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Why do humans speak?

I once saw a post that described communicating as “emitting sound waves from one person’s mouth that go into another person’s ears and are then converted into brain waves.” It’s a really interesting way to think about language and communication. And it’s crazy to think about the fact that humans have developed around 6,500 languages.

But humans aren’t the only organisms that can communicate with each other. Other organisms make sounds that signify if a predator is nearby or if a food/water source has been found. Bees dance to communicate the location of nectar. Plants emit chemicals that communicate to other plants that danger is near. Additionally, humans aren’t the only ones who can make the sounds that they do: Parrots can be taught to repeat words.

But it appears  humans make some of the most complex sounds. The trachea is a muscle that can affect and change the sound coming from the vocal cords and out through the mouth.

Vocal cords are layers of membranes above the trachea, and they stretch across the larynx. They open, close and vibrate to produce different sounds.

 Another word for the larynx is the voice box. It protects the trachea and helps control pitch and volume. The vocal cords are inside the larynx.

The epiglottis is a flap of skin that closes the trachea when the person is eating and swallowing food. This is to ensure that the person doesn’t accidentally breathe in food and water.

The esophagus is a tube that sits behind the trachea. This is where the food and water go down and into the stomach.

Lips help us make sounds such as “b” and “p.” Your lips have to touch each other to sound out these two letters. All these things enable humans to make complex sounds.

Humans can also think abstractly.  Other organisms can communicate things such as whether there is a predator nearby, but they can’t make mindless small talk or recount their whole entire life story as we can. Thus, it is argued that humans use language to convey abstract thought.

Another argument stems from the fact that language is very useful for economic activities. Trade is one of the oldest ways  civilizations interacted and became wealthy.

From an evolutionary biologist perspective, we developed the ability to talk so  we could trade more easily with other people. We needed to communicate to how much of our goods we wanted to trade and what we wanted and how much of it in return. Through this, we were able to trade more easily and increase economic activity.

But it is important to note that speaking is not the only way we can communicate. We can write down or type  our thoughts. We can also use sign language, Picture Exchange Communication System, which has certain pictures to convey certain thoughts; Augmentative and Assistive Communication, which is an umbrella term for anything that can supplement speech or written thought for those who are unable to speak and/or write; and  Rapid Prompting Methods  and letter boards, which are where people spell out letters through pointing, etc. There are so many ways that we can talk to each other.

VAAGEESHA DAS is a senior at Morgantown High School.

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