Evolution of Language

Language has taken many forms around the world (roughly 5000 forms would actually be a low estimate).  Here, in this blog, we only will dip into four languages: English, Spanish, Japanese, and Korean.  Of these four, each in very many ways is similar to the other.  However, the English-Spanish and Korean-Japanese pairs are especially similar.  English is especially similar to Spanish as Korean is especially similar to Japanese.  Grammatically bound by similar rules, containing similar signs of respect within the language, and even words that sounds similar or almost identical are some of the examples of ways that these language pairs are the same. But why? How is it that these languages share these similarities?

Norse Text

A sample of Norse text

Take any language and trace it back.  Discover the meaning and origin behind the words in one language and you will undoubtedly begin to learn a new language.  For none of the most widely spoken languages these days were simply born out of nothing, they evolved.  They were or rather are the elegant product of generations of change taking place as one culture and its people mixed with another culture and its people.  Take for example the romance languages: Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, and Catalan to name a few (there are apparently 47 types of romance languages).   These languages can all trace their origins to one single language: Latin.  That is to say that from one single, established, and by many thinkers standards’ perfect language came 47 entirely different and equally beautiful languages.  To think that today even the language from which all the romance languages evolved from is spoken now by only very few is another mystery in itself:  Why was there any need to create new and different languages when the first did the job just fine?

The simple answer is…well, the first language did not do the job just fine.  Culture and counterculture, most likely, was the driver and catalyst for change in language.  It is human nature to change what was established (as much as we desire stability and ritual).  We will take something and make it “better” even if it only looks better but performs the exact same function.  Every language performs the exact same function: communication.  That’s all there is to it(?)  Why one language developed letters like “Aa, Bb, and Cc” while another developed into “あ, ぶ, and す” is another question for another week entirely but is still worth pondering here.  Even despite commonalities and a single originating language we have arrived at languages that share almost nothing in common with each other except for their basic function.  It’s incredible really and  I am constantly baffled by it.

English on its very own is a crazy mix of languages, cultures, and the effect of time.  Listen to this:  The English language consists of 26 letters but 44 phonemes! (phonemes are distinct sounds that are made in spoken language)  That means that there are 18 sounds that English speakers make but are not even accounted for in the written part of the language! Similarly, the letter “c” in the words “cat”, “watch”, and “face” for example is written the same but pronounced quite differently.  Vowels as well are irregular.  In other languages like Spanish, Thai, or Japanese on the other hand, a vowel is pronounced the same no matter where it is in the word, no matter what letter it is next to.

English actually first developed from a Germanic language (West Germanic) that was influenced nearly 1500 years ago by the Anglo-Saxons who spoke a language similar to modern-day Frisian.  Gradually the French Latin-based vocabulary began to make its way into the language bringing with it a huge amount of new vocabulary.  Words like “crime”, “uncle”, and “jury” are some examples of this influence.  Then came Middle English (see Canterbury Tales) and eventually Early Modern English between the years 1500 and 1800.  Finally, the influence of the printing press and William Caxton finalizing and spreading written word at a time when spoken word (pronunciation) was rapidly changing is the key reason why English words are often spelled in a way much different than the way they sound.

Long story short, English is a perfect example of how culture, time, and many other factors influence the change in the language. Of course, much of the changes took place perhaps because of the lack of technology ie. reliable production of re-printed word, standardized written language.  The difference today is that the rules governing language usage for each specific major language are deeply recorded and extensively researched.  The time for change may have already passed for the major world languages today.  Then again, no.  No, change is still taking place but I believe it is occurring at a much slower rate.

Not only is the rate is effected but also the content.  By content I mean that vocabulary more than grammar is changing.  Students around the world now study English.  In Chile, Japan, South Korea, all over Europe, and Africa students are learning how to speak English.  For many, English was not introduced to them through the classroom.  For many, English came to their country, to their ears and eyes by way of a cultural invasion: Coca-Cola is a prime example.  Here’s a story: My grandmother in Chile gave me a Coca-Cola cup last winter and on that cup was written Coca-Cola both in English and Korean!  Cultural influence first, then language follows.

Refer back to my previous post on Konglish or if you know your Spanish then you know all about Spanglish and the fusion words in the world already.  As you know now with what you have read about the history of the English language, these fusions have always and will always occur in language.  They are the part that we cannot find in text books.  The living, evolving  part of language.

Please feel free to leave your comments!~  If you would like a translation of this page into Japanese or Spanish please let me know.  Korean?  well….not yet.  I’m still learning.

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