Is that ‘what-you-call-it’: How Did Language Begin?

Until recently, a sensible linguist would likely respond to such questions with a shrug and a sigh.

Richard Nordquist

I was making this dish what-you-call-it ‘Alta-Palta’, ‘Ulta-Pulta’, or Altey-Paltey’, the other day; when hubby asked,

What you call it?

“What are you making”

Me: Altey-Paltey


Me: I mean Alta-Palta


Me: ???

“You mean Ulta-Pulta”

Actually, this dish is called altey-paltey in my Mom’s home, ulta-pulta in my in-laws; while many of my friends call it alta-palta.

Me: You call it what-you-call-it, they all taste same.

“But which one is right?”

Me: Off course maayke-waala- Altey Paltey(called in Mom’s home)
Husband: yes, mere-mayke-waala- Ulta-Pulta (called in my Mom’s home)

And, we laughingly had our dinner eating together what-you-call-it ‘Alta-Palta’, ‘Ulta-Pulta’, or Altey-Paltey’, or whatever-you-call-it.

Anyways, did you ever think about it before?
Who taught the first word?
Who named whatever is named in the world?
Who named a tree the tree, a bee the bee?
Why a rabbit was called rabbit, not David?
Who decided who would name amongst them?
How did they all agree on one name?

I can totally comprehend that languages change gradually over time, sometimes due to changes in culture and fashion, sometimes in response to contact with other languages. Linguistics say that as far back as we have written records of human language – 5000 years or so – things look basically the same. The basic architecture and expressive power of language stays the same. And, like any other branch of knowledge and science the language is also built upon what already exists.

Let’s say, Ulta-Pulta or Altey-Paltey. It is basically from two words that already exist in vocabulary. The first one is ‘Ulta’ which means ‘upside-down’ and the second one is ‘Palta’ which means to flip. Now from what existed already in human imagination this recipe that involves making pancakes and then flipping them again and again upside-down, got the name ‘Ulta-Pulta’ or its variants on various tongues.

My question is not from where the recipe got this name Ulta-Pulta.
My question is about the root of the words ‘Ulta’ and ‘Palta or Pulta’’.

What was the first language? How did it begin—where and when?

“We simply do not know, and never will, how or when language began.”

Bernard Campbell states flatly in “Humankind Emerging” (Allyn & Bacon, 2005)

Indeed, the origin of language is one of the greatest mysteries in human science, if not the greatest.

Human Language is unique

Language is unique. It is a complex skill. No other natural communication system is like human language. What is even more interesting is that It is something that only humans are able to do.

I was reading an article on human speech. It mentions that over the years there have been numerous attempts to teach apes to speak, and in particular chimpanzees – which are human’s closest living relative. However, no other animal has the vocal pathology necessary to speak the way we do. Even attempting to teach chimps sign language has proven fruitless, with no animal demonstrating skill above the level of a two-year-old human. And the attempts to teach apes some version of human language, while fascinating, have produced only rudimentary results.

We all know that just like us, animals do communicate too. However, there is a difference.

We human beings do not merely convey information unlike animals, wo communicate only about immediate issues such as food, danger, threat, or reconciliation. We talk about politics, dresses, stories, ideas, feelings, mathematics, gossips, jokes, past, future, how to look slim…, why I don’t like her, how to make a French braid…, how to recover deleted files…And, it’s endless. (That’s a different case that we would love to resort to animal communication mode with someone we want to avoid talking to, LOL).

Ever wondered how can we talk about so many things while other animals can’t?

Every human language has a vocabulary of tens of thousands of words, built up from several dozen speech sounds. Then you can build an unlimited number of phrases and sentences out of words along with prefixes and suffixes. Animal communication systems, in contrast, typically have at most a few dozen distinct calls, that’s it.

It starts with The word

If I look carefully, it all starts with words. If you have more words to begin with, it will generate ideas manifolds. While if you don’t have a vocabulary to begin with, you can communicate very limited only.

It starts with the words. It goes back to the words.

It goes back to the words.

As is the custom, we human beings love to find out ‘how it started’, we tried to find out. And, when we could not get any answer as the language doesn’t leave fossils, we speculated. The Bow-Wow Theory, the Ding-Dong Theory, the La-La Theory, the Pooh-Pooh Theory, the Yo-He-Ho Theory (I swear these are the names of theories) are five of the oldest and most common theories of how language began. (Click here to know more) Almost all of them have been challenged, discounted, and often ridiculed. Each theory accounts for only a small part of what we know about language. “Until recently, a sensible linguist would likely respond to such questions with a shrug and a sigh”, said Richard Nordquist.

Well, not all things can be explained with the theories.
Not all proofs can be found in the traces.
Not all questions can be found on google.

“And He taught Adam all the names
(of everything)…”

[AL-QUR’AN; 2:31]

Period. I am happy to admit that my mind is too weak to comprehend all knowledge or understand the essence of the universe or find out all the realities of life, for it is a mind that is limited in capacity. What He, the One who created everything, mentioned in His Book, is sufficient for me as an evidence and a proof. It is He who taught Adam the names of everything and that’s how the language started. Click here if you want to learn more about this.

I shared the photo of the final dish ‘Alta-Palta’, ‘Ulta-Pulta’, or Altey-Paltey’ or WHATVER to many of my friends to see what they call it.

And, one of them replied, ‘Wow! SHAHI TUKDA looks amazing’.

Me: (after a brief pause of astonishment) Whatever You Call It.

Sisterly Yours
The Might of Pen (Or, Whatever-you-call-it 😐)


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