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How words originate?

  1. Feb 26, 2013 #1
    Most of the words I see originate from Latin and Greek. I suppose that is because they are the oldest languages and everything was derived from those two.
    But how did Latin and Greek come up. How did we form the language in the very beginning? Who decided the words, the grammar, the spelling etc?

    I have been curious about this question. Sorry if this is a very common question in linguistic, I thought this would be the quickest place to get the answers compared to any other resources.

    Thank You!
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 26, 2013 #2
    I'm assuming we started off with grunts and stuff just like other animals and we just kind of built more complicated sounds from there. Since different societies were isolated from each to different extents other languages developed. I wouldn't be surprised is latin and Greek got spread through commerce and conquest.
    By the way this is off the top of my head, I'm sure there's tons of documentation about this online.
  4. Feb 26, 2013 #3
    Yeah okay I can see how the words could have originated but I was thinking about grammar and spelling. In English you have several rules about forming sentences and spelling. Latin and Greek must have some rules too.
    So as these words originated did people just decide that such and such rule should be there and that this word should be spelled like this etc?
    I am actually looking for how grammar came up.

    I am not really into this filed of study so I don't know where to look up. Any references?
  5. Feb 26, 2013 #4
  6. Feb 26, 2013 #5


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    Languages exist for more than 10000 years, probably much more. Greek and Latin were just two languages widely used and written in Europe at some point in our history. They had many words derived from older languages as well.
    Point to some object, make some special sound. If others follow your example, you have invented a word. Works best if there is no word for that object yet ;).
    With more and more words (and more complex statements: present, future, past, plans, ...), grammar can get necessary, but I think the details are still a very interesting question.
  7. Feb 26, 2013 #6
    I think I was getting at the origin of grammar, as communication becomes more complex rules are required so people don't get lost in translation. I think these rules naturally arose from self-correction. Kind of like evolution.
  8. Feb 26, 2013 #7
    I'd like to add that I'm speculating. I'm in physics lol.
  9. Feb 26, 2013 #8
    I see the need for grammar. But who actually decided the rules and grammar?
  10. Feb 26, 2013 #9


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    This can come from an authority (king, whatever), or as result of a "democratic" process. Grammar is constantly shifting. New expressions/word combinations/other stuff are added, others are not used any more. I think all examples are quite language-specific... I can find some examples for German, if you like.
  11. Feb 26, 2013 #10


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    It only seems that way if you're in a scientific or technical field. I think it's because when modern science developed in Europe (1700s-1800s), many people were also very interested in classical Roman and Greek culture and literature. So when scientists needed to make up new words, they turned to Latin and Greek.

    Far from it! Greek and Latin represent merely two branches of the much larger Indo-European language family. Other branches in Europe include the Germanic and Slavic languages.


    English is fundamentally a West Germanic language. It's most closely related to Frisian and the Low German dialects spoken along the North Sea coast in Germany and the Netherlands; a bit further away are the other German dialects and Dutch. English also picked up many North Germanic words from when Vikings ruled parts of England, and French words from Norman French rule beginning with William the Conqueror.
  12. Mar 1, 2013 #11


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    I think most people know :tongue2: that Latin and Greek as well as the Germanic languages from which English is descended are branches of a single language family, 'Indo-European' which includes most European languages, Persian, most languages of India and even Hittite. Thought to originate from peoples of Central Asia/ Caucasus who spread or at least their culture did. Something supposed to resemble the original ('proto-Indo-European') has been reconstructed.* Something like a dozen or so such large language groups have been identified. For instance the 'native' languages of America fall into 3 groups, Inuit, Na-dene, and the most widespread 'Amerindian'.

    According to some, all languages have a single ancestor. (That would be my expectation. like life, first comer takes all). I have heard it claimed that a handful of words of this ancestor can be identified. That the original 'one' and 'two' were 'tik' and 'pal'.

    These ideas and studies go back a long way and you can imagine there has been much disagreement. I think the field has been renewed by the same kind of methods that are used in trying to reconstruct the Tree of Life from DNA sequences. Relations between DNA sequences have been reconstructed that are absolutely not evident by just looking at a few sequences side by side. I am equally not up-to-date on this field :blushing: but remember a couple of conferences I attended a dozen or so years ago that would have been a corrective lesson to the people who say scientists make up stories and believe what they want to believe.

    But I would appreciate hearing of an appropriate digestible book or site that deals with this language evolution, the wiki site quoted is rather broad biological and philosophical background, and not a little speculation, rather than history. I would like to know not just what they think but what is their criterion or measure of truth or reliability of their conclusions.

    And how! :rofl: Any secondary schoolchild for several centuries till recently would know it, spending years on the rules, something considered as dry and difficult as math.

    *a trifle I remember is that our word 'fish' was thought to be related to 'flat', 'foot', and even 'spear' (the family must surely include 'plate', 'blade' and 'Blatt' =leaf, German) whereas the original Indo-European word for fish is the ancestor of our 'salmon'.
    Edit: other plausible relatives keep coming to mind, like fold, field, felt, pelt, ply, develop etc....
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2013
  13. Mar 5, 2013 #12
    Nobody knows, of course. I do know that English writing was originally phonetic and there was a big effort to standardize spelling. Even today there is plenty of bad grammar around. New words are continually being invented too. Some catch on, others don't.

    As for writing, I think in most cases that an individual or small group invented it. This happened with Arabic within recorded history, and it was deliberately created to look beautiful.
  14. Mar 5, 2013 #13


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    An even more recent example is the Cherokee Indian writing which was created by a single person, Sequoyah, between 1809 when he started working on it and 1821 when it was accepted by the Cherokee tribe.
  15. Mar 6, 2013 #14


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    Last edited: Mar 6, 2013
  16. Mar 8, 2013 #15


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    Avichal, You've asked about a subject some folks spend their entire lives studying, and others work for and get awarded a PhD in. May I suggest, for a general overview, including some controversery, you visit these three Wiki pages?


    Be sure to use the “See Also” sections of each page. These allow you to zero in on specific areas of interest, like word development over time.

    Cheers, Bobbywhy
  17. Jun 6, 2013 #16
    In reply to EPenguin's illuminating post... Not books but documentaries... for non-experts and better than a book, you can hear the words spoken.

    The single language 'Before Babel'

    First in a series on the development of the English language

    Fortunately, grammar is making a come back in language education in modern curricula. It has been realised that just like in science, if you do not know the theoretical rules, you cannot extrapolate beyond personal experience. And they are teaching a world with rules that makes sense. Hooray!
  18. Jul 4, 2013 #17
    Yea, try reading Chaucer in its original old English. While written very correctly in all aspects of the English language, it is barely intelligible to the common modern English user. Even colonial period American documents can be difficult to read (and it is modern English), as spelling and grammar rules have evolved. For example, when writing a word with an "ss" in the middle, it was spelled as an "f."
  19. Jul 4, 2013 #18

    jim mcnamara

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    IMO - there are good modern examples of the origin of language - they occur and are documented. They are called twin languages - autonomous languages


    The implied conclusion (my take) language is innate to humans, and they can create one with little or no help. This applies to words as well. Children coin words we use today:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Googol (9 year old)
  20. Jul 5, 2013 #19


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    I've often wondered how much linguistic innovation is due to children. They often say unconsciously funny or witty things that appeal to adults, and become fixed within families and might spread further. (Is my impression that almost every family with more than one child has alternative versions of siblings' names shared?) The new versions are often easier to pronounce.

    This must have been studied.
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