Where language originated, a language organ, and talking babies!

A couple interesting studies were published this past week. One study showed the location on Earth where language originated and the other looked to prove or disprove the existence of a “language organ” in humans.. is language instinctual for us?

The first study by Dr. Quentin Atkinson used phonemes to show where language originated. Phonemes are the smallest sounds which differentiate meaning, for example, the “th” in thin; replace it with an “f” sound or “s” sound and the result is a different word.  It’s been known that the less widely spoken a language is, the fewer phonemes it has. Thus, the farther a group ventured from the source of language, the fewer phonemes that group would have in their language. Dr. Atkinson charted these phonemes and showed that language truly did originate in central/southern Africa.

The next study looks at Noam Chomsky’s theory that the human brain comes hard-wired with a universal grammar – a language instinct.  I WISH my brain was hard-wired for grammar.. perhaps those tests would have been easier for me!  Dr. Dunn looked at the four large language families:  Indo-European, Bantu, Austronesian (from South-East Asia and the Pacific) and Uto-Aztecan (the native vernaculars of the Americas) that account for >1/3 of    the 7000 languages spoken in the world today and found NO correlations between them, thus disproving Chomsky’s theory of instinctual grammar.

Perhaps these talking babies hold the clue to the origin of language?

More can be read over at the Economist.

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34 Responses to Where language originated, a language organ, and talking babies!

  1. Joanne says:

    I have seen many more time this clip but when i saw this a big smile came on face,

  2. Lina says:

    For getting this post i take two minute, its amazing.
    Lean Muscle X

  3. alex says:

    aint stream of consciousness a wonderful thing?

    nah, not really. here’s what happened after i read “where only people who are positively interested will have found it”:

    huh? “will have found it”? –> will they have to search for it? –> hunt? –> indiana jones. –> oh, look, there’s a preposition. –> there must be someone called diana jones, right? –> right. –> doesn’t look too bad –> i wonder if she ever cursed indiana jones books and movies. –> i wonder if some dude ever did her so he could think: ‘right now i’m indiana jones!’.

    dude. not cool.

  4. alex says:

    WHAT! disproven universal grammar? lol? no. definitely not.

    here’s a good read. well, it is for all those who are interested in that kind of thing. read the comments as well.

    –> language log.

  5. Anonymous says:

    These both looks so cute, i love both but why you fighting.

  6. Anonymous says:

    It is very funny and Interesting Picture.In this Picture shown  to talking conversation between each other by the small child by their own laugauge

  7. According to this article these baby talking each other, so cute post.
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  8. Evan Owen says:

    Noam Chomsky says, “No anti-semantic remarks allowed!”

  9. Patriciasmith smith says:

    These both kids looking so cute and funny.

  10. Jean Knox says:

    I saw your video in this field, He is both of them looking so innocent and funny, I really appreciate with these cute baby.

  11. Anonymous says:

    They understand each other much better than we understand them.

  12. bigbarry says:

    Marina, those two children are funny BUT the baby’s on t.v. commercialls, are hysterical!
    they seem so realife like & are extremely funny. lmao B.B.

  13. patrick says:

    I think they’re discussing comments they have posted.

  14. Camp Kohler - Sacramento CA says:

    Those toddlers are not talking per se; they are just mimicking adults. In this case, they were performing a sketch of a ballet instructor giving a lesson at the bar; either that or a refrigerator salesman trying to close a deal..

  15. seesixcm6 says:

    Dear Marina,
    I doubt if we will ever discover a “language organ” until we better understand the human brain. Tracing the origins of language by the number of phonemes, or basic sounds, seems a risky theory. Wouldn’t an efficient language use fewer phonemes? The artificial language of Esperanto might seem primitive. And Chinese, which uses different tones on the same phoneme to change meaning, is highly complex by this theory.
    Speech gives humans the ability to express complex and abstract thoughts and ideas. No other animal seems able to do this. The two babies aren’t really communicating, now. They’re “playing” or practicing at speech with the babble of syllables they use. In a few years, they might enjoy the songs of Lady Gaga, but not right now.
    You posted a photo of yourself with Irina Voronina. I’d never heard of her. So I read her website and found that she’s 33 years old, 5 feet, 9-1/2 inches tall, and only weighs 128 lbs. She worked as a model, was Playmate of the Month in January, 2001, she acts on cable TV programs which I’ve never seen, and was a reporter on Fox TV programs. She speaks English without a Russian accent, and I think she’s “just right” for me in many ways. I still prefer you, Marina. :-)

  16. Neuroway says:

    Language goes well beyond linguistics and phonetics. It deals with all the senses of someone, and sometimes goes very deep inside the memories and feelings of a person.

    Here’s the little silent story #11 from I nuovi mostri, which is a very good example of this. :-)

  17. What is true is evolutionary studies have show that the human brain is hugely geared toward the processing and retention of language. By comparison the amount of processing used for vision or auditory functions are quite small. What is fascinating is that language is so hard wired into the human consciousness that the brain can do some incredible things like speech shadowing, which is when a person repeats what they hear in real time. What is fascinating about this ability is that the time it takes for the brain to hear and process what it hears and repeat the speech is impossibly short, so much so that it seem the brain predicts what it hears. Such a short cut show the high optimisation the brain has geared towards language. And if you think about it a child can learn ANY language depending on the environment they are brought up in. The question whether grammar is hard wired is a diversion as it is well know that even with limited grammar knowledge in English communication is still perfectly possible. Think pidgin English and you get my drift. What the real question should be is not where is the origin of language but at what point does language depend on grammar? You not need understand I say what to need understand what mean I, do you?

  18. Anonymous says:

    They are argruing over who put the sox in the freezer and how long it will take to cool off. Cause they want to dance to “Put a Ring On It”

  19. Cyberquill says:

    These kids sound like a Democrat and a Republican bickering over the budget.

  20. LeoNaRD says:

    Happy to all this day…. before eASTER

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Not your typical philologist! Putting the LOL in PhiLOLogy :-)