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?
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. Continue reading