The curiosity of people towards their language was always not as big as the importance of any language can imply. However, with each coming year, this curiosity seems to grow up signaling the awakening of human’s consciousness towards one of the crucial tools of communication and existence in general. Despite the fact that Darwin’s theory of language evolution is losing its popularity due to the appearance of multiple other valid arguments, his vision still remains very interesting.
The main point of Darwin’s theory on the language evolution (based mostly on the comparative data) is that the protolanguage of the much earlier stage of our pedigree was more musical and not linguistic. This means that our ancestors used quite musical phrases before complex phrases and syntax came into usage. This theory is widely disputed, especially taking into consideration comparatively recent research on the influence of music on our brains’ functionality. Moreover, Darwin’s theory on “musical protolanguage” can be even tested by the application of molecular genetics and brain imaging.
There is a great deal of truthfulness in such theory, especially when taking into consideration that possibility that the ancient people could have imitated sounds of animals to produce their own meanings. Therefore, by mimicking birds, they could have used quite musical sounds. Though ancient people had their own ways of communicating with each other, they were the children of nature. They belonged to it and were a constituent part of their powerful breadwinner.
Darwin’s sharp interest towards the influence of origin of species on the development of language made him conduct extensive research, which contains many personal thoughts that can be quite arguable and questioned by many linguists and even anthropologists.
The primary familiarity he points out is that languages have one common ancestor, and only with time they became distinct and, occasionally, very different from each other. The importance of the Latin language for Spanish, Italian, French and other languages has been clear since a long time ago and all Germanic languages were linked for centuries. Strikingly, but recently the similarity between Latin and Sanskrit were also recognized, creating one common family of languages – Indo-European.
Darwin discussed the origin of languages in his letters, and this common ancestry was mentioned in the first letter to Caroline, his sister, just before he started his voyage to explore the world.
It is surprisingly to trace the speculations of Darwin on languages and see that they come not from the talks about geology but from the certain similarity that he noticed between English and Chinese that they have a common ancestry. Therefore, before Darwin had a good understanding of the fact that all biological species descend from one and the same ancestor, he already realized that these species share a common descent through various language modifications. Geology, of course, was not neglected by Darwin. He studied the relationship between it and language describing his reasoning in two of his letters.
The other importance of Darwin’s input is that after the publication of his book on origin of species, the idea about close relationship between linguistic and biological evolution interested many scientists who started their own research. However, at that time, the difference between biological and linguistic evolution was not easy to understand for people at all. Genetics was an unknown science – people had no clue that evolution goes through changes in the formation and dispersion of DNA with generations passing by.
Quite similar situation goes on with the languages. For instance, sounds and even letters are constantly changing, and the way we talk is different from the way people used to talk hundreds of years ago despite the fact that they also spoke English. Despite these changes, we understand each other noticing just a different accent and usage of words or syntax (which also changes without starting to be incoherent). Word meanings also change, but despite this, verbal communication remains the best response to the surrounding circumstances, promoting the development of the whole society.
Nowadays, with powerful technologies that allow scientists to research practically on everything, the mechanisms of preserving the linguistic order still remain vague. Quite the same situation is with the lack of understanding of the functions of survival of DNA and, therefore, the living on the planet. Darwin found it very interesting that species and languages undergo evolution in different ways. However, he still gave chance to a thought that there is a certain analogy between the two of them.
Harris and Taylor reveal also a great study concerning this topic in their book. They refer to Max Mueller, a great scholar of religion, languages, and mythology from Germany. His work is well-remembered today due to his rhetorical ridicule of competing theories. Max Mueller was proving that ancient people had an inner feeling how to make their thoughts sound. As soon as these people managed to do so, their instincts would change a bit until they were substituted by the up-to-date system of transmitting and learning already existing languages.
In my opinion, this theory does not work and cannot be even regarded when exploring the evolution of languages as nothing just happens on its own. A person cannot just learn to create sounds when before he or she never even knew what it was. Moreover, even when someone started to use some words of more contemporary languages, it would not mean that people around them would start using the same words and, in addition, know what they meant and in which cases to apply them. If Max Mueller’s theory was true, the evolution of languages would take much more time to reach the present state if it would reach it at all.
The last chapter of Harris and Tyler’s book is dedicated to Ferdinand de Saussure’s views on languages. Ferdinand de Saussure is considered to be one of the founders of many vital developments in the linguistics in the 20th century.
According to Saussure, language stopped being accepted as peripheral to our perception of the whole world. It became a central part of it. Words ceased to be a mere vocal presentation or some communicational admixtures that were superimposed on the already existing, predetermined order of things. Language is an outcome of the interaction of people in the society, a crucial tool by means of which people from many parts of the planet can express the world they see around them and their attitude towards it.
Saussure continued that such view on languages was quite innovative, and it marked the revolutionary perception of linguistics in the 20th century. The whole lot of human sciences was influenced by such reasoning, especially changing psychology, philosophy, sociology, linguistics, and anthropology.
Moreover, the fundamentals of the linguistic organization by Ferdinand de Saussure still lie in the basis of many approaches to the language nowadays despite the fact that they were considerably altered and often extended over time. Saussure’s innovative approach of the structure of the word differentiated it from just acoustic “things” as well as from the mental processes. The language obtained a great deal of self-sufficient power, which made it a powerful and recognized by everyone tool which influenced the development of the theory of literature, too.
Since the first introduction of Saussure’s theory, all the following linguists were mostly referring to him, or some of his ideas, when presenting their own theoretical argumentations concerning any linguistic issue or discovery. Therefore, modern linguists are frequently divided into Saussurean, pre-Saussurean, post-Saussurean, non-Saussurean, and anti-Saussurean.
Saussure’s discovery ends up the traditional thought on linguistics which was introduced by Socrates thousands of hundreds years ago marking a new era in perception the language. Since that time, language has become to be not just the means of expressing one’s desires but also an effective tool to perceive the world, to build relationship, to self-develop, to change the world around.
Ferdinand de Saussure saw the theoretical task for all linguists in finding some alternative presuppositions which would help to build a real study of language. His way of analyzing language as a formal system that comprises differential elements notwithstanding the abundance of messy dialects of the present time and the differences in their comprehension. The vivid examples of it can be his perception of the linguistic sign which consists of the signified and the signifier. Despite the fact that the sign can also contain a referent, Saussure considered this notion to lie out of the borders of the linguists’ attention.
In conclusion, I would like to say that the importance of language is growing with each coming day, and the interest towards its studying is increasing as well only proving how crucial it is in the present world to operate and explore the languages perfectly well around the whole globe. Despite the abundance of the approaches and theoretical argumentations of the linguistics, there are some which will always be considered vital as they made a revolutionary change in the linguistics tackling other fields of human sciences, too.