I have a crazy question: In language, which is formed first, a noun or a verb? I think it is a noun. We know 'Google' as a noun from when it started as a brand name. Now we use it as a verb. When a language evolves, naming should happen first, right? Naming of actions and entities. That itself is noun. After that, we are defining different forms of verbs.My Answer
As a linguist, I'd have to disambiguate the question before beginning an answer. There are (at least) three variants of the question. There's no simple answer to any of these questions, but getting the question right is often the best starting point.:
- In the contemporary evolution of a new language (e.g., pidgins), what parts of speech (POS) form first?
- In the development of language in a child, which POS is learned/utilized first?
- In the brain, which POS is the base or most salient form of ambiguous words like "Google"?
I’ll use the English “Google” example from the original question to illustrate (but let’s be aware that brand names like Google, Kleenex, and Xerox have their own weird, unique linguistic life, so this is not a perfect example).
When “Google” is used as a noun in English, it can function as the Subject of a sentence. For example, “Google rolled out a new service today.” As a noun, it can be counted and take plural morphology and count determiners like “one” and “two”. For example, “There are not two Googles, there is only one Google.” As a verb, it can take tense morphology like past tense -ed. For example, “I googled around for a new phone yesterday.”
Contrast this purely syntactic analysis with how words are learned by children. When a child is at the one word stage, she may use a single word to label a whole series of events and objects (known as holophrasis). For example, imagine playing with a one year old by picking her up, twirling her around, then setting her down and she giggles. After you set her down, she holds her arms up to you and says “up.” What she wants is for you to go through the whole series of events again. She is not using that one word to refer to one discrete object in the world. She is referring to a holistic series of events.
In that situation, what POS is “up”? Is it a preposition? A verb? A noun? It’s none of the above. It is simply not appropriate in a linguistics sense to give the word “up” any POS under these circumstances because it is not functioning with the grammar of a structured sentence.
To return to the original question: what the questioner is calling naming is not the same thing as the POS “noun”. Labeling [events and objects in the world] and labeling POS are fundamentally different, though there is some rough but buggy correlation in some languages, but it's all very messy.
As to what comes first in the evolution of language, that’s a deeply complicated topic with no clear answers. We have little to no direct evidence for how languages evolved originally. This is not to say that there aren't some very smart theories. For a readable lay introduction, I recommend the book “Adam’s Tongue” by Derek Bickerton (I do not endorse the conclusions in that book, but I do recommend it as a good, readable intro to the issues of language evolution for the lay reader). For more detailed analysis and up-to-date discussions of language evolution I can highly recommend the group blog Replicated Typo.
That's my first pass attempt at answering the question as originally posed. I'm happy to accept dissents, revisions, updates, addendum, rude noises, porn links, kitten pictures, and hot stock picks.
*I naturally re-worded and added clarification to my hastily composed original, so this version is its own unique product.
**I cleaned up the original question for clarity and brevity.