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What came first: language or thought?

What came first: language or thought?

Certainly, Lucy was first…

On 24 November 1974, in the Hadar region in the Danakil Basin (Ethiopia), scientists discovered the fossil Lucy, the oldest known female creature. Her skeleton, preserved in 40 percent, proves that Lucy walked upright and thus was a representative of the species Australopithecus afarensis. She inherited her name from “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” by The Beatles. Her second name, Dinqineš/Dinkenesh in the Amharic language, means “You are beautiful” or “You are wonderful.”

Lucy lived 3,600,000 years ago. She was a small hominid about 1 m tall and weighed 30 kg. Scientists claim that hominids lived in different environments and thus developed different tools to process food, which could be the first step in the process of evolution to eventually make the human brain three times larger than that of apes. Due to the need to obtain food, they were forced to INVENT different ways to have it. They had to acquire knowledge about the world around them, which in turn led to the development of their memory. Scientists also say that the aquatic and terrestrial environment in which hominoids lived contributed to physiological changes, such as upright spine and bipedalism, inhaling through the nose and mouth (e.g. due to diving), and lowering the larynx, which resulted in the connection of the respiratory and digestive tracts, and the formation of a sound generating chamber. All these evolutionary processes led to development of mechanisms responsible for sound articulation and the creation of human language. Being sensitive to sounds, the human was able to imitate them and recognise where he was.

The research hypotheses identify several revolutionary stages in the formation of human language:

The first proto-language was based on imitating sounds from the environment. Supported with gestures, the proto-language was used for communication and information purposes, primarily in situations in which people we able to see each other.

The second proto-language was developed when hominoids started to produce a variety of new sounds that did not imitate environmental sounds.

The third proto-language combined the sounds produced by hominids, including the sounds relating to those aspects of the world that did not produce any sounds.

The fourth proto-language conveyed information by combining sounds that did not exist in nature and were generated by hominids reacting to the sounds, images, features and actions of the surrounding world. This model constituted the primordial basis for the language we know today.

To make it possible for language to evolve and develop, language memory had to be passed down from generation to generation. To put is simply, stories and pieces of information had to be transmitted by means of a linguistic code a given group was able to understand.

In her book “Women’s Evolution,” Evelyn Reed argues that women released humankind from the animal kingdom by creating first forms of community centred around mothers. Due to the “family” interactions (offspring) and joint work with other women, she attributes a fundamental influence on the development of language to them.

The modern world is divided into 194 countries. According to Wikipedia, there are approx. 6–7 thousand languages currently spoken, the majority of which remain illiterate. UNESCO registered about 2,500 languages threatened with extinction. It was reported that over forty languages are spoken by only one person! It is estimated that more than half of the world’s currently spoken languages will be extinct by 2100. Currently, the most widely spoken languages in the world are Chinese (1,213 million speakers), English (1,200 million), Spanish (550 million), Hindi (450 million) and Arabic (390 million). All indications are that the world will communicate using several major languages in the future.

In addition to the language and verbal communication, the sphere of written, and thus printed, communication is a noteworthy r/evolutionary phenomenon. Before the invention of printing, writings were reproduced by hand, which means that they were available to a very narrow audience, not only because they were expensive.

It is assumed that the first revolution in written communication took place in ancient countries. According to the latest research, the first printing was invented and applied in Babylon. At that time, printing consisted in burning signs or images on clay tablets. The real breakthrough came with the invention of papyrus in Egypt and the use of colours by the Greeks. It was not until around 200 B.C. that the first roll of parchment was created in the Middle East. In 105 AD, handmade paper was invented in China. This is where movable type was also used for the first time. The world’s oldest printed text was created in the 7th century AD. It was a Buddhist scroll from the Far East.

The second real revolution was the invention of the printing press by John Gutenberg in the 15th century. Thanks to this, written communication became increasingly available and used on a mass scale, which had an enormous impact on the development of education, independent thinking and intellectual development, as well as the advancement of civilisation, science, industry, etc.

The third revolution of written communication is the Internet and its unlimited communication and information possibilities.

Despite so many communication codes and technological possibilities, it is still difficult for us to communicate, not only on a global scale but also with our family, neighbours and friends. We also find it difficult to come to an understanding with ourselves. It is often challenging to find the right words to express our thoughts. On the other hand, we often speak mindlessly a lot. We can talk, but we cannot listen. After all, in the beginning, listening carefully mattered most once as it decided about safety and survival. Whether created in the image and likeness of the gods or as descendants of the first primates, we are still subject to primal fears and modern insecurities. This is what we typically pass on to our children, although our greatest desire is to see them safe and happy.

Our actions are constantly dependent on elusive emotions which often pass very quickly. We defend our illusions, planting our feet and creating rules that we do not abide. Noise, crowd of information, and multitude of images and slogans make us lonely and powerless. We surrender to these feelings without much resistance and covering this shameful intimacy with another layer of meaningless words, loud laughter and successive masks.

What thought will we pass on to the next generation in our genetic material, as a legacy, and how will it be expressed? As we know, genes remember everything, including Lucy and mitochondrial Eve.


Zdjęcie: icosha /

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