A letter I sent to a corespondent
Having received your
last message, and considered the topic we thought might make a good article,
I have come to the conclusion that I do not have enough material to do a
decent job. However, I do have a pile of notes that I believe would make an
interesting read. The piece would still be concerned with the evolution of
language, but it considers metaphor as a brain function, and explores the
evolution of language (and specifically a family of words) through an
expanding web of associations.
Using the beating heart and the blood system as a multi- faceted perception,
initially covered by a single utterance, the piece outlines the evolution of
an expanding vocabulary which now contains words designating colours, fire,
seeds and fruits, children, containers, names for the head, relationships,
and as the ads say, much, much more.
It may sound a little airy-fairy, the sort of reasoning used by our new-wave
friends, but our new-wave friends have a lot in common with our ancestors,
in that superficial likeness between objects or concepts are seen as
ultimately significant .
I back up my system of metaphorical associations with references to
anthropology, everyday use of metaphor and the structures of languages I
believe have not inherited words that belong to this specific family. I have
found little indication of the word family in the African, Chinese and
Native American languages, but could track a natural path through Europe,
Turkey, South Asia, Japan and out into the Pacific.
I attempted to put myself in the position of an ancient hunter, and thinking
in a metaphorical manner, imagine what association he would have made. I had
already formulated my heart/blood family of words, when I came across the
following in Inuit (Eskimo) which seemed to indicate I was on the right
track. (Inuit does not include the specific heart/blood family of words
which I believe are based on a word akin to corcor/ purpur) but uses the
same type of logic in the formation of a word family)
Inuit for a red coal is uuma
Heart = uuman
Green wood = uumak
Is alive = uumaruk
Lively child = uumalaaktuk
I do not want to go into detail here, but I see the original "corcor"
changing through shifts recognised by linguists. r---> l (n), c (k) ---->
g (p) etc, and the shortening or loss of one of the identical syllables. So
have corcor , corozon (Sp), calon (W), colon (Cornish), cor (L).(heart)
Boy in french = garcon, in Aboriginal = kolcon. ( I believe
our ancestors saw the heart shaped oval head as representing the heart
outside the body and expressing emotions engendered by it) head in Spanish is "coco". In
Aboriginal, head is "Kokora" or "koko". There are a number of words
concerned with redness, blood and relationships in the Aboriginal language
that seem to indicate a distant affiliation with languages such as
It may be that the specifics are suspect, but I believe the general theory
(new words arising by association) concerning the evolution of vocabularies
The Eskimo example demonstrates how associations can give rise to abstract
concepts such as life. I found the sound ST fascinating. I decided it
sounded like the hissing then the strike of a small animal or snake. Through
empathy it would have mirrored the hunter's in- and-out attack on a larger
animal. SSSSS T SSSS T SSS... building up the courage then taking the
opportunity to STICK, STAB, STRIKE. This emotionally charged part of
obtaining meat contrasted greatly with the use of tools to butcher it. This
would be entail a much slower and continuous motion SLLLL SLLLL SLLL. SLIT,
The ST sound may well have come to represent the abstract concept of a
discontinuum and the SL. a continuum. A SLAB of meat is cut into STEAKS, a
walk is broken into STEPS, STRIDES. The break up of a flowing in speech or
movement, STAMMER, STUTTER and STAGGER. The point of change START, STOP. A
large piece of material can be broken into STRIPES or cut into STRIPS.
The word SLEIGHT as in sleight of hand, used to mean skill in using tools.
SLAUGHTER in Icelandic SLATUR, is meat that has been cut up - butchers meat.
SLATE is an easily separated rock and SLEAVE means to separate. It is
possible that SLOT and SLEEVE were the names of the initial cuts to a
carcass - the SLOT down the middle and the SLEEVES up the limbs.
The SLIMY SLUG SLIPPED SLOWLY down the SLIDE
Of course, all this may be fallacious and coincidence, but it illustrates how
vocabularies and the onset of abstract thought could have come about. After
I had gone through my Oxford Dictionary for ST words and noted them all, I
returned a week later to find I'd missed one, ST itself. I was very pleased
to note that it was an exclamation to drive away an animal, or urge it to