Thursday, 30 July 2009

The origins of language

I must share a remarkable discovery with the world. As a result of an activity this afternoon, I now know why humankind developed language. I’d written 14 mini scripts for a major company in the oil business, each covering a specific aspect of safe working. (Stay with me here.) They were all around 1½ minutes long and, thanks to the willingness of the person commissioning them to experiment, eschewed shots of men in overalls on North Sea platforms looking at gauges and pipes. Instead, they featured 2 cavemen performing various activities involving quarries, caves, ravines and other topographical elements of the Neanderthal context.

Needless to say, they communicate in grunts (although I also allowed them to hum and whistle stone age tunes). So, this afternoon, I went to the studio with another person and we laid down the sound tracks which would give the animators some idea of timings and maybe get their creative nodes throbbing. Unfortunately, as well as grunted conversations, some of the situations in which the characters found themselves called for screams of terror, yelps of pain, groans of frustration and other things. After an hour and twenty minutes of takes and retakes, my throat felt as if it had been sandpapered.

I’ve done lots of voice-overs in my time, some of them for videos and DVDs lasting up to forty minutes, but never before felt such laryngeal distress. Talking is so much easier than grunting and, as we chatted about the results, it came to me that that was obviously why language came about. One day, some caveman or woman was rubbing his/her throat and thought ‘Bugger this, it’s too sore’ and began to use more modulated sounds. Language evolved because our ancestors were pissed off at having sore throats all the time.

I hope this may be included as an appendix in the next edition of ‘On the Origin of Species’.


  1. Laryngeal distress. I love it. I think that could be the next big thing once the Swine Flu moves on.

  2. LOL, Bill. I love your theory of language evolution. It makes sense to me. :)

  3. Michael, laryngeal distress is only part of it. I once wrote and sang a love song containing the lines:
    Deodorants are neutralised by what she can secrete
    In glands from her dandruff to her athlete's feet.

    And Jean, I knew you'd appreciate it. You, too, belong to the enlightened minority.