Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Evolution of Language

So much of the human world seems beyond my comprehension.  Like language.  I just can't imagine language evolving to its current level of diversity and sophistication, but a recent video helped me understand.

See the picture below, referring to language from the Ancient city of Sumer.  The first two elements are pictograms: one for "head", one "food".  We eat by putting food into our head, so the symbol for "to eat" was created by combining the pictograms for "head" and "food".  Notice that while the "head" and "food" pictograms are explicit pictures of the object they represent, their combination denoting "to eat" does not seem like a picture at all, which is why it is a "character" instead of a "picture".

From this process, we arrive at a set of characters--an alphabet--that do not resemble anything but take specific meanings.  That, I can comprehend.

Kenneth W. Harl
Origins of Ancient Civilizations
L2: First Cities of Sumer
The Teaching Company

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