What was the first language, and what was it like?

Does it still exist? And out of all the languages on earth today, which one is the oldest?

These are tricky questions, and linguists have tricky answers. Linguist Daniel Midgley goes back to basics on this episode of Talk the Talk.


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Promo with Jane Hebiton


Show notes

What Part of “No, Totally” Don’t You Understand?
http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/what-part-of-no-totally-dont-you-understand

No, Yes, Definitely: On The Rise Of ‘No, Totally’ As Linguistic Quirk
http://www.npr.org/2015/04/12/399210557/the-rise-of-the-no-totally-linguistic-phenomenon

How to Say ‘Yes’ (by Not Saying ‘Yes’)
http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/04/how-to-say-yes-by-not-saying-yes/390129/

People in Northern Sweden have the world’s weirdest way of saying ‘yes’
http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/real-life/people-in-northern-sweden-have-the-worlds-weirdest-way-of-saying-yes/story-fnq2oad4-1227187456841

Russian-language version of Apple personal assistant Siri gives ‘homophobic’ responses to questions about gay people
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3040346/Russian-language-version-Apple-s-Siri-gives-homophobic-responses-questions-gay-people.html

“In Soviet Russia Siri questions you”

Until yesterday, Russian Siri was giving out homophobic replies
http://www.theverge.com/2015/4/15/8420763/apple-russian-siri-homophobic-replies

Apple fixes ‘homophobic’ Russian Siri: ‘This emotion should be considered negative’
http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/apr/16/apple-fixes-homophobic-russian-siri-emotion-should/

Russia’s Apple monument dismantled after Tim Cook comes out as gay
http://www.digitalspy.com.au/tech/news/a607640/russias-apple-monument-dismantled-after-tim-cook-comes-out-as-gay.html#~paaNX4QTTVCTl0

Barbara Klein Moss: The Search For The First Language
A good rundown of ideas about early language
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/barbara-klein-moss/the-search-for-the-first-_b_7011208.html

Another one: The first chapter of God’s Sacred Tongue: Hebrew and the American Imagination by Shalom L. Goldman
http://uncpress.unc.edu/browse/page/372

There was some idle talk about making Hebrew the official language of the USA.
http://www.languagepolicy.net/archives/LLPT1.htm
http://www.pbs.org/speak/seatosea/officialamerican/banenglish/

The Ten Lost Tribes
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_Lost_Tribes

Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, borrowed the Hebrew origin story for his work of fiction, The Book of Mormon.
http://www.bibleodyssey.org/en/places/related-articles/mormon-scripture-and-the-lost-tribes-of-israel.aspx

Smith also speculated that the Ten Lost Tribes lived at the North Pole. In a kind of hollow.
http://mormonthink.com/QUOTES/losttribes.htm

This ties right into the ‘Hollow Earth’ theory that was also going around at the time. Smith picked up on a lot of stuff that was going around.
http://www.unmuseum.org/hollow.htm

RationalWiki: Sanskrit is not the first language
http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Sanskrit

Nutty stuff from The Vedic Foundation: Sanskrit was the first language, and it’s never changed. Warning: crackpottery.
http://www.thevedicfoundation.org/valuable_resources/Sanskrit-The_Mother_of_All_Languages_partI.htm

MIT Press Release: The rapid rise of human language
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-03/miot-trr033115.php

The paper: The precedence of syntax in the rapid emergence of human language in evolution as defined by the integration hypothesis
http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00271/full

New paper suggests speech developed in a now-familiar form
http://phys.org/news/2015-03-paper-speech-now-familiar.html

Early humans did not mumble and grunt: Language ‘developed rapidly’
http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/early-humans-did-not-mumble-grunt-language-developed-rapidly-1494573

The authors think it all comes down to Merge.
We Got Merge: Noam Chomsky on the Cognitive Function that Made Language Evolve
http://www.brainpickings.org/2012/06/20/noam-chomsky-the-science-language/

Linguist List, Ask a Linguist: What’s the oldest language?
http://linguistlist.org/ask-ling/oldest.cfm

Percy Sledge: Soul singer’s link to cricket’s sledging
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-04-15/percy-sledge-soul-singer-link-to-cricket-sledging/6393694

World Wide Words: Sledging
http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-sle1.htm


Show tunes

Find the tracks we play on the RTRFM webpage for this episode.

Image credit: http://phys.org/news/2015-03-paper-speech-now-familiar.html