Human Habits, Borders, and Philosophical Sheep !

A few years ago I was asked to help proof read a manuscript for a book entitled The Origin of Tongues by Nick Thom.

It was a book written by a Professor of Engineering at Nottingham’s University – he also had a personal passion about language and had spent many years researching and documenting the book – language based evidence of the world’s history of human evolution.

The book was to be self published, as many of the accepted schools of thought in this field (not his usual territory of engineering) were sceptical of the theory. It being new and also pretty much unique. So, with the usual channels of University endorsed publications being somewhat closed, the only option was to either sit on the idea or to self publish.

I have no proper idea of how well the book was received (although the book fairs were very keen) nor indeed how well it sold. It seemingly being very much a labour of love.

However, personally while reading, I was taken on a wonderful journey showing how many of our phonetic sounds can be linked or *matched* in some way to words and sounds half way across the globe – this being backed up by meticulous comparisons of linguistic symbols, words and detailed maps showing the movement and language of peoples. With the advent of things like the domestication of the horse and the evolution of ships from fishing boats etc.,


Indian fishing boats pioneered the coast
Early fishing boats travelled the coastal Far East, trading and mixing linguistic influence.

A simple example of phonetic similarity would be, say: the Latin Basilica and the name Basil, to the Russian Wassily, Vasil variants and the Greek Cirili. Being pronounced softly, neither a B, W nor a V or C but something in between ; a bit like screwing up your eyes to see a blurred image, but retaining the substance.

Also, looking recently at some meticulously documented photographs of a 2009 world trip taken by artist Man Bartlett. I was drawn to this idea in another way, through the imagery of the landscapes and seasons, with cultural idiosyncrasies and similarities: Historically, from obvious things like the architecture of occupying cultures to the abstract similarities of simple things like utensils.


Silver drinking vessel from Peru
Silver Drinking vessel from Peru.
Metals also became part of trade and added to the mix of civilisation’s cultures; as different metals were never usually found in the same place.

Nick Thom’s book showed that the first known sounds ever documented were from around the Caucasus Mountains, spreading to the Urals and the Euphrates and Nile delta and then these sounds were seen to travel north and simultaneously south and east. The south reaching the coastal areas of Africa and the Arab Peninsular and the north splitting first upwards into Russia (Urals) and then west and north towards Gallic/Scandinavia and south towards Latin Spain and Italy while at the same time west through the Middle East to the Dravidian Indus and beyond the mountains into Mongolia, returning again with warring peoples back through the east and up through the Caucasus Mountains before the time of the Ottoman Empire.

Mongol Empire
Mongol Empire before the Ottomans

Part of Mongolias epic history
Part of Mongolia’s Epic route through history: Chinese Mongol monk Rabban Bar Sauma who travelled from his home of Kahnbaliq (Beijing) as far as Mongol-controlled Persia, and from there was sent by the Ilkhan as an ambassador to visit the courts of Europe in 1287-1288.


Many structural ideas of the evolution of language within the book were already accepted fact, but the book then took certain elements futher and into a different domain.

And as this is an extremely simplified and assimilated version of the book on my part, I do really recommend reading this fascinating story to absorb the detail.

The Origin of Tongues

Nick Thom’s The Origin of Tongues

All of these things came together to make our history as we know it, and are being constantly updated and documented:

Why and when the Spanish sailed to the Americas is pretty much a given. Not so much so, why the peoples north of Indo-China reached across the tip of Alaska from the Russian extremities (an area of land and ice? no longer there) to travel down into North America. And subsequently the South Americans voyaging across the sea to the Pacific Islands and beyond.

Whichever source is your choice and whether this is deemed as the absolute status-quo does not detract from the fact it is a fascinating story. But as with Nick and publishing an idea, then, not wholly endorsed. That we usually collectively perceive only commonly held beliefs as being fact. And if that status-quo is questioned by an individual or individuals, it can be seen as a threat to, or to undermine the *authority* of its acceptance. Rather than a logical reasoned debate into the possibility of it being fact or not.

Now I am certainly not educated in philosophy. But I can see that these commonly held beliefs coupled with borders, dogma, difference, idiosyncrasies and/or mistrust have sometimes led to wars which have been articulated in the name of democracy (or the will of the people). All enacted out, across the globe time and again.

It’s a human thing I guess, many people will have experienced the possibly unnerving feeling of moving somewhere new and feeling like they don’t fit in –  because they do things differently, are misunderstood or just new, and therefore by default are seen, at best, as the new kid on the block or different, and at worst a threat and or inferior. This is a loose analogy but for the sake of description….

I read something else on Liberal attitudes being attributed to how friendly or outgoing you were as a child. But I guess a pinch of subjective salt has to be taken with that also.

Personal space, collective space, civilisation, necessities (along with desires) and beliefs.

This can all get a bit a-to-b-to-c and back again and sometimes I reach my own personal impasse, déjà vu or duh?! moments when dealing with the minutiae !……

So with this in mind I have taken these two videos from a series of 6 by Alain De Botton on the fundamentals of the human psyche: The Philosophy of Happiness as seen through various philosophers through time.

Here are two of his series of 6, best I think taken in order and bearing in mind they are 20 minutes each:

The first being Socrates on Self-confidence



The fourth being the French philosopher Montaigne on Self-esteem


Which, if seen first with this image of a brief history of the World’s borders and empires over 10 centuries just adds the cherry on the cake!.


Actually it’s mainly Europe but you will get the idea.

Back with more next Thursday 18th……