Previous Challenge Entry (EDITOR'S CHOICE)
Topic: Ding-Dong( 05/16/13)
A Lesson in Linguistics
By Tyler Harris
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Daniel lifted his tired eyes curiously to old Professor Harrington but did not laugh. Linguistics class at 7:50 AM was sure not synonymous with wakefulness. The desk creaked as he shifted into a more attentive position.
Professor Harrington continued, “As you all know, or are at least pretending to know, we have been discussing the origin of language, and we have covered such dulcet topics as ‘The Bow-Wow Theory’, The Ta-Ta Theory’, ‘The Yo-He-Ho Theory’, and a few others.”
Daniel let a tired smile cross his face.
“Today, ‘The Ding-Dong Theory’.” This time, now that the students were a bit more alert, a few chuckles arose from the back of the room.
The professor went on, “This theory is more formally known as sound symbolism. Scholars have long since recognized that commonalities exist between sounds and meaning. A modern day example: think of a siren – just the sound alone indicates a call for help. This theory states that our primitive ancestors created the basis for language by making sounds that were harmonious to meanings in nature. Consider the words mini or bitty. Don’t these words, just by their pronunciation suggest something small? Compare that with the words huge or moon. These sounds suggest something big or rounded. Furthermore, a prick sounds smaller than a poke, and a chop sounds bigger than a chip!”
Daniel leaned back in his chair, finally fully awake, as Professor Harrington expounded further. This concept struck him as quite obvious; he was surprised he had never noticed it before. Although he found the theory intriguing, he didn’t believe it was weighty enough to explain the entire origin of language.
“Now, I know some of you are thinking that this theory can’t possibly account for the entire origin of language,” the professor said. “And you are right.”
Daniel smiled proudly.
“In reality, aside from a few scattered occurrences, no hard evidence exists of sound symbolism being the foundation of language.”
Daniel sighed. Professor Harrington said the same thing about each theory they discussed.
“Truthfully,” the professor said, “we may never know the details as to the origin of language. In fact, humans seem to be uniquely fitted for language, and evolution has yet to explain the gap between animal sounds and human language. Its origins remain one of the great mysteries of the history of humanity.”
Daniel shifted uneasily. All semester he had felt a nudging to express his biblical views during class, but he was afraid of being ridiculed. Every semester new stories flourished of kids being humiliated for their faith in ‘archaic customs’ and ‘obsolete tenets’.
“Are there any comments or questions?”
Daniel winced and felt his face growing hot. He desperately wanted to lift his hand with confidence and declare that man didn’t create language at all. That God, in his perfect plan of connection and intimacy, created language and then gifted man with a unique, innate ability to understand it! That, perhaps, in order for man to understand and fulfill his purpose on the earth, language was necessary prior to his own existence! He felt compelled to say these things. If only he was more prepared, more articulate, more confident – if only he wasn’t so scared.
Silence filled the room as the professor finished answering the last of several questions. Daniel felt like he was going to explode.
“Well, Professor Harrington said while packing up his notes, “if there aren’t any more questions, that will be all for today.” The professor paused and looked around the room.
Daniel felt the tiniest perspiration begin to bead on his forehead. He stared down at his desk in frustration and shame.
“Alright, have a good day. You’re dismissed.”
Daniel watched as the students began to pack up and file out of the room. After a moment, he stood up and slowly headed toward the exit. He was only a few feet from the door when the professor called over, asking to speak with him. Daniel turned and nodded.
“You looked like you had a lot on your mind today. Is everything okay? Did the topic interest you?”
Daniel’s mind raced as he tried to form an answer. What would he do? What would he say? Would he finally take advantage of an opportunity? Why did he care so much about people’s opinion? A siren wailed outside in the distance. How ironic.
1 Peter 3:15
Morris, H. (1975). Language, creation, and the inner man. Acts & Facts. 4 (8).
Taylor, C.V. (1997). The origin of language. Journal of Creation, 11(1).
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