The first word(s) ever spoken

A recent conversation at a bar where – in the noise – I was served a whiskey instead of a beer led to a discussion of how sounds and/or gestures became words. Before the bar closed we came to the following conclusions:

  1. A sound becomes a  word only when at least two people use (both make and hear) the same sound for the same meaning.
  2. Probably many such words were “invented” by pairs of people but these never developed any further – either by spreading to others or becoming incorporated with other words to develop into language.
  3. Hand gestures are a consequence – indirectly – of human bipedalism.
  4. First came sounds. Then came sounds/gestures which became gestures/words.Words probably developed from sounds and hand gestures being used together with the words later coming to dominate.
  5. Fundamental hand gestures are almost universally understood today and probably have had similar meanings in antiquity and with the earliest humans.
  6. Fundamental gestures do not need sound for their basic meaning but cannot convey nuances and detail in themselves. Moreover the gestures were invisible in the dark or when out of sight but still within earshot.
  7. The sounds associated with these gestures were most likely among the earliest group of words. But we felt they must have been preceded by a sound – later a word – meaning “danger”. There may well have been a number of sounds describing different kinds of danger.
  8. These fundamental meanings that are readily communicated by gesture alone include: Here, there, up, down, you, me, stop, come and go.

So our considered opinion was that the earliest ever word was danger closely followed by here, there, up, down, you, me, stop, come and go.

But if man had not come down from the trees and freed his hands , sounds would not have become words and words would not have become language.

In Vino Veritas!

Tags: , ,

3 Responses to “The first word(s) ever spoken”

  1. presbiter iohannes Says:

    I think the first word was “Ma”, a unique case of polysemia.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: