The History of Language TH2021 09

Season 2021 – Talk 09 – The History of Language

In The History of Language Alan Freeland explains how language developed – verbally, with the use of icons and drawings, and through the written word.

Click a thumbnail below to view the image gallery that accompanies the talk.

What is language?

A good question! The word is complicated to define and different people define it in different ways.

We believe that humans have used spoken language for at least 150,000 years. What about animals? They communicate but is it language?


The first written forms can be traced to around 10,000 years ago. From that time knowledge can be preserved, passed down through the generations. The acquisition of knowledge gets easier.

Writing can be in any direction. You can write from left to right. Or you can write from right to left. You can also write the first line is from left to right and the second from right to left. Very ergonomic as you minimise wrist and pen movement!

Language evolves, all the time:

The evolution is mainly in the hands of children and young adults. They’re the ones developing new words to describe things.

Timeline for the development of Latin script:
  • 8500 BCE – Simple object counting tokens.
  • 3500 BCE – Clay envelopes and complex tokens depicting different types of objects.
  • 3330 BCE – Earliest writing. Hieroglyphs of Mesopotamia and Egypt.
  • 2500 BCE – Mesopotamia and Syria adopt cuneiform script.
  • 1600 BCE – Canaanites develop earliest proto-alphabet.
  •  1300 BCE – Phoenician alphabet.
  •   800 BCE – First Greek inscriptions.

Listen to the podcast to hear Alan explain everything as he tells the full story!

Please note:

This podcast is a recording of a talk on Zoom and, in places, there are a few extraneous noises and sound glitches.

For Copyright reasons it is not possible to publish illustrations from the original talk. I use alternatives where they exist.

About this podcast:

This podcast is an edited recording of a talk first given to the Farnham u3a World History Group.

The Farnham u3a site is found here.

This podcast is also available through Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Castbox , Deezer, Podchaser, Spotify, Stitcher and Vurbl and others.

AKM Music licenses Media Magazine for use as the theme music.

© The MrT Podcast Studio and Farnham u3a World History Group 2018 – 2022

Author: Tim D

In the early 1970s Mr Timothy & his Phonograph was a popular mobile disco around Leeds University and Tim was known as MrT. Tim also spent 9 years broadcasting a weekly programme on Hospital Radio in Wakefield. He worked for more than 40 years for large industrial organisations and spent his last 15 years in global commercial management roles. Following retirement he started making podcasts in 2017.