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Language is one of the defining factors that differentiate human beings from animals. The ability of human being to use clear structured words instead of random sound used by animals makes human being unique. However, it is interesting to know how the language came into existence. It is interesting to know how the language evolved.
While others believed that language is something that comes naturally with the words encoded in one’s genes, others have believed that language is an evolutionary process that has been in constant change over the years as new objects and new actions are being invented.
Professor Simon Kirby is one of the scientists who have had great interest in knowing the evolution of the language and understanding how it is influenced by people over the century. This professor used volunteers in a laboratory and created words for alien fruits. The first participant would be given the names of all the fruits, and after mastering the names, the participants would read out the name of the fruits once its picture is shown.
The next participant would be given the same fruits, but with the names given by the previous participant. This went one to the ninth person.
Professor Kirby notes that the language slowly changed from unstructured language that it was initially, to a clearly structured language with regularly parts to reflect the fruits’ colour and design. This demonstrated how this language evolved from a complex unstructured language, to a simple structured and easy to remember words.
Human being is considered superior amongst all other creatures on earth. This may be because of the mystery that man has created with the help of technology, or other achievements that man has made over animals.
However, Kirby (1999, p. 19) says that one of the leading factors that makes human beings unique is his ability to communicate using a clearly structured language. This scholar says that although animals have the capacity to make sounds, they lack the capacity to use language as human being does. Theirs is limited to sounds unique to the information they want to pass across.
It is interesting to know how the language came into existence, and how it has evolved over the years. According to Huff (2009, p. 117), it is fascinating trying to understand how the language came into existence.
Some questions such as who were first people to use the language, what were the very first words, how did they come up with the words, how has this language evolved over generations, and much more are some of the questions that researchers have been trying to answer. Another fascinating fact about the language is the existence of numerous languages within a very small locality (Kirby & Christiansen 2003, p. 78).
In a country like the United Kingdom, it is common to find a person knowing only one language which is English. However, this is not the case in other countries, especially the third world countries in Africa and Asia.
For instance, Kenya- a small country in East Africa whose total land area is less than that of Mississippi State- has over 45 languages spoken by different groups of people. How could such a small geographical location be so diverse in language? These are some of the questions that scientists have been trying to follow-up.
Professor Simon Kirby is one such scientist who has dedicated their time to finding the origin of the language, and how it has evolved over the years. The professor has made effort to come up with various facts about the development of the language. This research is based on one of his experiments done to help demonstrates how the language has evolved over the years to be what it is today.
Professor Simon Kirby was specifically interested in finding how the language has developed over the years. To help in this research, the professor had to create a laboratory set-up where the experiment could be done in a near empirical form.
According to Stromberg (2008, p. 48), social scientists have had serious challenge when conducting research on human being, especially due to human’s ability to change character completely when he or she knows that a research is being done on him or her.
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In such cases, the person would not act normally, but would try to be the ‘ideal’ person. As such, the facts that would be gathered would not be a true reflection of the person. Knowing this challenge, Professor Kirby decide to make the experiment to be in a pure science approach where it was fully based on the memory of the mind and the ability to reproduce what is taught.
With the volunteer participants, professor Kirby created a simple laboratory to conduct the research. The nine participants would not interact in any way during the experiment. To help with the experiment, the professor had clear pictures of alien the fruits would be used in the research.
The set up for the experiment was very simple. Professor Kirby had a table where the pictures of the pictures fruits were placed, the pictures of the fruits, a chair, and a tape recorder. In the laboratory would be two people at a time, the participants, and the professor himself.
With the first participant, professor Kirby made up names for the fruits in a random manner. Each fruit in the picture had a name given by the professor. The professor would then pronounce the names of each fruit to the participant severally.
The participants were only expected to memorize the names, but not to record them. After a while, the participant would be presented with the fruit and expected to pronounce the name that was given for all the fruits. This participant would leave the laboratory without meeting with other participants who have not taken part in this experiment.
The next participant would follow, but this time, the professor will give the fruits the name given by the previous participant. The participant would be expected to memorize these names and repeat them to the professor. The names given by this second participant would be given to the third participant, and the sequence would continue up to the ninth participant. All their statements would be recorded for further analysis.
This research was a clear demonstration of how the language has developed over the years. When setting up this experiment, it was clear in the mind of professor Kirby that language has evolved.
It was clear to him, through his research works that are widely published, that English language has experienced massive transformation over the years and through generations. However, this experiment offered him opportunity to demonstrate how this change has taken place in a laboratory set-up. Kirby analyzed the responses that were given by each participant on each fruit.
The following table shows the transitions of the words from what professor Kirby gave to the participant, to what it finally came to be.
|Participant||The Names Given|
According to professor Kirby, the experiment developed a language that was to be used in this research. He says that these words were just made up, and did not deserve to be regarded as a language as the words were randomly picked without any clear structure. The words were picked as names of various fruits that were to be used in the experiment.
Professor Kirby says that when selecting the names, he did not give any special attention to the names of the fruits, and neither did he consider their shape or the design. The names were just assigned randomly. However, the color was chosen differently just to ensure that the participants would not confuse the fruits in the process of the experiment.
As was evidenced later, he did not know that the chosen colors would define the names that would finally be assigned to these fruits. As shown in the table above, the names slowly transformed from what they were initially as given by the professor, to what the final participant stated.
Some of the names transformed to be completely different from what the original name was. For instance, the first fruit for the experiment was assigned the name ‘lenana’. This was a name that was alien to the participants just as the fruit itself was. However, the professor watched as the name was changed to renana, renemula, pinamula, panamula, lanumula, lanupula, lapula, lanepu and finally lanepi.
According to the professor, the initial participants did very poorly. This was because they were presented with words, or a language that was very strange and unstructured. They could not relate the words and the objects because the name never reflected the either the shape or the color of the fruits.
They were just given in a haphazard manner. Each of the participants struggled to name the fruits based on three main factors, but in an unconscious manner. In their minds, they knew that they were giving names that were given to them by the professor.
This was however, a little far from the truth. The first factor that the participants based their words on was the sound of the word that was given to them. The initial participants were able to remember vaguely the sound of the words given to them. They would use this sound and then focus on the color and shape of the fruit.
This explains the wide variation between what the professor gave the first participant, and what this participant gave to be used by the second participant. The professor gave the word lapalu but this participant gave out the name pilu. As can be seen, the participant could clearly remember the sounds p and lu.
However, given the fact that the name did not make any sense to the participant, she used these two sounds to give this fruit a new name, pilu. As can be seen, the name became shorter than the original name which was given (Aitchison 2013, p. 78).
Because of the two sound p and lu, the participant did not add anything. This is because the letter p has a sound pi. This is why Professor Kirby said that the first participants performed very badly. This participant did not make an effort to come up with a creative name. However, she did the best she could in giving back the exact name that was given by the professor.
As the experiment progressed, a new form of word was forming, a language that was very different from that which the professor gave. For instance, the second fruit was given the name neki by the professor. However this changed consistently as the experiment went on. The first participant gave the name neluka. The name then transformed to nehuka, nehuma, nehula, pehula, pinahuma, pinamula, mula and finally mula.
Analyzing the first and the last word for the same fruit shows a clear difference and a complete transformation. The word neki is not in any way related to the word mula. Although both are four-latter words, which are a coincidence anyway, all the four letters are not related in any way. From the sound that comes out, to the letters themselves, it leaves no doubt that this is a new language, very different from the original language.
As Pesante (1995, p. 83) says, language is always in transition. In English language, there were words that were popular among professionals or the public, but are not considered archaic. At that time when their current replacements were introduced, these replacements were considered as slung, and were highly discouraged in official writings and speech.
As generations came and went, the slung became accepted in the society as a standard language, as the mainstream words were considered archaic. This has defined the transformation of English language, and many other languages, to what they are today (Oates 1979, p. 117). This is what the professor was trying to confirm from the laboratory test.
For professor Kirby, the nine participants were a representation of nine generations. Each generation would have its own name for the given fruit. It is important to note that in this experiment, the participants were unconsciously trying to base their names on color and shape of the fruit, while thinking that they were giving the exact names that were given to them.
It was, therefore, intriguing how each generation would change the name of the fruit to appear so different from the previous generation (McMahon, 1996). However, the professor observed that as the experiment went on, the names became more structured, meaningful and easy to memorize as compared to those given by the professor initially or those that were given by the initial participants.
The professor said that these generations ‘cleaned’ the language from all the dirt of ambiguities it previously had, to a pure language that had meaning based on the color and shape of the object. This, according to the professor, is how the language has developed. Smith (2010, p. 56) says that language continues to develop. In this development, this scholar says that the language takes two approaches.
The first approach that the language takes is that of direct borrowing. The word ‘safari’ has become an accepted English word that is widely used, especially by tourists (Hoff 2009, p. 83).
However, this is a wholly borrowed word from the Swahili language of Africa. Similarly, admiral is considered an English word, but was directly borrowed from Arabic language. The second approach is the evolution as witnessed in this experiment. It is this approach that professor Kirby based his research.
Professor Kirby says that the experiment faced one challenge. The challenge was due to the fact that some of the fruits were already known to the participants.
As such, when the professor gave a unique name, the participants started swaying towards the known name, and by the time the experiment was on the fourth participant, the name had quickly moved from the name given by the professor, to the actual name of the fruit.
This was a confirmation that the language transformation is not a sudden process that can take place within a generation. It is a gradual process that takes ages.
The ability of human being to use language as a means of communication makes him unique among the living things. Language is an important tool that enables people to communicate freely. The above discussion has clearly indicated that language has been gradually changing from what it was initially.
Professor Simon Kirby conducted an experiment using alien fruits to test how the participants would be able to recall the names of these alien fruits. To his surprise, the name for each fruit slowly transformed from one participant to the other. This demonstrates how the language has been changing from one generation to the other.
List of Reference
Aitchison, J 2013, Language change: Progress or decay, Cambridge University Press, Oxford.
Hoff, E 2009, Language development, Cengage Learning, Melbourne.
Huff, E 2009, Blackwell handbook of language development, Wiley-Blackwell, Chichester.
Kirby, S & Christiansen, M 2003, Language evolution, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Kirby, S 1999, Function, selection, and innateness: The emergence of language universals, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
McMahon, A 1996, Understanding language change, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Oates, J 1979, Cognitive development. Open University Press, London.
Pesante, M 1995, Shifting the boundaries: Transformation of the languages of public and private in the eighteenth century, University of Exeter Press, Exeter.
Smith, G 2010, Transforming Conversion: Rethinking the Language and Contours of Christian Initiation, Baker Publishers Group, Grand Rapids.
Stromberg, P 2008, Language and self-transformation: A study of the Christian conversion narrative, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.