A Verbal and Visual Exploration of the Different Theories Regarding the Origin of Human Language

Linguist Arika Okrent and illustrator Sean O’Neill verbally and visually explore the many different theories out there about how human language came to be and the human biology involved in making it so. Among those many theories are the “Bow-Wow Theory“, the “Pooh-Pooh” theory, the “Yo-He-Ho” theory and the “La La Theory“.

Language disappears on the air as soon as it is produced. It doesn’t get left behind. We will never dig up the first word, or discover a fossilized sentence.This hasn’t stopped people from speculating about how that first word came about. For centuries, people have put forth theories on it. There’s the bow-wow theory, that language started from imitation of sounds that things make. There’s the Pooh-Pooh theory, that it came from automatic vocal responses to fear, pain, surprise or other emotions. There’s the Yo-He-Ho theory, that it came from rhythmic grunts or chants used to coordinate actions when working on big projects together. There’s the La-La theory, that it emerged from the sounds of inspired playfulness, poetic sensibility and song. This one is lovely, but no more likely than any of the others.