Language Is the Key to Community

Frank B. WithrowBy Frank B. Withrow

Human infants come into this world seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and feeling the sensory world around them. The human culture developed the spoken word so that they could share private sensory experiences publicly. That enabled them to develop communities that built civilizations. About five thousand years ago mankind discovered that they could transform the spoken word into the written word. That enables mankind to transfer experience and knowledge over time and space.

Albert Einstein

“Albert Einstein . . . felt the development of speech and language was one of mankind’s greatest accomplishments.”

I have been enjoying the thoughts and ideas about a peaceful world by a German Jew. They were written some eighty years ago as he worked at the League of Nations trying to avert World War II. He did not write in English so his original thoughts were in German and subsequently translated into English. He was very thoughtful in his deliberations. Among other things he felt technology would make us so efficient that there would not be enough work to employ everyone. He also felt the development of speech and language was one of mankind’s greatest accomplishments. I have been reading Albert Einstein’s papers of the 1930s.

We know our world through our sensory perceptions. They are the beginnings that are followed by words. There is an inherent desire by humans to communicate one with another. If our sensory perception are disabled we find a way around them to meet our needs to share. If we are deaf we use American Sign Language or lip-read. If we are deaf blind we learn touch signs. Even mentally slow children learn speech and language. 

We know that speech and language allowed us to come together in communities. Words were associated with things and actions. Words led to cooperation and teamwork. First words may have been simply warning signals of danger to individuals and the community. The spoken word is ideally evolved for expression in that speech leaves the rest of the body fully in tact. Hearing is ideal for receptive language in that it can be detected in noise and does not require a light source. This again leaves the rest of the body free to move.

We know that speech and language allowed us to come together in communities.

The sense of hearing in most beings is the alarm system. You can hear in the dark and it is global. You can even be awakened if you are asleep. Perhaps early man’s first words were the imitations of animal sounds to alert the community that there was danger. The interesting part of language is that words can begat other words and refinements can be made. For most of the history of mankind on Earth people had only the spoken word. Today literate people have at least two language systems, that is, both the spoken and written word. The spoken words come first and are then associated with their written counterpart.

The infant starting on this human adventure will learn to associate speech with real world objects and experiences. She will hear thousands of times words that depict her sensory experiences. When the baby is hungry and cries she is expressing her needs. When she hears the mother’s voice and begins to suck she is receiving an expressive signal. Soon she may even stop crying because the mother’s voice has responded to her expressive message and she knows the milk is coming.

First words are often “momma” or “daddy,” but once they start they often pick up speed. We know that babies, with parents who talk with them and read books to them at an early age, have a larger vocabulary when they come to school. The average first grader will have about 4,000 words. However, a kid with only 2,000 words will not look much different in preschool. Studies have shown that the kid with the larger vocabulary will do much better in school.

Even little children can understand much more than we often think. For example I once explained to my four year old granddaughter the handicapped architecture of the DC Metro system. A by stander asked me why I was giving her that much information. First she could see the lights flashing of the approaching trains designed to alert deaf people and she could scrape her shoes across the ruff footing as the edge of the platform to alert blind people of the environment.

Part of good parenting is talking with your children and exciting their curiosity. Give them answers that may seem complicated at the time because they will take some of it and use it as a building block.

For example, a first grader may learn the Pledge of Allegiance. He may say it every morning in his classroom. He may say it at his Boy Scout meetings. He may join the Marine Corps and be sent in to war and die. The meanings of the words in all of these instances are different and grow in meaning as life matures.

English is the most used language in the world. It has more than a million words and it likes to adopt words from other language.

As mentioned before language is the yeast that binds humans together to share their sensory experiences publicly.

3 Responses

  1. […] “By Frank B. Withrow Human infants come into this world seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and feeling the sensory world around them. The human culture developed the spoken word so that they could s…”  […]

  2. Recent research into people (very rare) without language has provided some interesting clues to our language abilities. Some scientists suggest that our enlarged brains and sudden success as a species are due to the benefits of language to our survival as a relatively weak animal without other resources. They also point to the location of our vocal chords as being unusual. These are better positioned for speaking but poorly positioned to avoid choking.

    As a species, we probably evolved these characteristics over time long after we looked like modern humans. In other words, the capability for language was there for other reasons before language developed as we know it today. It’s also likely, given the current research, that language was developed by young humans for reasons that should be obvious.

    Better language then led to greater survival rates, and here we are.

  3. […] By Frank B. Withrow Human infants come into this world seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and feeling the sensory world around them. The human culture developed the spoken word so that they could s…  […]

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