Where did the words come from?

language How did our language come about?

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We do it all the time and everywhere: talk. Language is part of our everyday life. Without her there would be no whispering with your best friend at school, no news, no bedtime story. But how did language actually come about? When and how did people "invent" the first words?

From: Katharina Mutz

Status: 02/06/2020

Even linguists have no clear answer to this question. The origin of language is still an unsolved mystery even for these specialists. This is because the language was so long ago that it was 100,000 years or more ago that people started talking to each other.

Thinking takes a giant step forward

In the "Lascaux Cave" people painted bison on the walls more than 25,000 years ago - based on their imagination.

Researchers, too, can only guess how the first words developed. One thing is certain, however: Before the Stone Age people started to speak, something crucial must have changed in their minds: People must have started to imagine things in their heads - even if these things weren't there at all.

That sounds easy. And yet this is a very special property: For example, everyone can imagine a banana when they hear the word "banana" - regardless of whether this banana is on the table in front of them or not. Animals can't do that. The fact that Stone Age people began to imagine things was an important prerequisite for language to develop at all: because if people hadn't had an idea of ​​something in their heads, they would never have been able to come up with a word for this idea. Only: How exactly did people "invent" their first words?

Scientists suspect that sounds from everyday life played an important role in the development of language. It could have worked like this, for example: A Stone Age man pulls a heavy tree across the meadow and sniffs, something like: "phew, phew". If he later wants to explain to another that they have to pull more trees across the meadow together, he simply says "phew, phew" - and the other understands that he should pull trees away.

But the first words can not only come from groaning or panting at hard work, but also from sounds that we associate with certain feelings: When something falls on our toe, we usually shout "ouch" or "ouch" . The Stone Age people probably also made some kind of noise when they were in pain. This noise could then gradually have the meaning "pain" - just like a real word.

The sounds of animals could also have played a decisive role in the development of the first few words. Researchers suspect, for example, that animal names developed simply from the animals' calls or roars. In some cases this is still the case in our language today: Because the cuckoo calls "kucku", it is called "cuckoo".

Of course, correct language only develops from such sounds if many people use the same sounds to denote a certain thing. If someone says "pök" to "Baum" and another says "krr", it makes no sense: after all, one of them would not have been able to understand the other at all. It is likely that certain words have first spread within a family or clan. Researchers suggest that the members of this clan often mimicked the sounds that the head of the family or other important people used to do something.