Man, the First Walkie-Talkie

By Bunak, Victor | UNESCO Courier, May-June 1986 | Go to article overview

Man, the First Walkie-Talkie


Bunak, Victor, UNESCO Courier


Man, the first walkie-talkie

SCIENTISTS have long speculated about the origins of speech, and a great many theories have been advanced.

One of the earliest, already current in Ancient Greece, held that the first words were onomatopoeias--imitations of the sounds prehistoric man associated with various activities. Another maintained that words developed from inarticulate cries of fear, alarm, delight and so on.

But none of these theories explains how shouts or onomatopoeias could turn into articulate syllables and words, or what factors determined the development of mental activity along with the faculty of speech so closely connected with it. For it is man's ability to speak that above all distinguishes him from the animal.

Man finally left the animal world when he was at last able to reproduce in his mind coherent images of different objects and actions, to distinguish between them and to combine some with others. The mental images of these linked percepts are what we call concepts, and the capacity to form concepts was the first main feature distinguishing Homo sapiens from the earlier hominids.

The next stage in man's evolution was the ability to combine and diversify these concepts, a process representing a considerable development of the intellectual faculty.

The combination of percepts in a single mental operation or concept becomes possible because of its association with vocal stimulations. The sound of the voice and the corresponding movements in the mouth and throat become, as it were, symbols of concepts, a different set of vocal movements being associated with each one.

The vocal organs can produce a great many sounds, but in each language only some thirty, known as phonemes, are used. There are, however, hundreds of phonemecombinations or syllables, and many thousands of syllable combinations.

Modern man can produce hundreds of syllables a minute, each of which requires a different use of the vocal chords, a different direction of air expelled from the lungs and a different positioning of the tongue and the mouth cavity. …

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