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I originally posted this question on the Philosophy.stackexchange site

This question was prompted by this newspaper article saying:

Languages spoken by billions of people across Europe and Asia are descended from an ancient tongue uttered in southern Europe at the end of the last ice age, according to research...by scientists in Britain, [and] points to a common origin for vocabularies as varied as English and Urdu, Japanese and Itelmen, a language spoken along the north-eastern edge of Russia. Linguistics conventionally divide human languages into families. For example the Indo-European family which contains Latin, Sanskrit and Greek amongst others.

However it seems to me that all languages must be related in the same way that all life on Earth is related even though there are marked similarities between certain species.

I cannot see how, even taking into account Chomskys idea of a universal grammar intrinsic to the human mind, how a language can spontaneously develop in total absence of another human being simply because a human babies and infants are utterly helpless and dependent. (Is there any evidence of this ever occurring)?

That is there is always spoken linguistic continuity; and languages should be considered in a continuum.

Is this correct? Or am I missing something? Or is it a trite truth?

The point of the question, is that if Chomskys Universal Grammar hypothesis is correct, and I suspect it is; then language contrary to the above hypothesis orginated where Man originated - in the African continent and marched out of it when he did too.

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There are a few theories about the origins of human language, but one of the theories is that there is a Proto-Human Language from which all other languages are descended.

However, because we don't have written forms going back nearly that far, it is extremely difficult to accurately reconstruct the language. Reconstructing that language would be based off of other Proto reconstructions, like Proto-Indo-European, and we can't even guarantee the accuracy of those reconstructions.

It is somewhat likely that there is a single Proto-Human Language, considering that fact that all humans originated from the same area of the world. They then expanded out and the languages changed based on natural change and language contact to give us what we now have today.

  • Very few professional linguists believe this. Theories like this confuse real languages with language representations and theoretical reconstructions, thus incorporating random judgements and arbitrary choices. There simply is no data for languages that goes more than 10,000 years back, and therefore talking about a single proto-human language is sheer speculation, but certainly not science. See here for commentary. – jlawler May 8 '13 at 1:00
  • My answer points out that that those reconstructions are not accurate. And the key takeaway of this answer is "It is somewhat likely that there is a single Proto-Human Language [even if we can't reconstruct it], considering that fact that all humans originated from the same area of the world [because it would be unlikely that Homo sapiens would start using language, migrate outward, stop for a few thousand years, then suddenly pick up with a fresh start.]" – Nick Anderegg May 8 '13 at 16:00
  • Why in the world is that considered unlikely? No evidence is presented about migration patterns, which is not surprising, since there is no evidence, except that certain groups of humans appeared in certain places at certain times. How they got there, their travel patterns, their behaviors, their languages, and just about everything but their species is otherwise unknown. "Somewhat likely" includes anything where p is greater than (say) 0.1, which is hardly a significant result. – jlawler May 8 '13 at 16:19
  • @Nick: The 2nd paragraph of your answer needs to address certain points. Papua New Guinea is one "area of the world," yet hundreds of languages are spoken there--so why would African genesis imply the monogenesis of language? Could not the archaic humans from which we evolved have passed down more than one lineage of language to us? Also, doesn't Nicaraguan Sign Language suggest that human language would arise spontaneously in any group of thirty or more? If so, why assume monogenesis? – James Grossmann May 12 '13 at 18:04

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