The Idea of Man


The First Words... The Origin of Language


Re-Thinking The Meaning of Life...




Early Man

The Origin of Language...

       What is present can be referred to by the simple act of pointing. Earliest man used this means first and exclusively to refer to what was present, since, like any animal, he was not yet aware of the possibility and power of absence. And of course we still use this means of referring to present things as when I 'point out' which building on this street is the library. However, ONLY when an object is ABSENT, is there a need to 'call' it back into presence. Pointing to a present object  with the index finger is the pre-cursor to language. But language itself is born when the game, the berries, the food to be found in the bush,  the life-sustaining water in the stream, for some reason, this year,  does not appear as usual. It's the ABSENCE of the thing that requires a name for it and this naming is first a 'calling' of it back from its terrifying absence.

       The first words were born in this state of longing, fairly desperate, for absent, 'missing' things. The first words were 'calls' to these  things that were suddenly not there. The missing thing needs a name to  call it by. The calling of a thing back from absence gave the impetus  for replacing it with a word or an artistic representation, formed in  mud or drawn on the wall of a dwelling. In the same way, the first  naming of human beings was born of the need to call an absent dear-one back to the fold. As long as the circle is complete and all heads are  counted, there is no need for names. Only when one is missing, must he or she be given a name and called, probably desperately, back from the  danger and into the circle.

       Slowly, over hundreds of thousands of years, words and ideas began to replace all kinds of things, whether they were present or not, so that  they could be 'conceived' at will and man would no longer be at their mercy, subject to their loss. As the names of things proliferated,  language was required to comprehend the nuances, actions and  interactions of things as well as their relatively static, nominal state of being. Thus developed the need for verbs, adjectival and adverbial expressions and well as nominal ones. Over a vast period of time, more and more things with their events, patterns and structures - 'ideas',  were 'held in mind' by man and so his brain naturally grew to outsize  proportions. At the same time, the power of mute pointing receded and is present to us today as a mere vestige, useful in only the most trivial circumstances of signifying as in the case of my mutely pointing out the library on the street.

       Thus, on loss, absence and a more or less desperate calling, is the modern world of human language strangely founded. And the calling and recalling of longed-for absent things (and others) is exactly what we do all day. 'Primitive' man would be no stranger to us.

This article is an elaboration of thoughts developed in the book ‘The Idea of Man’. Availability and  info HERE

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