Essay about The Origin Of Languages Around The World

Essay about The Origin Of Languages Around The World

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The question of the origin of names has been discussed and debated for centuries as is evident in Cratylus and is made prevalent during the creation of various sign languages around the world. Sign language in the grand scheme of the origins of language is fairly new as it is only about 500 years old, whereas the believed origin of English began somewhere in the 5th century (Brentari 2016). Signing raises the question of whether or not sign language, and language in general, is based on iconicity or arbitrariness. However, sign language is a mixture of iconic and arbitrary signing. Iconic sign language is drawn from the visual world while longer clauses and more abstract ideas must be given arbitrary signs. In accordance with Cratylus, the origin of names is directly tied to the origin of natural language and how it evolves. With this in mind sign language is both arbitrary and iconic just like any language.
In Cratylus, Hermogenes and Socrates debate the arbitrariness of names. Cratylus is a proponent for the idea of naturalism or the "idea or belief that only ’natural’ (as opposed to supernatural or spiritual) laws and forces operate in the world (Oxford 2014)." Cratylus believed that when people are named it is given to them naturally and it is their true name. This is to say that when an elephant is named an elephant it is not based on its characteristics or on what another being believes it should be called, but rather the name has simply always belonged to it. Socrates said that, “names ought to be given according to a natural process, and with a proper instrument, and not at our pleasure; in this and no other way shall we name with success (Cratylus 360BCE)” He believes names are linked to the object’s essence and have a c...


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...out words but rather just in a physical manner. This brings to light how many words in the english language are either hard to depict or are arbitrary in nature. For example, words such as a tree are physical and the sign for a tree vaguely resembles a tree. The question of arbitrariness is asked not when a sign is made for a word, but rather why a thing has been named that word. When studying languages and someone says a foreign word, it is nearly impossible to know exactly what that word means. Therefore sign language calls upon the iconicity of the world around us, but that can only bring us to a certain point in language. A that point sign language must become arbitrary in order to become comprehensible as a natural language. A natural language draws from both iconic and arbitrary notions. This is how languages can develop organically and with logical proceedings.

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