How language came to be and how we found our first words have been matters of research among linguists, anthropologists, and cognitive scientists for centuries. As a result, many theories have come forward that propose multiple different origins. One such theory is the natural sound source theory. Sounds quite straightforward from its name, huh?
The natural sound source theory of language origin proposes that language originated from the imitation of natural sounds. This theory is subdivided into several sub-theories, including the bow-wow theory, pooh-pooh theory, yo-heave-ho theory, ding-dong theory, ta-ta theory, and la-la theory.
Today we will explore multiple sub-theories (having these funny babyish names) that fall under this “Natural Sound Source Theory.
While there is evidence to support some of these sub-theories, none has been proven conclusively. However, we will definitely have a glimpse at some of the interesting experiments conducted to prove the theory.
What is the Natural Sound Source Theory of Language Origin?
The natural sound source theory of language origin suggests that humans developed language by imitating natural sounds in their environment.
Let’s have a look at the most important points to remember: –
- The natural sound source theory of language origin assumes that the earliest humans had a limited vocal range and a limited vocabulary, so they relied on sounds that were already present in their environment to communicate. Over time, these sounds became associated with specific meanings, and language developed as a means of communicating those meanings.
- This theory is based on the premise that language is not an innate ability but rather a learned behavior that developed over time.
- This theory also suggests that the evolution of language was a gradual process, with small changes occurring over a long period.
Versions of the Natural Sound Source Theory of Language Origin
Multiple versions have been put forward depending on the source of the “natural sound.” Let’s have a quick look at some of them before we discuss each of them in detail.
1. Bow-Wow Theory:
The bow-wow theory of language origin suggests that language developed from the imitation of natural sounds, which we refer to as Onomatopoeia.
German Philogist Max Müller gave us the term “Bow-Wow Theory.” Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Johann Gottfried Herder, and many other scholars have proposed some version of the Bow-Wow theory to explain the origin of the language.
Even though the Bow-Wow theory doesn’t get considered as a credible theory to explain original source, it does give us an idea about the origin of some words. Natural sounds must have played an important role in the language development process since we have so many onomatopoeic words today.
Read more about the Bow-Wow theory. (Coming soon…)
2. Pooh-Pooh Theory:
The Pooh-Pooh theory is another version of the Natural Sound Source theory.
Pooh-Pooh theory assumes that natural emotions and expressions such as crying, sighing, groaning, moaning, laughter, anger, exclamation, etc. led to the creation of words. Over time, these sounds became associated with specific emotions and developed into words that could be used to communicate those emotions.
Read more about the Pooh-Pooh theory. (Coming soon…)
3. Yo-Heave-Ho Theory:
When you work together with your team (For example, in our case, a group project representing Shakespeare’s Macbeth) you get to hear multiple sounds such as “Hurray!,” when you get the scene right, “Yo,” when your peer explains you the script, etc.
The initial humans didn’t have school or Shakespeare’s plays or group assignments. They had hunting, protection, lifting rocks and tree trunks, and whatever other things they needed to do to survive and function safely as a community. So, when you run after an animal, you would make sounds like grunting, groaning, shouting, etc. You might also swear out of frustration if the animal makes an escape. This is how we get the “Yo-Heave-Ho” version of natural sound source theory.
It is known to have been proposed in the late 19th century. You can find the initial references of this theory in Oxford Review.
The Yo-Heave-Ho Theory of language origin proposes that language developed and evolved in a social context. Also, rhythmic words like Yo-Heave-Ho worked like a sea shanty and provided momentum to the grunt work.
Read more about the Yo-Heave-Ho theory. (Coming soon…)
4. Ding-Dong Theory:
If we notice, all versions of natural sound source theory are directly associated with Onomatopoeia. Some consider animal sounds, some consider instinctive expressions, and some (Ding-Dong) consider nature sounds.
When you hear a doorbell ring, you can instantly imitate the sound “Ding-Dong!” Initial humans did the same thing.
Ding-dong theory of language origin proposes a hypothesis that earlier humans started naming the elements around them by the sounds they made (such as the sound of thunder or running water, or “boom!”) and imitated those sounds to communicate.
However, there is one more important and “mystic” aspect to this theory.
Ding-Dong theory of language origin considers that there is a natural correspondence between the instinctive sounds humans made for certain objects.
Read more about the Ding-Dong theory. (Coming soon…)
Table of Differences between the above theories:
|Theory||Origin of Language||Hypothesis|
|Bow-Wow||Imitation of animal sounds||Imitation of animals’ sounds to create words associated with specific meanings|
|Pooh-Pooh||Expression of emotions||Sounds of emotional expressions developed into words associated with specific emotions|
|Yo-Heave-Ho||Coordination while working together||Sounds made while people working together led to the creation of words associated with specific meanings|
|Ding-Dong||Imitation of environmental sounds||Imitation of sounds created by the environmental elements to create words associated with specific meanings|