Language, Its Nature, Development and Origin


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The Zulu word for "man" is umuntu. Every word in the same or the following sentence having any reference to that word must begin with something to remind you of the beginning of umuntu. This will be, according to fixed rules, either mu or u, or w or m. In the following sentence, the meaning of which is "our handsome man (or woman) appears, we love him (or her)," these reminders (as I shall term them) are printed in italics: umuntu wetu omuchle uyabonakala simtanda

man ours handsome appears we love

If, instead of the singular, we take the corresponding plural form abantu, "men, people" (whence the generic term of Bantu), the sentence looks quite different: abantu betu abachle bayabonakala sibatanda.1

It is possible that the initial reaction determining this type of structure was the feeling of the importance of the subject, and the repetition of the initial sound served to remind the hearer of what the speaker was talking about. Or again, there is a universal affective tendency toward concord, assonance, euphony in the employment of words, as seen in our poetry and rhyme, and in nonsense verses and refrains. Nonsense refrains like hehe, he, hia, aha and ngilililih, ngilililih, ngilililih, ngilililih are a noticeable feature in Bantu songs,2 and attention to finished discourse is also a marked Bantu trait. Almost every Bantu man and woman is a fluent and sustained speaker, and Dr. Gordon Brown, who is working among one of the tribes, informs me that the most prevalent mental disturbance is in youths who realize that they are unable to become finished speakers. But whether the origin of the characteristic linguistic pattern lies in one of these directions or some other it evidently appeared as a shade of affect and prevailed as a fashion.

But, without inquiring further into what may have been the origins of linguistic types, we may examine certain patterns of language structure as reflecting human behavior in this field.

1Jesperson, O.n/an/an/an/an/a, , 353 (London: G. Allen and Unwin; New York: Henry Holt & Company. By permission).

2 Gutmann, B., Dis Stammeslehren der Dschagga, 1: 87, 655.

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Chicago: Language, Its Nature, Development and Origin in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. Thomas, William I. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937), Original Sources, accessed July 22, 2024, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=ZYZJV7UNBAR1QUH.

MLA: . Language, Its Nature, Development and Origin, in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, edited by Thomas, William I., New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937, Original Sources. 22 Jul. 2024. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=ZYZJV7UNBAR1QUH.

Harvard: , Language, Its Nature, Development and Origin. cited in 1937, Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. , McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York. Original Sources, retrieved 22 July 2024, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=ZYZJV7UNBAR1QUH.