Contrary to the general belief that only social animals do communicate, inanimate objects do relate as well. The trees talk through their roots and silent willows, the clouds thunder its commands, and the night feels when the day talk. Everything speaks one language or the other. It all depends on what frequency you are tuned to.
Today, however, we critically examine the interconnectivity between the social animal called man and one core weapon he has been deploying effectively in his strive to interrelate and dominate the earth – Language.
This article will explore what language is, how many languages are spoken in the world today, the origin of language, the invention of the writing system, endangered languages, and how we can save them along with extinct languages. Without further ado, let’s babbel away!
What is Language?
Language, according to the Oxford dictionary is the method of human communication either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way. In its basic definition, is a complex means of communication. It involves the development, learning and generational transfer of these complex ways of passing information across from one human to another. Just like humans, every language belongs to a family. A language family is a cluster of languages that are related to each other genetically. These cluster of languages are otherwise called dialects and dialects have basic components called idiolects. Therefore, an idiolect is a specific tongue. An arm of knowledge that scientifically studies language is known as linguistics.
How Many Languages Are Spoken Around the Word Today?
We all know that there are 196 countries in the world today having one form of language or the other. Moreover, just like you, I was not so sure how many languages there are. I had to consult Ethnologue (an extensive catalog of the world’s languages) to ascertain the correct number of spoken languages around the world today.
A stunning 7,111 languages are spoken today! This figure is nine languages more than that of 2017, which was 7,102. Sadly, I can only speak just three!
Are you wondering what language is most widely spoken in the world today? It is Mandarin Chinese with about 1.2 billion speakers around the world!
The Origin of Languages
This topic has generated intense arguments through generations. Linguists have postulated volumes of theories and hypotheses. Evolutionists have debated. Most, if not, all of them have been left dumbfounded.
The subject on the origin of language threatens the very core of evolutionists; if there is no correlation between the logical and coherent language of humans and the gibber of apes, then, Charles Darwin’s theory was flawed in its technical totality.
Because unlike biological or geological specimens that can be caught or dug up and analyzed in the lab, history in language left us no clue as to how we can effectively detect its true origin. As with creation, the origin of language split between the view from biblical standing and evolution. And while mortal minds were left wondering and theorizing, the book of Genesis stood afar off in awe at how the answer could be so glaring yet so hidden, or men just refused to see beyond their calculated unbelief.
Noam Chomsky, a reputable linguist of the 20th century and an open-minded evolutionist, however, stated that language is species-specific and must have originated in humanity through some genetic input (or some might call it a divine gift). If this holds true, even from an evolutionist, then the origin of language can be traced to the Bible. Therefore, Language might have its sole root in God, and thus, a gift to humanity, just like the body and everything therein, to be able to live on earth with a purpose, become fruitful and multiply.
To date, there is no convincing answer to the above question on how languages exist, where did languages come from, or when did languages first emerge. As I said, it is still a hotly debated topic even till this day.
The Invention of the Writing Systems
Before these legible ways of writing scrubbed around, there existed what was called proto-writing, also known as Pictography. Pictography is an ideographic system whereby communication was expressed by means of pictures and drawings (pictographs). A pictograph that stands for an individual idea or meaning may be called an ideogram, whereas a pictograph that stands for an individual word, it is called a logogram.
The invention of the alphabet, though it has been borrowed by many cultures, is a major achievement of Western culture. The alphabetic writing system is an analytical model that represents the phonological structure of a language. The alphabet allows the reader to decipher newly encountered words and to invent spellings for new patterns of sound, including proper names (a problem that is formidable for non-alphabetic systems).
Writing invention is credited to the land of Sumer (3500BC), an area in southern Mesopotamia and they called it cuneiform. Cuneiform entails using a reed implement to make marks on wet clay! The shrewd Sumerians invented writing as a solution to communicating over a long distance when trading. What other better way to keep records other than representing them on pictographs, which are impressed on wet clay and dried. With pictograph, you can tell how many bottles (oh, I mean jars/vats) of beer was involved in the transaction.
The Endangered Languages
A language is said to be endangered when it is likely to become extinct in the near future. Many of such languages are no longer being learned by the new generations of adult speakers. Those who speak such languages fluently are the elderlies who may die one day and, eventually, when the last speaker dies, these endangered languages will become extinct.
Therefore, endangered languages stand the risk of going out of use and losing their grip on mother earth. When a language loses its entire native speakers, it is termed as a "dead language". However, not all language enthusiasts or linguists are comfortable with the term, "dead languages". Some would term these languages as "dormant" rather than "dead". I have spoken to a few of them before to find out the reasons for their discomfort.
One of them felt that no language should be classified as a "dead language" even though it may be dead to some extent. Such "dead language" could be revived by a community that attempts to learn the language and to find out more information about it. Moreover, as long as a language has some traces of information such as writing systems, words or phrases, the fact that nobody uses it does not make it "dead", but rather, "dormant".
Some examples of endangered languages are Corsican, Franco-Provencal and Alpine Provencal (France), Gaelic (Scottish) and Irish, Chulym (Russia), Ligurian and Lombard (Northern Italy), Mudburra (Australia), and Yiddish (though uses Hebrew alphabets, it is totally distinct). They are endangered languages because children are no longer learning these languages.
The Extinct Languages
While a dead language, or rather, dormant language, have the hope of resurrection, an extinct language does not because no one speaks it again. Some extinct languages were not abruptly replaced by other languages; instead, they evolved into the modern form.
Some examples of extinct languages are Akkadian, Biblical Hebrew, Coptic, Aramaic (this is known to be the language Jesus Christ spoke while on earth), Middle English, Ancient Egyptian, Old Norse, Latin, and Ancient Greek. All these were, once upon a time, tongues that bound people together but now no one speaks them.
How Can We Save a Dying Language
The only way to preserve life on earth is to pass its baton on. The same applies to language. To save a language, it must be taught to the younger generation.
UNESCO is doing its bid in dedicatedly compiling data in her Atlas of World’s Languages in Danger. Wikitongues just joined in by collecting videos of native speakers. On your own part, if you or any of your older relatives speak any of the endangered languages, do your best to teach it to others, especially to the younger generation.
A stitch in time, a wise man once said, saves nine.