Who first formalized language?

Who, and when, first decided that it would be beneficial for everyone to call an orange an “orange”. Not the written word, but spoken.
When communities were relatively small, and confined to one geographic area, everyone probably did use the same words to communicate. But as people spread out and established new villages far removed from the “motherland” they most certainly encountered new things and had experiences that caused them to invent new words.
There’s no use sending a messenger to a far away place if the recipient doesn’t know what you’re saying.
So, was there a concerted effort to formalize language? And would’nt this formalization have had to preceed writing? Who did it first?

According to Genesis chapter 20, it was Adam:

And that’s as much documentation as we can expect about that.

Personally, I blame the children. Mouthy things.

A couple of ideas to think about…

Words mean whatever we use them to mean. We learn what words mean from each other, not from an authority. So one answer is that nobody decided that we would all use the word orange to mean an orange. It just developed that way.

Secondly, we don’t all speak the same language and that is precisely because people lost contact with each other and gradually new words and ways of speaking developed among the different groups.

Of course there wouldn’t be any written documemtation. Similar wear patterns on jawbones, though? :wink:
How 'bout oral history? maybe some scholarly research by linguists? Some claim to know to pronounce ancient aramaic, fer crissakes.

Not “an” authority, daffyduck, but the authority of common usage and convenievce. I can see a traveler from the main village holding up a fruit in a distant village and saying “orange”, then a local saying “apple”. Then the traveler would say “no, it’s an orange. That’s what we call them where I come from, and if you don’t call them that, we’re not going to trade for them”.
In modern America the “authority”, I believe, would be television.
I know how languages came to be. What I’m asking is, why aren’t there a lot more of them.

There are a lot of them. There are many thousands in existence now. Many more thousands have disappeared as their users have become assimilated or conquered. New Guinea is famous for having hundreds of languages co-exist in a relatively small land area because of the isolation of the tribes by natural barriers. The same was true of North American Indian languages due to the size of the continent.

Paleontologists are having furious arguments now concerning how far back language ability goes. Was language restricted to Homo sapiens or were other species capable of the mental agility? If it’s just Homo sapiens, was language present at the beginning or did it take time to develop? Nobody knows and studies of brain formations from skulls allow for many different interpretations.

Whenever language first formed, it was many tens of thousands of years before any possible written documentation. Even the question of whether language emerged only once or many times has no answer. Nor can there be any answer as to whether sign languages were used for communication between tribes or whether pidgins, creoles, trade languages, or other intermediary forms came first.

Whoever makes even the slightest dent in any of these questions will become more famous than Cecil. :slight_smile:

What brought this question to the front of my mind is that when I got home my new neighbor caught me outside and filled my ears. He, and those who live with him, are here from Lousiana. I understand maybe 2/3’s of what he say’s. If he notices I’m not following completely he changes a little so my understanding goes up to maybe 95%.
I use North America as an example because we share a common language, but people in different regions can have great difficulty understanding each other unless we shift into a more formal (or standardized) american english. The standard language has become much more widespread with the advent of radio, then television.
I’m sure this is true in most other countries as well.

Well, that’s not such a leap. I mean, it probably sounds a good deal like modern Aramaic. It’s not like there’s no one left who speaks it.

Anyway, I doubt formal efforts to standardize language go back nearly as far as you seem to be implying. There probably were in China, along around the same time as in Rome (there definitely was formal teaching of Latin among the educated during classical times. I know that in classical Latin, the “h” sound was specifically taught because it had already ceased to exist in the common dialect, and its teaching depended on the existence of writing.) There may well have been earlier instances but probably none that predate writing - after all, what other instrument could be used to formalize language over a long distance before we had telephones and such?

In the scenario you mention, where standardization is accomplished locally by trade or, say, politics of some sort, it’s unlikely that any widespread uniform standard could have arisen. Languages have always sort of varied along continua in most places. One village speaks dialect A, and they can communicate with ease with the folks a town over, who speak dialect B. Dialect B speakers have no trouble talking with speakers of dialect C, and so on, but by the time you start comparing dialect A with dialect E or F, suddenly mutual comprehensibility is so limited that one might well consider them separate languages.

I think that’s probably the norm in many areas - if there’s not some sort of strong barrier (natural, or perhaps cultural) then people develop creoles of a sort that unite languages, while at the same time natural variation mean that as populations diverge, their language does too. So under this situation, it’s easy to see where a dialect continuum would have arisen. Of course, there always were circumstances in which outsiders would be speaking entirely different languages, but that occured in a minority of situations. Nowadays, with various forces working to slow dialect divergence among widely-spoken languages, and populations that are mobile enough that they can transplant to areas speaking completely separate languages, the situation of completely different languages coexisting is more normal. But up until pretty recently, it wasn’t.

The Romance languages developed into many, many different languages and dialects that were most similar to those in nearby areas and mutually incomprehensible with those spoken far away (and remember, they all developed from a single language, Latin.) In Portugal, Portuguese. Travel to Spain and you find speakers of Galego (a codialect of Portuguese, really, but with some similarities to Spanish.) Travel further east, you find Asturian, which is more similar yet to Spanish. East a ways further, Spanish. Next comes Aragonese, which has many similarities to Catalan. Continuing in the same direction, you find Catalan (ignoring, for present purposes, the Basques) which is quite similar to a set of languages or dialects spoken in southern France called Occitan. You can go north and observe the relative similarities between Occitan and French, or continue west and see various northern Italian languages. The point is that, during recent historical times even, these continua developed. Of course nowadays most of these minority languages are dying out. But to my knowledge, it wasn’t until the 1950s that most people in Italy spoke “Italian” (which comes from Tuscany, as it happens.) Before that, people spoke a number of regional “dialects” that were not all that similar to Italian at all. (Television was a big part of the process of introducing a standard dialect, just the way it is in American English, as you mentioned.)

I ramble when I discuss these things. The point is that actual formal efforts to standardize language are recent, and they didn’t happen until people could travel through a fairly wide area, so that communication with folks from distant places was necessary and useful. Until then, people’s languages were mostly local, and the natural processes that unite languages worked only under fairly short distances. Still, it wasn’t a problem for trade in a local community. Course, in places where a lot of trade happened with folks from far off, multilingualism did and does develop.