Send an article  |  Print   |  ../file-system/small/pdf   |   RSS   |  

LANGUAGES


Many definitions of language have been proposed. Henry Sweet, an English phonetician and language scholar, stated: “Language is the expression of ideas by means of speech-sounds combined into words. Words are combined into sentences, this combination answering to that of ideas into thoughts.” The American linguists Bernard Bloch and George L. Trager formulated the following definition: “A language is a system of arbitrary vocal symbols by means of which a social group cooperates.” Any succinct definition of language makes a number of presuppositions and begs a number of questions. The first, for example, puts excessive weight on “thought,” and the second uses “arbitrary” in a specialized, though legitimate, way.

 

Table of Contents

 

The origins of languages

Some of the oldest languages known include Sanskrit, Sumerian, Hebrew and Basque. A study of macaque monkeys suggests that languages may have evolved to replace grooming as a better way of forging social ties amongst our ancestors.

 

Another theory is that our ancient predecessors imitated natural sounds: e.g. the bird that made a "caw caw" sound became a 'cuckoo'in a similar way to today’s children calling things by the sound that they make: "Look, there's a moo, baa, choo-choo!".

 

Human communication might have been sparked by involuntary sounds such as "ouch" or "eek" or by communal activities such as heaving or carrying heavy objects, coordinated by shouts of "yo-he-ho", etc.

 

Another theory proposes that language evolved from the communication between mother and baby, with the mother repeating the baby's babbling and giving it a meaning. Indeed, in most languages "mama" or similar "ma"-sounds actually mean 'mother'.

 

Linguistic

The science of language is known as linguistics. It includes what are generally distinguished as descriptive linguistics and historical linguistics. Linguistics is now a highly technical subject; it embraces, both descriptively and historically, such major divisions as phonetics, grammar(including syntaxand morphology), semantics, and pragmatics, dealing in detail with these various aspects of language.

 

Qur’an

And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your languages and your colors. Indeed in that are signs for those of knowledge. Qur’an.Surah Ar- Rum 30:22

 

Phonetics and phonology

The most obvious aspect of language is speech. Speech is not essential to the definition of an infinitely productive communication system, such as is constituted by a language. But, in fact, speech is the universal material of human language, and the conditions of speaking and hearing have, throughout human history, shaped and determined its development. The study of the anatomy, physiology, neurology, and acoustics of speaking is called phonetics; this subject is dealt with further below (see Physiological and physical basis of speech). Articulatory phonetics relates to the physiology of speech, and acoustic phonetics relates to the physics of sound waves—i.e., their transmission and reception.

 

Phonetics covers much of the ground loosely referred to in language study as pronunciation. But, from a rather different point of view, speech sounds are also studied in phonology. Every language makes use of a very wide range of the articulations and resultant sounds that are available within the human vocal and auditory resources.

 

Grammar

Another component of language structure is grammar. There is more to language than sounds, and words are not to be regarded as merely sequences of syllables. The concept of the word is a grammatical concept; in speech, words are not separated by pauses, but they are recognized as recurrent units that make up sentences. Very generally, grammar is concerned with the relations between words in sentences. Classes of words, or parts of speech, as they are often called, are distinguished because they occupy different places in sentence structure, and in most languages some of them appear in different forms according to their function (English man, men; walk, walked; I, me; and so on). Languages differ in the extent to which word-form variation is used in their grammar;

 

Traditionally grammar has been divided into syntax and morphology, syntax dealing with the relations between words in sentence structure and morphology with the internal grammatical structure of words.

 

Semantics

Language exists to be meaningful; the study of meaning, both in general theoretical terms and in reference to a specific language, is known as semantics. Semantics embraces the meaningful functions of phonological features, such as intonation, and of grammatical structures and the meanings of individual words. It is this last domain, the lexicon, that forms much of the subject matter of semantics. The word stock of a language is very large; The Oxford English Dictionary consists in its unabridged form of some 500,000 words. When the lexicons of specialized, dialectal, and global varieties of English are taken into account, this total must easily exceed one million. Less widely used languages also have large lexicons, and—despite popular belief to the contrary—there is no such thing as a “primitive” language consisting of only a few hundred words.

 

Dialects

It has already been pointed out that no two persons speak exactly alike, and, within the area of all but the smallest speech communities (groups of people speaking the same language), there are subdivisions of recognizably different types of language, called dialects, that do not, however, render intercommunication impossible or markedly difficult. Because intercomprehensibility lies along a scale, the degree required for two or more forms of speech to qualify as dialects of a single language, instead of being regarded as separate languages, is not easy to quantify or to lay down in advance, and the actual cutoff point must in the last resort be arbitrary. In practice, however, the terms dialect and language can be used with reasonable agreement. One speaks of different dialects of English (Southern British English, Northern British English, Scottish English, Midwest American English, New England American English, Australian English, and so on, with, of course, many more delicately distinguished subdialects within these very general categories), but no one would speak of Welsh and English or of Irish and English as dialects of a single language, although they are spoken within the same areas and often by people living in the same villages as each other. [1]

 

Number of languages

A guide to which languages are most widely spoken, hardest to learn and other revealing facts. It’s estimated that up to 7,000 different languages are spoken around the world. 90% of these languages are used by less than 100,000 people. Over a million people converse in 150-200 languages and 46 languages have just a single speaker!

 

Languages are grouped into families that share a common ancestry. For example, English is related to German and Dutch, and they are all part of the Indo-European family of languages. These also include Romance languages, such as French, Spanish and Italian, which come from Latin. 2,200 of the world’s languages can be found in Asia, while Europe has a mere 260.

 

Nearly every language uses a similar grammatical structure, even though they may not be linked in vocabulary or origin. Communities which are usually isolated from each other because of mountainous geography may have developed multiple languages. Papua New Guinea for instance, boasts no less than 832 different languages!

 

World’s most widely spoken languages

The world's most widely spoken languages by number of native speakers and as a second language, according to figures from UNESCO (The United Nations’ Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), are: Mandarin Chinese, English, Spanish, Hindi, Arabic, Bengali, Russian, Portuguese, Japanese, German and French.

 

Hardest languages

The ease or difficulty of learning another language can depend on your mother tongue. In general, the closer the second language is to the learner's native tongue and culture in terms of vocabulary, sounds or sentence structure, the easier acquisition will be.

 

So, a Polish speaker will find it easier to learn another Slavic language like Czech than an Asian language such as Japanese, while linguistic similarities mean that a Japanese speaker would find it easier to learn Mandarin Chinese than Polish.

 

Dutch is said to be the easiest language for native English speakers to pick up, while research shows that for those native English speakers who already know another language, the five most difficult languages to get your head around are Arabic, Cantonese, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese and Korean.

 

Endangered languages

Globalization and cultural homogenization mean that many of the world’s languages are in danger of vanishing. UNESCO has identified 2,500 languages which it claims are at risk of extinction.

 

One quarter of the world’s languages are spoken by fewer than 1,000 people and if these are not passed down to the next generation, they will be gone forever.

 

Most widely-used alphabets

the world’s most widely-used alphabets (or scripts) which are still in use today (in alphabetical order): Amharic, Arabic, Armenian, Bengali, Burmese, Chinese script, Cyrillic, Devanagari, Georgian, Greek, Hebrew, Japanese script, Khmer, Korean, Lao, Latin, Sinhala, Thai and Tibetan.

 

Learning other languages

Around 75% of the world's population don’t speak a word of English and a grasp of a different language improves your abilities to use your first language and explore other cultures more successfully.

 

According to research, on average, people who use languages in their jobs earn around 8% more!

 

Many scientists also believe that knowledge of another language can boost your brainpower. A study of monolingual and bilingual speakers suggests speaking two languages can help slow down the brain's decline with age. And to quote Nelson Mandela, "If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.

 

Official Languages of the world

When NASA launched the 'Voyager 1 & 2' spacecraft in 1977, they put on board golden discs containing the sights and sounds of Earth, including greetings in 55 of the world’s most widely understood languages. These are currently travelling through space!

 

The United Nations uses six official languages to conduct business: English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Russian and Arabic.

 

Under the Romans, Latin became the lingua franca across Europe. As of 2010 the European Union has 23 official and working languages: Bulgarian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovene, Spanish and Swedish.

 

Artificial languages

Around 200 artificial languages have been created since the 17th century. The first were invented by scholars for communication among philosophers. Later ones were developed by less scholarly men for trade, commerce and international communication. They include 'Interlingua' (a mixture of Latin and Romance with Chinese-like sentence structure), 'Ido', 'Tutonish' (a simplified blend of Anglo-Saxon English and German) and the more commonly-known 'Esperanto', invented by Ludwig Zamenhof, a Jewish ophthalmologist from Poland, in 1887.

 

Esperanto is a spoken and written blend of Latin, English, German and Romance elements and literally means "one who hopes". Today, Esperanto is widely spoken by approximately 2 million people across the world.

 

Best way to learn Languages

The first language you learn, your mother tongue, usually comes with little conscious effort. If you're lucky, you might even acquire more than one language in the so-called 'critical period' of language learning, believed to end sometime between ages 4-12. After that, it doesn’t come so easy, as you might have found out at school.

 

Something that might help is finding out about your learning style: are you a visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learner?

·         ArrowThe visual learner might benefit from writing down words and phrases over and over again.

·         ArrowThe auditory learner could gain from reading out loud or recording their own vocabulary lists and listen back to them.

·         ArrowThe kinaesthetic learner may enjoy learning in a group or using flash cards or anything else that satisfies their hunger for 'experience'.

Finding what works for you could speed up your language acquisition - or at least make it more enjoyable!

 

Machine languages

Languages are used by human beings to talk and write to other human beings. Derivatively, bits of languages may be used by humans to control machinery, as when different buttons and switches are marked with words or phrases designating their functions. A specialized development of human-machine language is seen in the various “computer languages” now in use. These are referred to as programming languages, and they provide the means whereby sets of “instructions” and data of various kinds can be supplied to computers in forms acceptable to these machines. Various types of such languages are employed for different purposes. The development and use of computer languages is a distinct science in itself. [2]

 

References

[1] http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/329791/language

[2] http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/guide/languages.shtml

1799 Views
Correct us and Correct yourself
.
Comments
Top of page