Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Primitive Languages

For along time there has been a misperception that the languages spoken by certain groups are not “fully developed” or lack the ability to express emotion.

Actually, there is no such thing as a truly “primitive” language. All human languages are systematic regular, highly develop and complex. In other words, there is no known society whose adult members’ speak anything that could be considered a “baby language”.

However, for many years most westerners believed that “primitive” languages existed that were capable of expressing motion or distinguishing between hues of colors. This notion is quite common toward the end of the nineteenth century.

At that time concepts social evolution were widely held among Western social scientist and were as popular with government officials in colonial areas.

In writing about the Twi of Ghana a century ago, one scientist stated, “There is, as is commonly the case with languages of the lower races, a great paucity of abstract terms in (Twi), and the language is entirely deficient of such terms as space, tone, species, quality, sex, degree, etc,…. Terms of endearment are…few in numbers…. At a rough calculation, there are from three hundred and fifty to four hundred different words.”

Unfortunately, this type of world view – although not widely subscribe now – is still believed by some. Karl Heider in his ‘Grand Valley Dani: Peaceful Warriors’ writes that he first went to study the Dani of New Guinea on the early 1960s he was told by a government official that the Dani language had no grammatical structure at all, and therefore no European could ever really learn it. Heider of course, knew this could not be true and came to appreciate just how complex and difficult it is to learn the Dani language. Still, the idea that some cultures have languages that are not fully “developed” is a concept that dies hard.
Primitive Languages
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