This was a truly excellent post, well-researched and reasoned and eloquently stated.
Human languages develop and change in response to human experiences and requirements. There can be little doubt that very early human cultures
possessed languages which were, in most respects, not as advanced as popular languages in existence today. The reason for this is simply one of
necessity. Language probably developed as a means of passing on basic survival information from one generation to the next: "This plant is poisonous
and grows at this time of the year in these locations" or "This is the correct way to hunt this particular animal". Although these concepts may
seem simple, we now believe that they were too complex to be conveyed through the use of sign language alone.
Furthermore, language would have developed increasingly to respond to abstract concepts for which there was no example in the physical world. It is
simple to physically show somebody how to fish. It is more difficult (though not impossible) to convey many of the concepts of religion through sign
language alone. Since there is nothing you can use in the physical world as a reference, you are forced to adapt your spoken language to convey your
thoughts and beliefs of the immaterial.
As the process of language development began, I believe, as John bull has already pointed out, that human language would have consisted of simple
sounds, probably combined with a complex form of sign language. The argument for this is that human development typically follows the path of least
resistance. If there is no need for complex words, if your daily routine can be conducted without the use of complex language, then your communication
will remain relatively simple. It is at this stage that I believe a majority of human societies would have employed the basic clicks that, although we
all still use them to some extent, are widely disused in most world languages as anything other than techniques for conveying the most basic messages
(again, as John bull pointed out, clucking your tongue to indicate annoyance). As human interactions and experiences became increasingly complex, the
need for ever more sophisticated language forms arose and language adapted as necessary.
So why then would the simple clicks have remained an integral part of the Xhosa and other languages? The suggestion that they are a hold-over from the
earliest days of human communication is an excellent one and goes a long way towards explaining why they seeem to be region-specific (i.e. confined
largely to southern Africa).
It should be pointed out that it would be unlikely that these sounds would have remained in use through many tens of thousands of years of human
language development. However, an argument for just such a scenario lies in the impact of specific regions on the development of language. Simply put,
the clicks may have survived the passage of time because the peoples of southern Africa found them useful in communicating ideas and concepts specific
to their region. As humans moved out from that region and encountered different environments and the need for different forms of communication and
language, the clicks may have lost their usefulness. Over time, the clicks used by the peoples of southern Africa would have remained in use, albeit
changing to suit specific regions. This would help to explain why Xhosa is merely one of a number of "clicking languages" spoken throughout
south-eastern Africa today.
It should also be pointed out that many of the languages spoken by cultures that have in the past been wrongly labelled as "primitive" are in fact
incredibly advanced in areas that the culture considers important or useful. Take, for instance, the example of the indigenous people of my country,
the Australian Aborigines. Here is a culture that is as old as any on Earth and which was labelled as possessing a primitive language by the first
European settlers. As I quickly learned through my university anthropology studies, it is anything but. Aboriginal language concepts of kinship and
land ownership are far more advanced than anything utilised by the European settlers. In not understanding these advanced concepts and methods of
communicating, the Europeans simply declared that the Aboriginal language was primitive, when it was anything but. To the Aboriginal people, concepts
such as kinship were of the utmost importance and were thus more complex in their language. This example helps to highlight the impact that specific
regions, beliefs and requirements can have on the development of language.
John bull, forgive me if I repeated much of what you said, but I found your theory to be extremely interesting and tend to agree with you on most
points. I think you may be right in arguing that the clicking sounds of Xhosa may be a remnant from a time when human communication was less complex.
I think that they have been adapted and retained by the peoples of that region due to the fact that they have retained their usefulness specific to
As for Neanderthals, although some research into the placement of the Neanderthal larynx indicates that they lacked the capacity for speech or at
least complex language, I feel that, given that we possess evidence that Neanderthals engaged in advanced and abstract concepts such as religion and
complex, organised hunts and herblore, some rudimentary form of language would have been necessary to convey these ideas to younger generations.
The following sites have some good introductory information regarding the Xhosa language:
[edit on 24/8/05 by Jeremiah25]