With or without the use of words, human communication has a syntax of its own, i.e. we can use all kinds of communicative tools (face gestures, calls, whistles, clicks, facial gestures, etc.) to create meaning: to tell a story, to refer to the present or past, to talk about possession, to point to an agent in the story, to urge the others to do something, to present information as a finished event, to describe an action that is happening simultaneously, to negate, to exclamate, to express admiration, doubt, prohibition, permission, lack of obligation, possibility, certainty, uncertainty. We have a brain endowed with the ability to generate these contrastive meanings and we use communicative elements accordingly.
Many different scenarios have been proposed for the emergence of human language. In one of them, it is thought that at the beginning there were a series of words that were used without a particular syntax. I think this idea is wrong. Words were born in a context that was already meaningful in terms of communication, or syntax. From the very start, their meaning was connected to their function.
I am aware that the term syntax is traditionally used as one of the main parts of grammar, alongside morphology and semantics. This traditional meaning should not be confused with the one I have described above.
On the other hand, I define grammar as the application of our logical thought to a specific subset of communicative elements: the verbal ones.
The gramamrs of the various human languages bear strong similarities with each other, and this peculiarity has led some people to think that there is some kind of universal grammar from which subsequent ones would have generated. I think this idea is completely absurd. The similarities arise from two main factors:
1) all human languages and their grammars are based on the logical structure and symbolic possiblities of the human brain, which are to be understood as universal.
2) grammars do not emerge in complete isolation: there is a high degree of convergence between them.
Another aspect to consider is the role of our speech capacity, i.e. our capacity to produce sounds. I'll be talking about this in a forthcoming post.