How the Invention of Language &
Writing Transformed the Human life
Today, Information Technology (IT) has transformed the face of the earth. Let’s visualize the process. It is believed that eminent scientist Alexander Graham Bell, around 150 years ago, discovered the technique of telephony and it was the birth of IT. Several scholars assert that some five thousand years ago, humans learnt the art of writing and that was the beginning of IT. However, the first foundation stone of IT was laid, in prehistoric era, by the invention of spoken languages—the soul of all human communications.
Today, scientists have established that the human race was not created by some divine power: it was a product of a gradual evolution. Most anthropologists assert that the human race came into being some two hundred thousand (200,000) years ago. At that time, people lived as nomads in the groups or bands of fifty to a hundred members; they often used fire and stone tools. They had not yet learnt language, clothing, morals, religion or cultivation. Furthermore, they depended upon hunting quarry and gathering wild vegetables for their survival.
The journey of human inventions, that transformed caveman into a metrosexual, began—far earlier than they assumed human shape—with the technique of igniting fire and carving stone tools. At one point in time, humans discovered an incredible skill—the technique of speaking. The invention of language was a quantum leap towards the human expedition of scientific advancements. Gradually, this nascent IT laid the foundation of almost all the further discoveries. Before this, people shared their basic needs, such as fear, hunger or sexual desire, only through crude sounds and gestures. All members of a particular band understood these sounds and gestures, and thus, they could commune their basic needs with each other.
When and why did humanity begin to speak? The Bible mentions that God himself taught speech to Adam—the first human of the earth. Had it been true, there would have been only one tongue in the world. In fact, speech was an art that developed over time: many human groups invented their own spoken words independently to share their feelings, experiences and challenges. Most anthropologists believe that humanity learnt to speak around one hundred thousand (100,000) years ago. The earliest speech was similar to the utterances of a baby. At first, people named many things around them—these were nouns. Later, they coined the words to describe different actions—verbs. With the help of a noun and a verb, people began to construct two-word sentences, and their vocabulary increased with time. People began to discuss their day-to-day problems and their solutions.
Anthropologists have found several sophisticated implements such as stitching needles, cave arts, idols and jewellery belonging to some thirty thousand years ago and later. They believe that the manufacture of these must have required some discussion. This implies that the artisans of the articles had evolved a good vocabulary. Furthermore, people discussed the uses and properties of fire at length. They appreciated that fire could help them in various ways such as cooking, warmth and protection from wild animals. Consequently, each human group began to maintain a hearth or fireplace round the clock, in order to use fire more frequently and efficiently. For example, scientists found fireplaces in several human settlements belonging to twenty five thousand years ago.
Let us try to visualize the impact of good language: it must have radically changed the upbringing of children. Now, parents could share their feelings, experiences, dreams and challenges with their offspring. Each new human generation could receive the experience of its ancestors: that is what we call education today. Thus, each youth of the period began his life with the accumulated knowledge of seasons, nature, herbs, food, animals, toxins, etc.
Gradually, people must have begun to talk about every happening around them such as childbirths, deaths, seasons, rain and storms. After exhaustive study, they appreciated that several phenomena were beyond their comprehension. For example, they could not decipher the reasons behind childbirths and deaths, the changing seasons, earthquakes and storms. These inexplicable events left them confused and scared. Without speech, each person pondered over such issues individually; however, now, all members of a human band could share and discuss the possible reasons behind such events. Whatever they could not comprehend, they imagined some unseen power or force behind it. Every member of band shared their viewpoints on such matters; however, the wisest of them convinced others to follow his/her opinion. Later, this person was designated a specific title such as chief, priest or shaman.
Gradually, these priests imagined several divine powers behind all natural events. For example, they imagined that some power in the sky caused storms and rain. Priests also noticed that there were two types of phenomena—good and the bad. They speculated that the good and bad events were the result of bliss and wrath of the powers respectively.
At some point in time—we do not know exactly when this happened—people in various far-flung parts of the world developed an instinct with the help of their communication technique. Whenever people encountered some power beyond their control that could harm or help them, they began to worship that power. They believed that worship protected them and sought blessings of that power. All over the world, people adopted more or less similar methods of worship: folding hands, bowing, kneeling, floral offerings, praying, sacrificing, etc. During prayers, they sang flattering songs to seek the mercy of that power.
Apart from the above, language laid the foundation of the institution of leadership. In order to establish the leadership, each leader has to command others, take challenges or explain their credentials: all these all only possible with language. Chief or priests of the human bands were the earliest leaders. They guided people to hunt, treated the sick, facilitated the unity, resolved internal quarrels, wrestled with new challenges, built morals, buried the dead and performed many such roles for their bands.
Around ten thousand years ago, humans have evolved many hunting tools, implements, hearths, leathers, footwear, cosy huts, institution of priesthood etc. With the aid of the above advancements, their population exploded. Nomadic people faced a serious scarcity of food; gradually, they reached on the verge of extinction. After exhaustive discussions, many nomadic bands, in remote corners of the world, invented and adopted the cultivation. This great technique changed the human destiny and gave rise to several civilizations. After a few millennia, the priests living in four civilizations invented the technique of writing that facilitated development of math, science and myths. Furthermore, people inscribed their age-old myths as holy scriptures and that gave birth to organized religions.
Thus, it is obvious that ancient people began to fathom nature around them with the help of language and imagination. Whatever they could not comprehend, they invented one or other myth to explain. Ancient humans of each locale built their own folklore or myths to wrestle with their mysteries and miseries these gave rise to religions. Furthermore, writing enabled people to carry forward both the scientific inventions and myths. This brought about a progression and thus ensured better living standards with each passing generation. Today, the results are already there for everyone to see. From stone tools to atom bombs, bark canoes to huge ships and paper planes to spacecrafts—all these were developed by the endeavours of many generations. Language and writing made it possible to invent, propagate and accumulate all the religions and science that humankind has today.
The article is an excerpt from
The Evolution of Gods by Ajay Kansal
Read the Book at the following Link: