Do you know how many languages are spoken on Earth? No, neither did I until I found out yesterday that it is around 6,800. Sadly, a great number of these languages are dying out and some will be forgotten completely in twenty more years. Apparantly, linguists believe that as many as 90% could be gone by the year 2100. I wonder how many more languages there were in the past? How many in the whole of human history? Millions possibly. I suppose that, as early peoples gradually spread around the globe, the common 'Mother Tongue' diversified. Dialects appeared. People did not always live very long so isolated family groups of hunter/gatherers may have been very young and the young invent new words. In New Guinea, for instance, each tribe in each valley has its own separate language.
It is interesting that the rules for language and grammar appear to be fixed deep within our brains and that they follow the same set of rules for all of humanity. I remember seeing a programme on television some years ago about Nicaraguan children in a home for the deaf. They were fed and looked after but not taught language. Perhaps you remember seeing it? Well, like children everywhere, they wanted to communicate their feelings and they began to use a crude form of sign language. It was very basic to start with but as younger children learnt from the older children, they started to use more elaborate signs and, as more youngsters learnt, they eventually created a really sophisticated sign language with its own grammar. The process evolved over some thirty years and this facility for true language only developed in the very young children - the older children never progressed beyond their basic signing. The same happens to hearing children who are deprived of real human contact when they are young - they can never learn to speak fluently - and so-called 'wild or feral children' manage no more than a one or two words or sounds. It seems that the speech pathways in the brain have to form very early or it is too late. It is very important, therefore, to talk to our babies from the moment of their birth.
So what is happening to the world's languages? To our shame, some indigenous languages were repressed. Australian Aboriginal and Native American children were sent to schools in the 19th century and forbidden to speak their native tongues. Empire builders colonised the Americas, then Africa and India and forced the diverse people there to speak English, French, Spanish, German, Dutch or whatever. Other languages have died or are about to die with the last member of their tribal group.
In the Western World in the early 20th century, the crystal set radio was invented. The BBC was born in 1920 and early broadcasters in the United Kingdom spoke the 'King's English', with the perfect enunciation of the upper-class, lah-di-dah, we used to call it! (Did you know that in the early days of radio, the BBC News Reader's had to wear Evening Dress to read the News Bulletin!). Nowadays television reaches even more people and, although the variation of language and pronunciation that you hear is wide-ranging, the result is that many English dialects, such as the old Sussex dialect, have completely died out. The same has probably happened in other countries, too. Then, as technology advances and new inventions appear, new words are invented. How many languages use the word 'Computer' for instance?
What will be the prevalent language in 2100, I wonder? I suspect most people will speak English as a second language. But it could just as easily be Chinese or even Klingon! Now that's a thought.
Qapla'! Heghlu'meH QaQ jajvam!
P.S. Did you know that you can GOOGLE in Klingon?
Posted by Noviomagus at 17:41 GMT Post Comment | Permalink