The institution of language deserves consideration as typifying the basic agencies by means of which societal interests, in general, are realized. Like many other social phenomena, language had its beginning among animals. Under a system of struggle and competition, there would be a greater chance of survival among those animals which could cooperate as they were better equipped to meet their group’s needs. But since the basis of cooperation is the ability to communicate, cooperative groups could develop only in so far as their members were able to transfer their ideas, and the medium of this was a communication system, initially a system of signs and sounds. After the development of written symbols, a record of events became possible, thus providing for the perpetuation of a knowledge of the past, which in turn laid the foundation for the possibilities of history and science.
It is well established that the higher animals are adept in recognizing the significance of the actions, attitudes, and movements of their own kind and of other kinds of animals; and that those of some species understand and employ numerous cries and intonations in order to communicate among themselves. Human beings, as they emerged from the brute plane of existence, possessed these facilities of communication, and by conscious effort expanded and perfected them. But as linguist John T. Drummond says, “Down to this present hour there are still the three great kinds of language. The movement of foot or ear has been evolved into the modern gesture or grimace the note or cry into a word, and the intonation into an emphasis or inflection of the voice.”
While sign language possessed advantages for primitive people living under certain conditions, and while it is still extensively used by the deaf, some researchers would argue that it is not susceptible to the differentiation which makes possible the transmission of the minute shades of thought civilization demands, nor sufficiently available for modern modes of communication. Because of their variability, sounds, and the symbols when used to represent ideas are ideally suited to the nuances that sophisticated communication requires, which sign language does not allow. Since the appearance of the use of sounds to transfer ideas, the great stages of the evolution of the communicative system can be seen in the development of different kinds of words which our parts of speech represent, the creation of an alphabet, of writing, of printing, of newspapers, of the telegraph, of the telephone, and of E-mail. Each one of these stages of improvement has formed the basis for ever larger and more efficient cooperation among individuals which make up human society. Thus, in turn, allowing for further advances.
Briefly stated, the functions which language has performed are as follows: (1) it developed in response to a social demand, since a communicating system was necessary for the existence of an intensive cooperative life; (2) it stimulated association and thus promoted survival through cooperative response; (3) it furnished a means for the exercise of intelligence in securing desired outcomes.
Language with its many functions has been an essential, and in reality, one of the most important steps in the development of cooperative groups. It must be remembered that whereas language was built by society and is, as a consequence, a product of cooperative life, at the same time, it constituted the foundation of cooperation and in turn made society and all of its forthcoming achievements possible.
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