Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science

Living Edition
| Editors: Todd K. Shackelford, Viviana A. Weekes-Shackelford


  • Demetra Themistocleous
  • Xenia Anastassiou-Hadjicharalambous
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-16999-6_1117-1



The bow-wow theory supports that language emerged through “onomatopoeia” or the imitation of the sounds in the natural world.


The early bow-wow theory of language was first introduced by Max Müller, a philologist who was at a later stage criticized about his point of view (Sprinker 1980). Bow-wow theory postulates that the origin of language arose through “onomatopoeia,” which, in simple words, is the imitation of sounds in nature (Moran and Gode 1986). Specifically, the sounds from animals were the most imitated from the environment. On the one hand, Thorndike (1943) was doubtful about the credibility of this theory as the beginning of language. On the other hand, recent studies support that being able to mimic sounds in the natural environment was of paramount importance in the evolution of language (Malle 2002).

A major drawback of this theory is the fact that people use different words to describe...

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  1. Malle, B. F. (2002). The relation between language and theory of mind in development and evolution. In T. Givon & B. F. Malle (Eds.), The evolution of language out of pre-language (pp. 265–284). Amsterdam: Benjamins. Retrieved from http://cogprints.org/3317/1/Evol_of_language_%26_ToM.pdf.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Moran, J., & Gode, A. (1986). On the origin of language. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-73012-3.Google Scholar
  3. Sprinker, M. (1980). Gerard Manley Hopkins on the origin of language. Journal of the History of Ideas, 41(1), 113–128.  https://doi.org/10.2307/2709105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Thorndike, E. L. (1943). The origin of language. Science New Series, 98(2531), 1–6.  https://doi.org/10.1126/science.98.2531.1. Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/7beb/b6647fd0cf1dcdfc50c3e1f16fbacca718d9.pdf.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Demetra Themistocleous
    • 1
  • Xenia Anastassiou-Hadjicharalambous
    • 1
  1. 1.University of NicosiaNicosiaCyprus

Section editors and affiliations

  • Menelaos Apostolou
    • 1
  1. 1.University of NicosiaNicosiaCyprus