Is There Any Such Thing as a Primitive Language?

Originally published in Creation 13, no 2 (March 1991): 24.

Simple, complex, degenerate and primitive languages are figments of the imagination. Languages like English, with only a few changes in the endings, are said to have a simple grammar, but can be very complicated in the way use is made of small words like ‘the’ and ‘of’.

‘George plays the piano’ sounds like a simple comment until you ask the question ‘Which piano?’ My African students could never understand why we don’t say ‘George plays a piano’, because they were taught that the piano means a particular piano. The answer of course is not ‘This piano’, or ‘That piano’, but ‘Any and every piano’. This type of usage of ‘the’ is irregular because ‘the’ also means ‘the only one’ or ‘a particular one’. For example, if you say, ‘The dog bit me’, you don’t usually mean that just any dog bit you or every dog bit you, but that a particular dog of which you are now painfully aware bit you.

While English people usually do not see that this degree of flexibility for the meaning of a tiny word ‘the’ is difficult, many people from other language groups find it so.

Since all languages communicate equally well for those who naturally use them, no language is degenerate in that sense. Any language can communicate any idea if you take the trouble to work on it.

Since all modern races are descended from Noah and his sons, who had a complex level of technology, for example shipbuilding, metalcraft, farming, etc., the so-called primitive races are not primitive at all. They should rather be called ‘ultimative’—(‘primus’ is Latin for ‘first’ and ‘ultimus’ is Latin for ‘last’). The so-called primitive races are at the end of a chain of dissolution of the civilization and culture of their ancestor, Noah.

This is why the anthropologist cannot make up a consistent picture of the evolution of culture from primitive to advanced. It simply never happened that way. As for the languages of ‘ultimative societies’, they are often so complex in grammar that people who speak English find them very difficult. This is true even of many languages which have easy vocabularies compared with English.

A million people in south-west Uganda use the following ‘word’—tiwaakukiba haire—to mean ‘wouldn’t you have given it to them?’ All parts in this word have specified meanings, for example ha = give, ti = not, w = you, aaka = would, ire = have, and ki = it. The English person trying to fit all these pieces together regards it as incredibly complex.

Actually, the question of the complexity of a language is a purely relative one. For any foreigner, a language may be complex when he uses his own familiar language system as the point of comparison. But it is obvious from the ease with which the national speakers use the language that the greater complexity simply isn’t there.

However, it we take as our reference point the relatively ‘moo-ving’ communication of a cow, then men’s immense language abilities, and the overwhelming complexities of the languages themselves, point to only one thing. Man was created with language.


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