Story of Language and Languages in Life
Everyday, everywhere and everybody uses language, one form or the other. The form remains but the face of language keeps changing from place to place, from time to time and from people to people. It is an integral part of our life and living. Language reflects our culture and language nurtures our nature.
Languages are the confluence of “culture and nature” that have become the bedrock of human society.
According to Noam Chomsky the ability to use language is innately specified in human brain. So the pertinent question, can there be life without language becomes puerile in its fundamental argument. It won’t be a stretched statement to state that life is language itself…
There are thousands of languages that are used by billions of people spread across the different continents of the world. There are more than a billion people speaking a single language, the story of Mandarin language in China and there are less than ten million people in New Papua Guinea speaking 820 languages. The paradox of land and language, there is nothing that vast stretch of land and large population has anything to do with the number and usage of different languages. It is something in the culture and the nature of people and the community encompasses that multiple “diversity and versatility” through the usage of so many languages. How else can one explain the large spectrum of language in a small country like Papua Guinea?
Language is not just about the written and spoken words but it is also equally about the usage of different signs and symbols. Not just words. It is also about the art and music. The sound and the colour that are used by the artists to convey a set of message. It is also about the science and religion. The laws of nature promulgated by the scientists to the rules of philosophy preached by the religious philosophers. It is also about the physical gestures and body language. The scope and scale of languages are all-encompassing. It is about connection, communication and collaboration. It is not only about the language human understands but also about the language human and nature communicates and the language human and computer interacts.
Language keeps expanding its canvas and languages “connects and collaborates” between species and machines in making human expand and explore the larger ecosystem that makes life and living much more enlightening and enriching.
It is such a fascinating story to unravel the layered myths and locked mystery of the history of language itself. The genesis, how it started and the birthplace, where is that place in this wonderful world where the beautiful language commenced it eternal journey, the evolutionary journey that has truly revolutionized the way people live in this world. Candidly speaking, it’s anybody’s guess and there is logical speculation and loaded propositions on the origin of language. The thought of world today without the language, perhaps the world would not have come so far and perhaps there would not have been humanity in existence. Language has been the lifeblood of the humanity to have extended its life span on this very planet. The world would have gone wild and mad without the invention of language at their command to control their feelings and emotions, and giving thoughts a channel to connect with the world outside the mind.
Though it is anybody’s guess to estimate the numbers of centuries, and we do so and also to find out whether it took off from the land of sub-Saharan Africa is also not a certainty. The figure on total number of languages keeps changing as the language themselves are in a flux. As it stands today according to Enthologue catalogue there are 7097 languages. Merely 23 languages account for more than half the world’s population. It is estimated that one-third of total languages have lesser than 1000 speakers placing these languages in the endangered category. These numbers tell a story about what has happened to the languages and how languages longevity gets determined by the way we write and speak those languages.
Is it about the simplicity and usability of the language or is there some more to it that determines the durability of a language?
Why some languages have stayed for centuries and others have vanished in decades?
There are families of language and Indo-European language family remains a predominate family in today’s community of languages. The language that are genetically related and these set of languages had its origin and rooting in the lands of Europe to Iran to India. Mother of these families of language has their foundation and fundamentals from the Greek, Latin and Sanskrit. The Indo-European languages are further divided into Romance, Germanic and Celtic branches. The Romance includes the popular languages of Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese to French. The Germanic includes the popular languages of German, English, to Dutch. The Celtic includes the Welsh, Irish Gaelic, and Scots Gaelic to Breton. The language of Uralic family rooted in the northwestern part of Eurasia and popular in the family is Hungarian language. The language of Altaic family dominates in the northern and central Asia largely includes the Turkish and Mongolian. The Niger-Congo family of language spread in the western and sub Saharan Africa comprises of thousands of languages and the well-known Bantu languages that includes the popular Zulu language.
Spanish is the most popular second language learned in the United States of America….418 million speaks Spanish. There is a history behind such large Spanish speaking Americans and it was Christopher Columbus in the 15th century who sailed to America brought with him the Castilian Spanish language. English remains the leader in the ladder of language in USA. India is the second largest English speaking country after the USA, as per different estimates it stands around 10% of the 125 billion Indians. English language played a crucial role during the struggle India Independence where it became the language of political awakening and resurgence for freedom. 490 million people in the world speak Hindi language. 510 million people world over speak the English language. It provides a perspective. Over one billion people speaks Mandarin Chinese makes it to the coveted position and is the most widely spoken tongue in the world. The population count matters. The case is different in the South America from the North America. Portuguese is in the most popular language of Latin America where Brazil makes up to the 81% of the Portuguese speakers. But Spanish is not far behind and it stands second on the language league table. A large part of Canada is French speaking and Quebec is the region in Canada whose official language is French…80% of 8 million people in Quebec speaks French. As many as 420 million people around the world speak the Arabic language predominately in the Middle East and North Africa.
Language is not merely a means for communication but it is the source of understanding the cultural nuances of people speaking those languages.
There is a storehouse of cultural heritage embedded in the language of the region it belongs. Learning the local language helps us to have a deeper and better understanding of the customs and traditions of the native people speaking those languages. For instance knowing the Arabic language helps us to dive deeper into the “culture and history” of the Arab world…dissecting the cradle of Mesopotamia civilization and similarly knowing the Sanskrit language helps us appreciate the philosophies of life written in the original Indian scriptures of Vedas and Upanishads. Language is synonymous with culture and philosophy and the more we learn different languages, the better we have the understanding and the appreciation of the culture of that region and society. Never easy to learn so many different languages and hence we depend on language translators and accessing and affording translator were a constraint until technology took over and today we have many popular languages gets instantly translated using the technology tool and we don’t have to depend on the human intervention.
The important role of sound in language though we keep saying silence speaks louder than words.
The story of sounds in language…Vowels and Consonants are the sound that goes into making of the language. These are not letters but the sounds. It is the play in our mouth, by placing our tongues and lips in different positions we are able to produce different sounds. The word vowel originally comes from the Latin word Vox meaning ‘voice’. The word consonant means ‘with sound’ originally comes from the two Latin words Com meaning ‘with’ and Sonare meaning ‘sound’. A vowel is a speech sound made with mouth fairly open. A consonant is a speech sound made with mouth fairly closed. The consonants break up the sound that the vowels make. The story of speaking language is that of “makeup and breakup”. It is the sound of voice. Every language has vowels, all words to have vowels but not all words to have consonants. Arabic, Aramaic and Hebrew are the Semitic language. Hebrew was often considered to be the language of Angels or Gods. It is the language of the Bible. Not a surprising fact that Bible has the world’s highest number of language translation. The alphabets in these languages don’t have the vowels. English word ‘alphabet’ is a product of the words Alpha and Beta from Greek.
The story of language family…all members of language family germinated from one single source and had a simple beginning, and over the years it has branched out in all possible directions and has become complex family structure, and today we have thousands of lively languages. A language family is a group of language having a descent from a common ancestral language. French and Spanish come from Latin family. Arabic and Hebrew represent the Afro-Asiatic language family. Persian and Kurdish represent the Indo-European family. Niger-Congo family has the largest number of language siblings. Sino-Tibetan language family dominates the Southeast Asian countries. There are thousand of siblings who had died an unnatural death. They didn’t get the nutrition and the nurturing. Just like the evolutionary stories of species, many species have become extinct so has been the case with languages many have forcefully expired before that could complete their part of journey…span of life. Languages need a vehicle and it needs the support of flesh to hold on and sense of emotions to connect with large audience and continue to their journey in the complex map of the ever-expanding world population. The languages need a story to maintain and sustain their standing and stature in the rapidly expanding society.
The spread of languages have an inherent correlation with the “exploration and expedition” of the community speaking those languages.
The answer lies in the questions…
How Americans embraced Spanish?
How Indians embraced English?
How Brazilians embraced Portuguese?
Language is not independent of the impact of the social-political forces and potent power of economy. During the 16th-18th centuries, the political movement, military might and economic forces of the world were dominated by countries like Spain, France, German and Britain. The spread of language has a lot to do with the economics of the nations speaking those languages. The way French and German dominates the European Union. The way Chinese Mandarin and Indian Hindi and other state languages like Tamil to Bengali of India are gaining the momentum in the language map of the world. Both countries are emerging economic superpowers.
Language is more than just a mode of communication it is a mirror to the deeper reflection of the way society thinks, works and lives during each era of human development…as societies keep going through various revolutions, languages keeps evolving through the process of evolution.
The story of languages keep creating new chapters…