Black People Invented Language?

Really, Supreme? Yes, really, Just read along. This isn’t rhetoric. This is just history and science. Soon I’ll add the witty remarks. For now, here’s the story raw.

“Before, Morse code or the radio, Africans developed finely tuned instruments devised to relay messages over long distances, sometimes with drum-scripts so ingenious they came close to the rhythmic mimicking of the human voice…” – 2012 365 Days of Real Black History Calendar

How do we make sense of the past?

When we work backwards to examine the distant past, there is a point where written records become scarce and, ultimately, nonexistent. As “history” is defined by the written word, this is where “pre-history” begins. This does not, however, force us to “guess” at what could have happened.

As we explained in The Science of Self, Volume One, there are many sciences that can aid us in piecing together the puzzles of the prehistoric past. One is linguistics, the study of language itself.

Where Does English Come From?

Renowned pscyhologist Na’im Akbar has said:

If we study the development and evolution of language we find very deep “roots” of human thought, again, taking us back to Ancient Africa. We discover that most of the symbols and ideas that are claimed as recent have very early origins and have a thread that runs back to the earliest developments of civilized life. We are made to understand that there are no new things but expanded variations on the old.

In order to understand the origins of spoken language, we also have to work backwards from the present. I’m sure you know we weren’t always speaking English, but let’s start there. English is a bastard language, meaning that it derives from multiple “parents,” particularly the Anglo-Frisian and Old Saxon dialects brought to Britain by Germanic settlers in the 5th century. But it’s also got plenty of Latin roots as well. When you dig back further, you eventually end up back at the common parent of Latin and German, which linguists call Proto-Indo-European.

This name refers to the fact that nearly all European languages and many Indian languages share clear similarities and can be traced back to a common ancestor language, which appears to have been spoken around 4,000 BC, before it spread and split into thousands of different tongues.[i]

The most likely point of origin is the Caucasus Mountain area between Eastern Europe and West Asia, as suggested by the Armenian hypothesis and to some extent by the Kurgan hypothesis.[ii]

Where did Proto-Indo-European come from?

Of course, when you go back this far, there’s no actually written samples of Proto-Indo-European, so everything from this point backwards is speculation. But it appears that Proto-Indo-European emerged from a proto-language family that some linguists call Nostratic. From Nostratic evolved the Afro-Asiatic language family, many of the languages of Asia, and all the language families of Europe.[iii]

The Nostratic family includes:

r    the Afro-Asiatic languages Africa and the Near East

r    the Dravidian, Elamite, and Sumerian languages

r    the Kartvelian languages of the Caucasus

r    the Indo-European language family (most of Europe)

r    the Uralic languages of Northeastern Europe

r    the Altaic families of Central and East Asia (including Turkic, Mongolic, and Tungusic)

r    the Korean-Japanese-Ainu languages, and

r    the Eskimo-Aleut languages of the Americas.[iv]

What this tells us is that Nostratic was first spoken at a time when the people who introduced these languages to these regions were still together or strongly connected. And boy, did the members of this family travel! In fact, you’re looking at one of Nostratic’s descendants right now. Nostratic gave birth to the Proto-Indo-European language that later gave birth to all Western languages, including the language you’re reading in right now.[v]

According to historian Charles Breasted, the ancient Nubians had a technique to communicate across a distance of nearly two miles by talking into the water of the Nile River! This reminds us of the advanced knowledge of sound employed by early Native Americans and Chinese who could hear people approaching their settlements from great distances.

Now, how did this language come to be? That’s a little tougher. Linguists believe the original Nostratic language was spoken close to the end of the last glacial period, between 16,000 and 11,000 BC.  Many say that the Nostratic homeland was somewhere in the Near East or Nile Valley, during the transition from Paleolithic to Neolithic culture.

Some evidence points to the culture formed between the Kebarans of Palestine (18,000–10,500 BC), which received most of its cultural influence from Nile Valley via the Halfans or Mushabians (c. 24,000–11,000 BC).[vi] The Halfans and Mushabians were both Black, and either of these groups could have been the first speakers of Nostratic.

Whatever the case, the people who spoke the original Nostratic eventually expanded from their homeland, went in many separate directions, and developed and introduced new cultures and languages everywhere they traveled.

So when we say that Nostratic language families include Afro-Asiatic, Sumerian, Elamo-Dravidian, Kartvelian, Indo-European, Uralic, Altaic, Korean, Japanese, and even the languages of the Inuit people, what we’re saying is that all of these linguistic traditions were introduced by separate elements of the original Nostratic-speaking family.

How much further back can we go?

“Primeval man gave us the gift of language.” – Drusilla Dunjee Houston

If you’re digging backwards with me, you’ve asked yourself, “Then what did Nostratic come from? Nostratic must have come from something older, right? After all, everything comes from something. So what does Nostratic come from?”

Well, we know that Nostratic languages are pretty old (about 15,000 years old) but there are languages in Africa that are older (like Khoisan). Nostratic could have come from an older African language, but it’s hard to tell how or when. You see, it’s very unrealistic for linguists to reconstruct linguistic connections past 20,000 years ago, so there’s not much to go in terms of how languages are related, or where they could have originated, past this stage.

Linguist Harold C. Fleming would not have limited Nostratic to the language families named above. Based on his “Borean” model, there was an ancestral language that gave birth to all the languages covered by Nostratic, but also:

r    the Dene-Caucasian languages of North America, Siberia, and the Northern Caucasus, and

r    the Austric languages, which include Austro-Asiatic (the native languages of India and Southeast Asia), Austro-Tai (the Pacific Islands) and Miao-Yao (Southern China and Southeast Asia)

In other words, you’re looking at a deep-rooted linguistic connection between the people who introduced the Neolithic to the Near East, India, and Europe, and the people who introduced the Neolithic to Central Asia, East Asia, Oceania, and beyond. The broad range of these languages explains why Afrasiatic culture can be found as far as East Asia and the Americas. Essentially, Fleming’s “Borean” language family encompasses almost all language families except for those native to Africa, New Guinea, and Australia.[vii]

This makes sense, as the prototypical form of this language would have been spoken 16-20,000 years ago, long after Africa, New Guinea, Australia, and places like the Andaman Islands were settled by the world’s first people. Older, unrelated languages include Khoisan, Papuan, Andamanese, and hundreds of language isolates in the Amazon and throughout Asia. All of these languages are much older that anything in the Borean family.

What’s clear, however, is that anything earlier than the Borean family is either a language that emerged before Toba (like Khoisan), or a direct descendant of one of those languages (like Nilo-Saharan). Borean, thus, is simply a group for all the languages spoken by people who developed their cultures AFTER the Toba extinction. After Toba, a new wave of Black populations traveled the globe, bringing different branches of this so-called “Borean” language wherever they went. Based on the genetic and archaeological evidence, these were all people we describe as Afrasiatic.

We don’t like the name Nostratic

The way these language families are named is no accident. “Nostratic” means “Our” language in Latin, which sounds like it favors a European origin. Borean literally means “Northern,” again suggesting a European origin. We prefer a name that defers to the homeland and ethnicity of its original speakers.

Considering that most linguists believe Nostratic was spoken in the same region as the Afro-Asiatic homeland, and Afro-Asiatic is one of the earliest of those descendants (between 11,000 and 16,000 years old), it’s reasonable to think that the Afro-Asiatic people are the direct cultural heirs of the Nostratic speakers.[1]

So we’ll call these people “Afrasiatic,” rather than deferring to the conventions of the European linguists. As there have been several waves of Afrasiatic migration, settlement, and expansion over the past 15,000 years, we’ll still use the linguistic groupings like Afro-Asiatic, Nostratic, and Borean to clarify when necessary.

What is important to keep in mind, however, is the question of “Who were the Original speakers?” And the originators of Afro-Asiatic, Nostratic, and Borean were all Black people from the root of civilization.

So, despite what European linguists have implied about such proto-languages being associated with Caucasian people, Borean (like Nostratic) can be traced back to the same homeland as Afro-Asiatic. It is a Black language. Wherever these languages are found, Afrasiatic people introduced them.

Did we Ever Speak One Language?

Once you go back more that 20,000 years, linguists have practically nothing to work with, so they can’t form many conclusions. But many linguists have suggested that there must be some sort of ‘Proto-language’ that fathered all the spoken languages on the planet today. Others don’t accept the notion of “Proto-World” or “Proto-Human.” But if there was one Proto-human language, it had to have developed at least 50,000 years ago.

Well, if we go back that far, that’s where you’ll find the settlement dates for all the Original people speaking languages that don’t fit in the Borean family. These populations (the Khoisan, the Hadzabe, some Australian Aborigines, some New Guinea people, and others) must be speaking languages that descended more directly from this great-great-granddaddy of all languages.

Today, the world’s oldest populations, many of whom survive as DBP populations, speak very different languages or the languages of their colonizers. Nothing looks even remotely related.

Did they once speak a common language? It seems unlikely, when we consider how different one Andaman language is from another Andaman language only 30 miles away. But then again, people like the Andaman Islanders have been on these islands for over 50,000 years. That’s quite enough time for one language to become many different branches that look nothing alike.

Just consider how much the English language has changed in the few hundred years since everyone spoke the King’s English and said stuff like “Over yonder, those rapscallions doth plundered my wench’s booty” and whatnot. Or think about how much American slang has changed since the 1970s. Now imagine how much a language could change over 100 THOUSAND years of population splits, migrations, and isolation.

Not only that, but the earliest spoken language was most likely a click language, and click languages ain’t easy to pass on. Just try learning one and you’ll see. So significant changes, including the disappearance of clicks, are likely. Still, recent studies have revealed an “ancient kinship” among three groups of geographically separated click speakers, supporting the idea that the click languages form a single, ancient language family.[viii]

In other words, the Original People were once united, over 100,000 years ago, at the Root of Civilization. There, they may have spoken a common language, or dialects of that ancestral language, until they dispersed to populate all of the world.

A 2011 study of over 500 languages confirmed that all linguistic diversity (and cultural diversity) on the planet can be traced back to the same African origin as the world’s genetic diversity:

Human genetic and phenotypic diversity declines with distance from Africa, as predicted by a serial founder effect in which successive population bottlenecks during range expansion progressively reduce diversity, underpinning support for an African origin of modern humans. Recent work suggests that a similar founder effect may operate on human culture and language…and supports an African origin of modern human languages.[ix]

What did this language sound like?

Well, we definitely don’t have any written records from 50,000 years back. But we do have people who have been pretty culturally consistent for that long. And guess what’s the only thing you’ll find in common between their languages? It’s a little sound commonly known as the click. If you’ve ever seen the Bushmen (Khoisan) of South Africa on television, you know the sound. But the Khoisan aren’t alone. There are at least 30 click languages surviving throughout Africa, mostly among the DBP (pygmies), who are the oldest surviving population there.

“[T]he more we study the facts that are already brought to light, the greater proof is there that the Pigmy is the oldest and first man, and with him language originated, and the first sacred ceremonies…”

– Albert Churchward, Signs and Symbols of Primordial Man

According to a recent genetic study, click languages are the oldest languages in the world today, raising the possibility that their distinctive feature was part of the ancestral human mother tongue. The mitochondrial DNA of the click-speaking Ju/’hoansi San (also known as the !Kung), a society of hunter-gatherers who live on the Namibia-Botswana border, suggests that their line of descent goes back to the near root of the present-day human family tree.

Most of the surviving click speakers, including the Ju/’hoansi, live in southern Africa. But two small populations, the Hadzabe and the Sandawe, live further north, near Lake Eyasi in Tanzania. The study found that the Hadzabe was just as old as the Ju/’hoansi, but the tribes have been separated for over 40,000 years, suggesting that both groups – and their languages – trace back to the root of humanity itself.[x]

Although these click languages are now mostly found in Southern Africa, genetic evidence from Khoisan language speakers suggest the original homeland for the Khoisan people and language was somewhere in the east African range where the earliest fossils of modern man have also been found.[xi]

“The divergence of those genetic lineages is among the oldest on earth,” geneticist Alec Knight said.

So one could certainly make the inference that clicks were present in the mother tongue…The deep genetic divergence between the click-speaking groups is consistent with the hypothesis that clicks are an ancient element of human language. If, in fact, San-Hadzabe separation dates back to a time prior to out-of-Africa expansions of modern humans, clicks may be more than 40,000 years old. Under that scenario, clicks would have been lost subsequently in most other populations.

Outside Africa, the only language known to use clicks is Damin, an extinct Aboriginal language in Australia, taught only to men for initiation rites. Australia is one of the first places outside Africa known to have been reached by modern humans. Damin was a sacred ceremonial language used only by the advanced initiated men of the Lardil and the Yangkaal tribes in Aboriginal Australia.

Both groups say that Damin was created by a mythological figure in Dreamtime and preserved by learned elders.[xii] The Dreamtime connection suggests that the language came from an ancestral population, possibly a population of DBP who were regarded as Australia’s first settlers.

It should be noted, however, that Charles Darwin reported that the oldest aboriginal population of South America, the Fuegians (who are directly related to the people of Australia), may have once used clicks in their language as well:

The language of these people, according to our notions, scarcely deserves to be called articulate. Captain Cook has compared it to a man clearing his throat, but certainly no European ever cleared his throat with so many hoarse, guttural and clicking sounds.[xiii]

Why clicks?

One theory is that click-speaking emerged because it helped people to communicate while hunting – animals are known to be scared by human language but take little notice of click speaking. But if we look a little deeper into the origins of human language itself, what we learn is that pre-hominid fossils indicate that we didn’t always have the descended larynx that allows for the range of sounds our vocal tract can produce today. So just as we didn’t always have 10,000 languages (as we do today), we didn’t always have 10,000 words and sounds either.

Now, looking at these facts from a different perspective, it is possible that animals BECAME more fearful of human speech than click-speaking because of the change in behavior that accompanied the language change: click speakers killed only what they needed, while others exploited the environment to the point of abuse.

Similarly, the human larynx could have changed to adapt to the increased use among people who need more words to communication. But, as we’ve already learned, the original state is not necessarily a worse state. Did we “need” these changes? Or were things better when things were simpler?

Universal Grammar

In the view of linguists, language is simply a system for translating thought, or knowledge, into a physical output (speech or writing). According to Nicholas Wade, “This complex, combinatorial system is at least partly innate. All human languages appear to employ variations of the same system.”[xiv] Noam Chomsky called this “Universal Grammar” and said it was hardwired into the consciousness of all humans, beginning with the ancestral human population.

Anthropologist Donald Brown, building off Chomsky’s concept of Universal Grammar, developed a concept known as the Universal People. According to Brown, the Universal People are typically hunter-gatherers who share a common set of core values and unique cultural traditions that predate the emergence of organized government, business, or religion. Wherever their descendants are found, they all practice divination (predicting the future) and see themselves as having the power to influence or control the weather.[xv]

In an anthropological sense, then, the Universal People are simply the system by which the original essence of humanity is manifested in physical form. They are not primitive, but prime. Like a prime number, they cannot be reduced to a simpler form or divided into parts. They are what Dr. Victor Grauer calls the “Human Baseline Population.”

In other words, these terms are all different ways to refer to the population we call the “Original People.” And just as they are the physical system by which humanity is made manifest, spoken language is the physical system by which thought is made manifest.

This leads us to an ontological question: If – as we explored in The Science of Self, Volume One – Man is simply the physical manifestation of the Mind, is it possible that there was once an even simpler, or more essential, form of communication than spoken language?

Unspoken Communication?

How simple could things have been? Perhaps so simple that we didn’t need to speak! How else could the people of 850,000 years ago build boats and go on sea voyages together, yet anthropologists say that man only learned to communicate within the past 100,000 years?

Steven Mithen proposed the term Hmmmmm for the pre-linguistic system of communication used by archaic hominids, beginning with Homo ergaster (about 2.5 million years ago). Hmmmmm is an acronym for “holistic (non-compositional), manipulative (utterances are commands or suggestions, not descriptive statements), multi-modal (acoustic as well as gestural and mimetic), musical, and memetic.”[xvi]

Sounds very organic, yet comprehensive. Now, obviously, something changed in both our brains and our bodies so that our use of spoken language grew considerably (just like what happened with written language), but the question is: “Did we need to “speak” to communicate?”

Some linguistic schools don’t think so. They explain that the development of spoken language was yet another “shell” for communication that became increasingly complex as social needs dictated. Just as writing started out as simple symbols covering broad concepts, humans may have once used simple sounds to communicate complex concepts…and it may have once been even simpler than that.

Communities of deaf children in Nicaragua have been found to develop their own forms of complex, nonverbal sign language, and countless examples from the animal kingdom show that effective communication can occur – sometimes over great distances – without the use of words.[xvii] We also know that 55% of human communication is nonverbal and 38% is tonal. This means that our actual words only make up 7% of the message that people receive from us.[xviii] Given these facts, I can envision a distant past when humans didn’t need words to communicate. Perhaps that is why the word for the Australian click language, Damin, means “being silent.”

[1] Christopher Ehret has convincingly argued that Proto-Nostratic and Proto-Afro-Asiatic emerged at the same time in the same area. Essentially Nostratic and Afro-Asiatic could have been two branches of the same tree. We could still label this tree Afrasiatic.

[i] Mallory, J.P., (1989). In Search of the Indo-Europeans. Thames and Hudson.

[ii] T. V. Gamkrelidze and V. V. Ivanov, (Mar 1990). The Early History of Indo-European Languages, Scientific American.

[iii] John Noble Wilford, (1987). “Linguists Dig Deeper Into Origins of Language,” The New York Times.

[iv] Greenberg, Joseph (2005). Genetic Linguistics: Essays on Theory and Method, edited by William Croft. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Greenberg agreed with the Nostratic concept, but stressed a deep internal division between its northern ‘tier’ (which he called Eurasiatic) and a southern ‘tier’ (principally Afroasiatic and Dravidian).

[v] Dolgopolsky, Aharon. (1998). The Nostratic Macrofamily and Linguistic Paleontology. McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.

[vi] Mellart, James. (1975). The Neolithic of the Near East. Scribner.

[vii] H. C. Fleming, (1991). ‘A New Taxonomic Hypothesis: Borean or Boralean’, Mother Tongue 14.

[viii] “Snapshots From the Meeting.” (Apr 22 2005). Science, Vol. 308 No. 5721 p. 491. DOI:10.1126/science.308.5721.491b

[ix] Atkinson, QD. (2011). Phonemic Diversity Supports a Serial Founder Effect Model of Language Expansion from Africa Science, Volume 332, p. 346–349. DOI 10.1126/science.1199295

[x] A. Knight et al. (2003). “African Y Chromosome and mtDNA Divergence Provides Insight into the History of Click Languages”. Current Biology 13 (6): 464–473. doi:10.1016/S0960-9822(03)00130-1. PMID 12646128.

[xi] Hammer, Karafet, et al, (2001). “Hierarchical Patterns of Global Human Y-Chromosome Diversity” Molecular Biology and Evolution 18:1189–1203.

[xii] K. Hale and D. Nash. (1997). “Damin and Lardil.” Phonotactics.

[xiii] C. Darwin to C. Whitley. (1911). Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Vol 1, p. 226–27, D. Appleton.

[xiv] Nicholas Wade. (2006). p. 66.

[xv] Nicholas Wade. (2006). p. 66.

[xvi] Mithen, Steven J. (2006). The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind, and Body. Harvard University Press.

[xvii] Diamond, Jared (2006). The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal. Harper Perennial. p. 141–167.

[xviii] Mehrabian, A. (1972). Nonverbal Communication. Aldine Transaction.