roughly 20, big, fat languages are eating up so many of these small ones. What makes this
regrettable to many, and quite understandably, is that the one that’s having probably the most success is English. English is this one
language that was the vehicle of a rapaciously imperial power and now America is the main driver. That language is eating up all of
these other languages, and in some ways, their cultures.