The First Word

Tonight was the first episode of Planet Word, a new Stephen Fry programme exploring language (Touretteshero will feature in an episode due to air in a few weeks).

This evening’s programme explored the beginnings of language, its evolution and acquisition.

One of Stephen’s guests was the leading expert in evolutionary linguistics, Michael Tomasello. He described how language was different from the communicative sounds of great apes:

“Their vocalisations are pretty hard-wired and before you can get to something like language you obviously have to be able to produce sounds when you want to and not when you don’t”

He wasn’t describing Tourettes but he could’ve been and what he said made me laugh.

How children learn to speak was another topic. The importance of parents talking to their children was very clear. This got me thinking about whether being raised by a parent with frequent vocal tics would affect how a child’s language developed. I concluded it probably wouldn’t make a significant difference because, as became apparent during the programme, language is so much more complex than just making noises or saying words.

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