Do you remember your childhood? Well then, the first word you’ve ever heard? Yes? No?
I thought so, too.
For a child, it is so easy to grasp the information through successful imitations. They’re actually very good at copying any kind of gesture from smiling to crying. In fact, this is the basic explanation of how children start talking. They basically start by imitating the words.
However, what happens if a child just never has any linguistic input, sign or imitation tool? If it was possible to raise babies without meeting any people in an environment, how would they communicate with each other? Which language would they speak among themselves?
For more than a century, this question has been so fascinating for many. Aside from its extremely unethical sides, so many experiments had been done by isolating babies from everyone to discover the origin of language that we speak today. In fact, it was the idea that if babies were prevented from communicating with the outside world in any language by writing or speaking, what kind of way that they might create to get in touch with each other. The well-known name of these experiments is language-deprivation experiments. The aim, as I stated above, is to discover the source of the language we are speaking but in a deep sense it is aimed to uncover the the basics of human nature.
In written sources, it is stated that one of the most remarkable experiment was made by Frederick II in the 13th century. Newborn babies had been taken from their families so as to raise them in a place in which there is minimum level of human interaction. It was only allowed a person to fulfill those babies’ basic needs but interaction was certainly prohibited. Frederick was aiming to understand that without encountering any language as native, which language would be those babies’ native language? Beside that, there were also some guesses. It was commonly expected for those babies to speak whether Hebraic, Greek, Latin or Arabic.
Do you have any estimation why those languages were chosen respectively?
These are the languages of holy scripture or ancient text. Therefore, as it is perceive easily from these guesses, Frederick II was essentially planning to find out which language Adam and Eve spoke. But unfortunately, he laboured in vain. Since, children could not be able to live without sheltered hands, kind gestures, support and pleasing statements. As a result, no one could tell which language the babies spoke.
Actually, this was not the first language-deprivation experiment in the history. A similar experiment was conducted around 600 B.C.in Egypt. The Egyptian pharaoh Psamtik have isolated two newborns with a shepherd who was strictly instructed not to speak to them. Supposedly, the first word that these children spoke was becos, the word for “bread” in ancient Phrygian, but it seems quite likely that this was a deliberate interpretation of their babbling (like bababa).
There were also wild children that grew up in nature, away from people. However, as it is expected they were not able to develop the same language skills we have. Since they have not been in touch with humans. In the following centuries, even if there were no specific experiments like this one, there were other children who had to grow up in naturally isolated ways.
There is also another way of isolation which is innate and compulsory. Deafness. Children may be naturally isolated from language is if they’re deaf children surrounded by people who don’t speak a sign language. Although their families often manage a primitive form of communication with them, it resembles the ad hoc gestures that lack the full expressive powers of a language.
In 1980s, many such children were brought together in Nicaragua’s first school for the deaf. Those children have never been communicate with anyone until 1980. Amazingly, it was observed that deaf children had tried to improve their own language when nobody that don’t know sign language is near them. They invented a new sign language among themselves by using hand and face gestures.
As a result of this, the ones who yearn for understanding them tried to unscramble the new language by calling language experts. However, the experts said the language that the children developed was surprisingly complicated and rich.
Nicaraguan Sign Language has been cited as an evidence that although children require a certain amount of linguistic input at a young age in order to learn language, they’re capable of generalizing from incomplete information to something far richer and more complex—which in fact a testament to the magnificent potential of the human brain.
From these small experiment samples, it is possible to infer that we no need voices, words, signs to communicate. Communication is something that come through as the common legacy of humankind.
On the other hand, in spite of all these efforts, we still lack of the knowledge about the languages first came out. And still we don’t know how they are evolved into the last version that are used today. However, there is little trigger that pushes us to form the most elemental way of sharing the information we have; the need of talk. According to many linguists, the most effective form of this trigger is a group of people that needs to share the information what they have learned. That is the actual reason for why there is about 6300 languages in the world today. We invented them for this reason.
Who knows, maybe another reason why we have many languages today is because it is the implication of thoughts as Kant said. Since the process of thinking is like an act that one talking to himself/herself. Therefore, it comprise of the highest level of language a person is able to build.
To sum up, in the history so many unethical experiments were conducted on this topic by putting some babies somewhere and isolate them from the outside world. Moreover, all of those experiments were focused on revealing the source of what we call as the mother tongue.
Perhaps the reason to do this is not isolating others but ourselves. Maybe in this way people tried to find a way that enable them to think differently, to orginize fast, to talk about specific objects and to build their own language that would not belong to Phrygians, who had lived in Anatolia.
Beste Gizem Cicioğlu
Project Management School Editor