This is the second part of our ongoing book on language. To make sure you properly understand this series, please read the first part here before reading this one. 😉
Does you speech english?
If so, can you please read this english text and tell me what it says? (mind you, this is a very important and well known English piece of work): “Hwæt! wē Gār-Dena in ġeār-dagum, þēod-cyninga, þrym ġefrūnon, hū ðā æþelingas ellen fremedon.” This is the “greatest work of Old English” (to quote wikipedia), named Beowulf, written some 1,000 years ago. Maybe that wasn’t fair because it is 1,000 years old, but why is it called English when almost no words are recognized as English words today?
I am guilty of a BIG lie that I promoted so far… You see, there is no English, Chinese, Japanese, Romanian, French, and so on. They don’t exist, and I mean that, and I’ll prove it.
When I came to Spain from Romania, some 5 years ago, I used to say to the Spanish people I came in contact with: “Yo no hablo español, solo ingles”, which means that “I do not speak Spanish, only English”. And I didn't understand why they were a bit put off by that until someone told me “We don’t speak Spanish either, we speak Catalan.” I was like “Whaaat!? Did I land in a different tribe than Spain!?”. I had no idea that Spain is comprised of more than one tribe, and one was named “Catalonia” with its own language and even flag (imagine that 🙂 ). They learn the “Catalan” language in schools alongside Spanish. That made me think that “Catalan” is more than a dialect, but then if you have a look at how Spanish became Spanish it was because a king, a while ago, who spoke another kind of Spanish (Castilian called today), one of many dialects in the tribe, managed to get in power and said (not the actual quote of course): “Well from now on everyone will speak my dialect and write books on the rules of my dialect, and all people of the tribe of Spain will learn my dialect in schools.” So ‘Castilian’ became ‘Spanish’. This is why ‘language’, if you were to define it in a way, is a dialect with a king and an army. But some people in the Spanish tribe were like “Yeah, fuck off!” and they kept their own dialect, learning it alongside the king’s one. So Spain became a tribe with multiple dialects, and “catalan” is just one of them. They just call the Castilian one Spanish because it is the official dialect.
The differences between these dialects can be significant, so it’s not only a matter of accents/tones.
From my experience (and not only mine) I can understand Spanish (Castilian) a bit. I can make good sense of it when I hear people speaking, but when I hear Catalan I can’t even tell if those speaking are angry, happy, talk about dinosaurs, or just cry :). So, the difference can be huge between the two “Spanish” languages.
Now, with that map in mind think about the fact that some say “Spanish” is the second most spoken language on earth because it is the primary language for some 20 big tribes: from Argentina to Colombia, Mexico to Paraguay and so on.
Imagine now that all of these tribes are more or less like Spain, with their own ‘internal’ dialects.
|This is a map of dialects in Argentina:||This is a map of dialects in Mexico:|
On top of this you have to understand that all of these dialects have their own dialects…and that applies for every tribe out there, every language, every dialect.
'official' dialects of spain:
not-so 'official' dialects of spain:
Enjoy this video showcasing these differences between the various types of Spanish languages - (enable English subtitles) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQ7cWJApFHc
So don't look forward to learn Spanish, because there is no Spanish out there, but instead many varieties of it. There are differences and varieties between tribes, inside tribes, and even inside those dialects themselves (from groups of people to groups of people).
This is true for all languages out there. In China there are more than seven main dialects as different from each other as French is from Spanish (source 1, 2). It is completely nonsensical to say “Chinese is like this” because there is no Chinese. The examples I provided so far in regards to Chinese were from Mandarin mainly (one kind of Chinese), or classical Chinese. On the opposite pole Norway, Sweden, and Denmark speak a very similar dialect, yet they say that they all have separate languages. So on one hand we have a tribe like China where people speak at least seven very different kinds of Chinese that they cannot use to communicate with one another because of how different they are, and we call that a single tribe with one language, yet tribes like Norway, Sweden, and Denmark speak almost the same language and we call them separate tribes with separate languages. Same as Hindi and Urdu that are as identical as American English and British English, yet they represent ‘different’ languages in our worldwide society, as if they are different from each other. It is like saying Americans speak American and British speak British. See the confusion?
Basically people speak many kinds of languages all around the world, different from tribe to tribe, and different inside the tribe from groups of people to groups of people. And humans randomly (almost) choose to call some as languages, and some as dialects or some as gibberish.
Many times the dialects that are not the official ones (the main language of a tribe) are seen as a degraded form of the main dialect, because people think that the main dialect is ‘language’ and the rest are ugly, simple, and nonsensical gibberish. But it is like saying that French, Portuguese, Romanian, or Italian are degraded dialects of Latin. Wait though, someone did say that at a time where those languages didn’t exist…
Some 2,000 years ago (translated in English): “Spoken Latin has picked up a passel of words considered too casual for written Latin, and the grammar people use when speaking has broken down. The masses barely use anything but the nominative and the accusative ... it's gotten to the point that the student of Latin is writing in what is to them an artificial language, and it is an effort for him to recite in it decently. “
Latin evolved into Spanish, Romanian, Portuguese, and Italian (and all of the dialects related to these languages) so it never died nor was it ever a thing. Imagine taking a photo of someone every day for 90 years. It is true that the way s/he looked at age 1 is widely different from age 90, but it is the same human. Languages are the same and they are never this or that, they are in constant movement and transformation.
When I was in highschool, I and two of my friends had some inside jokes that only made us laugh (from references to the movies and videos we saw, to the way we talked) and we were confused as to why that's not funny for others. Dialects are like that. They evolve from one kind of language but they become meaningful only for some. They may use the same words as the main language (or not), but what they mean and understand by them (like our highschool jokes), the accent/tone of their voice, and so on, is uniquely theirs, and that contemplates a ‘dialect’, a language different from another language because of such reasons. This is because both dialects and languages are the same creature in reality.
Look at these two patches of land:
In the red patch live 182 million people and they speak 300 languages. In the yellow patch live 11 million people and they speak around 800 languages. That’s the diversity of languages when you look at them as all being dialects. So the number of around 5,000 languages written and unwritten that we’ve talked about at the beginning of this series becomes hugely more vast. And most languages are not properly studied AT ALL, so this number can be even greater than that.
One more thing about dialects vs. languages: you may think that the official English dialect, or Romanian, or Chinese (Mandarin, Cantonese, etc.), or the official French dialect, are way more organized and proper than their non-official dialects, despite the fact that all, as we’ve seen so far, are a monstrous mess, but maybe the official ones are less of a mess. That’s not true at all. There are many non-official dialects that are vastly more complex than official dialects. New words and meanings are evolving for all kinds of dialects not only for those that are official. And even non written languages are very complex compared to the written ones. What I am trying to say is that there is no evidence that enforcing a language through schools, employing people to track and define new words, tweak the grammar here and there, or just simply have that dialect in a written form, will make that dialect better and more complex just because of all of these things.
Two simple examples are English and Chinese (with the seven official dialects of it), two of the most spoken sets of dialects in the world, and both are either very telegraphic and simple like Chinese, or full of inconsistencies like English. And both of them are official languages with all of the ‘goodies’ that comes with them (reinforcements), and yet they are very different in their structure despite all of that. On the other spectrum a language like Tsez has no written form yet is its very complex compared to both of those. Basically a non-written language can be even more complex in its structure/syntax than a written one.
So from now on when you think about ‘language’ understand that it is not a thing, it is many things.
Formal vs. Casual.
A few years ago a friend of mine applied for a driving licence and we were reading the ‘driving’ manual in Romanian language (our main language) to see what we know about ‘driving rules’ because I don’t have a driving licence either. But we quickly realized that we can barely comprehend what was written in this book, even though we were speaking Romanian as our main language for as we long as we knew each other. Many sentences we could barely read, many more we could barely understand. This is because in the Romanian language there can be a huge difference between the formal language (the official dialect - or what some may call as “Romanian” - the one that they teach you in school), and the way you normally speak Romanian. This is so problematic that if you were to understand Romanian and watch some interviews on the Romanian TV, you would feel the cringe moments when people try to speak ‘proper’ (formal) Romanian just because they are on TV. If there is a car accident in Romania, a tragedy, and two people were killed, and a TV reporter asks a police officer about the incident, it is not as easy as communicating with a police officer in English, who would say: “There was a car accident on road 45 and two people were killed.” No no! In Romanian the police officer can barely talk in formal Romanian language and often you will have hard times understanding what s/he says, as will the police officer :).
Sometimes I see memes that we make for TROM being translated in Romanian and because many feel obliged to use the formal language to translate them, I can rarely make sense of these memes. So, my English writing (my ideas) translated into my native language Romanian, and I can barely understand them. If you were to meet a Romanian human being who only talks in the formal (official) Romanian language then I recommend you move away from her/him very slowly, because it is either a robot with malicious intentions, or someone who lost their mind. 🙂
If you learn French in America, then when you go to France you may look like a moron because what they teach you is a formal French dialect recognized as the ‘official’ language and people there, of course, speak in a different way. Exactly like in Romania. You may go out in Paris and ask for a coffee like: “We will have some coffee.” In the formal French it is: “Nous prenons du café.” The waiter may look odd at you because they normally say “On prend du café.” See? Big difference in writing/pronunciation and also in meaning. And in Southern France they speak Occitan which is closer to Catalan (what people speak where I live now), and Catalan is … one version of Spanish!? Jesus….
So pause for a moment and try to understand the maze now: there are official languages in the world (Romanian, English, Chinese, etc.), each represent just a dialect that was enforced to the tribe, but all of these tribes have many different dialects. Now even individual such dialects can have at least two forms: formal and casual. Mad!
So if you thought that you may know Spanish, or Chinese, or whatever language then sure, you will be able to use your Spanish in Argentina as well as in Spain, but not in all regions and in very limited ways. And in cases such as Chinese it depends which one of the seven official dialects you learn as you may end up in China unable to speak what you thought was Chinese with Chinese people….
After you wrap your head around this mess, take a breath because I need to add another layer on top of this craziness. After all of this maze where there is no language but mixtures of dialects, there is even more to consider. I thought that I know English pretty well. Everything I read and watch for the past 10 years is 95% in English. I write in English, talk in English, listen in English. So I thought I am pretty good in English until I had to talk about stuff that you have in the house: from pillows, carpets, forks and knives, cleaning products or whatever, to all kinds of stuff that English speaking creatures know since the age of five. But I realized that I didn't know the names for those ‘alien’ objects at all. So if I wanted to ask for something from the fridge (vegetable or fruit or a food type) I was lost. Same when I saw this object (what's the name of that thing!?) - and so many others. (photo)
You see most of what I watch/read/listen to in English is from the Science and Technology domain: I know about quantum entanglement, electrons and cells, DNA, renewable energies, sustainable communities, maglev trains, chemicals, nanobots, and all sorts of such ‘entities’, but I rarely hear/read about that kind of stuff that you have in your home, like the stuff you need for cleaning, types of foods, or even pieces of clothing. In the same way that someone who learns ‘proper’ English in school may have no clue about the stuff that I know because they were not exposed to that.
When one finishes a course in English and s/he is level A, B, or whatever letters ‘depicting’ his/her level of English, then ask them about astronomy, chemistry and atoms, about new kinds of technologies, other accents and dialects, and so forth, and you will realize how limited their English vocabulary and exposure is. This is because they will struggle to describe things with words and knowledge that they do not know, or they will struggle to understand English accents they never heard before. And it’s not only about words. My sister took an intensive course in Dutch lately for her working job and finished it perfectly. Now she speaks Dutch….or does she? Well she finds it nearly impossible to communicate with Dutch people as they too (surprise-surprise) have all kinds of dialects and accents that are hard to understand (the inside jokes remember?). And I also noticed that when I hear ‘normal’ English people speaking among their own ‘species’ (Americans or British) even when I understand their words (so hopefully they don’t talk about the kitchen), because they speak too fast and too ‘mushy’ my brain struggles to properly understand them. Plus I can barely understand Australian accents, Scottish, or other English accents. So, do I know English?
So the “formal” vs. “casual” situation that is present in all languages, only adds another unnecessary layer of confusion and nonsensicality over the already widespread inconsistencies of languages. Combine the messiness of dialects with that and you can tell how much of a nightmare the world’s languages are. And there are two main reasons why there is this mess, and in order to fix it we must understand these two important aspects:
- The religiosity of language
- The evolution of language
- The religiosity of language
Language is God, poets are Saints.
1841 County superintendent of schools:
"For a long time I have noted with regret the almost entire neglect of the art of original composition in our common schools ... hundreds graduate from our common schools with no well-defined ideas of the construction of our language."
1871 Charles Eliot, Harvard President:
"Bad spelling, incorrectness as well as inelegance of expression in writing, ignorance of the simplest rules of punctuation, and almost entire want of familiarity with English literature, are far from rare among young men of eighteen otherwise well prepared for college studies."
1917 Connecticut schoolteacher:
"From every college in the country goes up the cry, 'Our freshmen can't spell, can't punctuate.' Every high school is in despair because its pupils are so ignorant of the merest rudiments."
1956 English professor at a small college:
"Many do not know the alphabet or multiplication table, cannot write grammatically, and seem to have been trained to hate mental exercise ... often they cannot read intelligently, and dislike any reading."
Speaking of broken records… All of the academic ‘smarts’ have complained about language for all human history and they are still doing that, seemingly unaware of the the fluidity of it.
When I say that language is a religion I want to highlight the discrepancy between what language really is and what it is presented to us, plus how little people question language. On top of that, not respecting the rules of grammar or making grammatical ‘errors’ is seen as a laughable and unacceptable thing in most tribes (if not all), or something rightly offensive. All that transforms language into a religion. In Romania, like I am sure it happens in many tribes, there is even a years long standing TV show dedicated to ‘laughing’ at grammatical ‘errors’ that they see in other TV shows. So, you make a grammatical mistake on Romanian TV (you forget that shoes are a ‘he’) and people will laugh at you and consider you stupid. ‘God forbid’ you make these errors when you are a ‘public’ person, because even if you may say something of extreme importance, a small grammatical mistake will cost you all that you’ve said and perhaps will say from now on, and you will be rendered as ‘non-intelligent’ and your message will be ignored.
If you ask in school why trees are masculine in Romania, why plurals do not respect a rule in most languages, or in America why the ‘do’ is used, and so on, you will be told the “Just because” answer in a religious fashion, citing ‘a book’ to showcase, in their view, how language makes sense just because it was written in the book, so don't question it further. If the book says it is right, then it is!
If the opposite of religion is the atheist questioning its beliefs, I wonder what’s the opposite of the religion of language… We too at TROM get some heat from time to time because of the language that we use. Some people remind us that a sentence cannot start with “but” or “so”. But why is that? 🙂 Or that the language that we use is not a ‘professional’ one for a magazine (whatever they mean by that). This shifts the focus from the message to something that, as you can tell by now, has no relevance whatsoever. Someone said a long time ago that: “When the wise man points at the Moon, the idiots analyze the finger.” and the society we live in unfortunately transforms people into those who look at the finger, and that’s because language is a religion fiercely promoted by tribes as their national prides.
This religiosity not only creates dumb people unable to question language, but as many religions it also promotes stagnation, which is the opposite of progress. How can you change the language when it is seen as a fixed set of rules that you should not question?
“Y’all” as a plural for “you” makes way more sense in English than using “you” for both forms, but such changes are not integrated into the official dialect, something that could improve language here and there because of its reach (schools, adoption, etc.), and that’s because the religiosity of language guardians who consider such words as ‘ugly’ and ‘barbarisms’. In short, if you want to make changes to a language it is very hard to do so today. Devoid of such a primitive attitude full of emotional entanglement, languages could evolve much faster and much better by accepting and implementing change. The same attitude is at the core of dragging along words and expressions that should have long gone. It is nonsensical to say “I got the sunset on tape” when you point your digital smartphone at a star 150 million km away from Earth, and “record” it.
‘Rap slang’ (or slang of any kind), or ‘black english’, and other such man made groups of vocabulary flavors are also not accepted as “ok” due to the same reasons, even if they may make more sense and can ease communication.
So when it comes to language, IT may be the biggest “religion” of all time, with most people respecting IT without questioning IT.
- The evolution of language
But despite the guardians of language who make the process of language evolution much slower, as we’ve showcased, languages always change and you need to keep that in mind because if we dare to invent a new and better language then we must understand that the barriers we may put on keeping that language ‘sane’ (keep its form) may have little impact on the changing nature of language. In other words, making a better designed language and applying it globally will be subject to the same kinds of forces as all languages suffer from today.
What influences language to change, morph, take new meanings, and overall evolve despite all kinds of barrier/rules put in place?
These forces act as a two edged sword (they promote change and restrict it at the same time):
- Separation of people (clusters, tribes, regions)
- Technology (smartphones, the Internet, etc.)
- New discoveries and inventions that require new words and meanings.
- Human Biology (speech impairments)
- Separation of people (clusters, countries, regions): This one is simple. It is what we talked about so far in regards to how words/sentences/syntax evolve. When Latin speaking people divided into tribes, Latin morphed into what is now Spanish, Romanian, Portuguese, and Italian.
Take a look at how English is divided into so many dialects (from accents to new words and meanings) due to separation. - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NtB1W8zkY5A
Even if you invent a new kind of language it quickly spreads into many kinds of versions, due to regional separation because of the “inside joke” force where regionally divided people will develop new meanings and express themselves in slightly different ways reinforced by all kinds of local rules in schools, workplaces, and so forth. Like Americans and Australians having different meanings, accents, and words because of this separation, and other such differences inside their tribes for the same reasons. So even within a global society people will still be divided in all kinds of clusters because of all kinds of reasons. For example the US is one big tribe but depending on the region, they speak different kinds of English, showcasing again how the same kind of language morphed into different dialects within the same tribe. Or it is possible that “gamers” develop a new kind of language within their “gamers” group in online forums or chats. Groups formed around passions and interests, divided locally or virtually, will push a global language to take in slightly new meanings that in time can create huge differences.
So on one hand if you were to invent a global language and let it loose in today’s society, because of so many tribes, that language will be adopted and changed locally, from tribe to tribe, because of their separation. Like English was introduced to all kinds of places (many due to English conquerors - bad people killing other people and taking their land) and then it morphed locally. That’s why you see the many kinds of English. On the other hand all kinds of different separations (clustering) will happen in any society (like “gamers” inventing new words, accents, meanings, inside their own community).
- Technology (smartphones, the Internet, etc.):
Due to new technology (smartphones, internet, etc.) writing was brought back into the spotlight (via chats, forums, etc.) and we’ve seen an explosion of new words and new meanings. One new kind of language evolved in the form of ‘emoticons’. 😛 😉 🙂 . We get a little heat about that too for our books/articles when we use them because it looks, again, ‘unprofessional’ to some, showcasing one more time how language evolved into a religion because such ‘emojis’ are in fact very useful at transmitting messages. Right? 🙂 , Right? :(, Right? 😀 , Right? 😐
Another new thing that these new technologies brought about or enforced are shortenings of words/sentences.
TBH IDK what's the ETA for this new issue, but I’ll FWD you a message ASAP when we release so CYE. Btw, FYI it will be a gr81 IMO b/c WYSIWYG ;). HTH. LOL. TTYL.
WTF was that? 🙂
If we were to somehow translate this ‘cool’ and ‘new’ kind of writing style into a proper religious one it will take a lot of space and time: To be honest I don’t know what's the estimated time of arrival for this new issue, but I’ll forward you a message as soon as possible when we release, so check your email. By the way, for your information it will be a great one in my opinion because what you see is what you get ;). Hope that helps. LOL. Talk to you later.
The “LOL” is not ‘translated because it is another example of how words change meanings in very short amount of time. In the 1960s it was used to mean "little old lady", and only in the 1980s it was first used in the internet world to mean "Laughing Out Loud". However, today it means many things as you can see it in such scenarios:
“Hey are you going out tonight?”
“We have homework to do, remember?”
“Yeah, 20 pages essay. But it’s not mandatory :P”
This new kind of writing style is different from the past because it is a direct way of communicating. When you are writing a book/article you do it for presenting a topic, you don’t usually rush, and you are probably mentally ready to sit down and write that big thing, edit it, rewrite it, etc.. But when you're chatting with someone you are trying to simulate the normal speech with text (writing). Expressions like “lol” replace facial expressions, or other gestures, or kinds of laughing. While acronyms like IDK (I don’t know) are extremely useful to engage in fast communication, similar to a verbal one.
Therefore the first point you need to keep in mind is that newer technologies have allowed for a more direct form of communication in writing, thus transforming writing into an increasingly similar one to vocal communication (faster, more direct, and based on all kinds of signs representing emotions). But despite the fact that new technologies accelerate the adoption and creation of new words, writing styles and meanings, on the other hand it reinforces the old language and tribal separation of languages. It is easier than ever to have most of the digital text auto corrected by automated software reinforcing old rules. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0uEDTM2g3WQ
Also with the new kinds of text to speech and voice recognition features, the software reinforces certain dialects/accents over others and it makes it very difficult to adapt such technologies to the many dialects and accents out there when that is what is wanted. Meaning that it may not work to talk in ‘slang’ with Google Now, so it will force the unique creatures like rappers (or whatever) to adapt to the boring world that we live in 🙂 - that’s the idea. Or if you have a scottish accent, or whatever accent, it will be more difficult for such software to understand what it is you’re saying, so it is more prone to misinterpretation.
Funny way to get this point https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5FFRoYhTJQQ
The interesting bit is that if Google Now (or whatever voice recognition software) gets better and better at recognizing accents and even slang, that reinforces even more the language separation barrier. If you are Scottish and you can easily use such software on your phone or whatever device, then you won’t bother speaking the English that Americans speak in order for you to be understood by the software, so you preserve the Scottish accent that can be widely different from the American one, moving you further and further away from establishing better communication with Americans. No matter if the situation is the other way around or we are talking about other languages/dialects, the point is that if such technologies get better they add to the separation of dialects and thus separation of people through inability to learn other languages/accents.
I learnt English because in Romania (where I’m from) all of the media was mainly in English: music, movies, tv shows, books, etc.., and video materials like movies (media we were most exposed to) were mainly subtitled and not dubbed. So I learned English a lot by just watching movies (hearing people speak English), using software, listening to music, etc.. You see when your phone is only in English you are forced to learn English in order to use it. When a movie is in English with Romanian subtitle then you pick up words and expressions because you listen to English. But something is changing. People in Romania are starting to not understand English that well anymore, and this can be a personal experience and not a scientific fact, but let me explain why this might be more significant than a simple observation.
When I came to Spain I was extremely surprised that people here do not know English. I thought that English is a second language for most people on Earth, but I was so wrong. And I quickly learned why people in Spain do not know English despite the fact that they learn English in school. Almost everything foreign in Spain is translated in Spanish (whatever dialect). Movies and games are dubbed (so people don’t even hear english), software is in spanish, plus all kinds of other stuff from posters (movies, games, whatever) to popular sports sometimes. On top of that, they have more media produced by their own members of the tribe in their own dialects: music, articles and websites, tv shows, and so on. Therefore people in Spain are exposed to Spanish dialects all the time, so how can they pick up another language? And I can relate to that as I learned French in school alongside English, for the same period of years, and I know nothing in French besides 5-6 words (same applies to most of my old classmates), and that's because there was no reinforcement of any nature to learn French - no movies in french, music, whatever; and we all know school is super inefficient in teaching you something.
But Romania is becoming more ‘cool’, like Spain, and dubbs and translates more and more stuff because the technology today makes it easier to achieve this. So now most people in Romania use their phone in Romanian language, kids watch movies dubbed in Romanian, the Romanian tribe is more and more capable of producing Romanian music, movies, tv shows…. And so this makes Romanians less able to pick up another language because they are exposed to their own pretty much all of the time.
This is important because it means that technology, although a force in letting language evolve and pick up new meanings, is also greatly enforcing the learning of only one language.
You might think automated translators are going to fuse all of these. So it does not matter if I only know Catalan, or Italian, or Australian English, because if I want to interact with people or content from other languages, translators will translate that for me. This is a neat idea, and one full of issues. Counting all that we’ve explained so far: multiple accents, dialects, formal vs. casual, inconsistencies of language (no rules for most of all grammars, words that are pronounced similarly or written the same but have widely different meanings, etc.), and so on, you realize how impossible of a task this is. Machine learning (something we discuss in this book) is going to be perhaps the only way forward to understand and keep up with the dynamics of language and be able to improve translation, though it is hard to see it perform as good as enabling normal conversations between people who speak different languages.
“He beats the sun in skull, and my job was taken.”
Do you get that sentence? 🙂 - Makes no freakin’ sense, right!? I translated it from Romanian to English using Google Translator, perhaps the most advanced translator in the world, but it makes no sense at all even if the Romanian sentence is a very common one, and a super simple one. Again, this is just a simple sentence in Romanian saying that “I am boiling hot due to Sun’s heat, and I can’t stand working anymore.” Romanian: “Ma bate soarele in cap de mor, si mi s-a luat de munca.” Because the words and meanings change so much and so often, and they mean so many things depending on the context, it is nearly impossible to make translators that can perform in a way that can enable normal communication.
It is funny how so much energy and resources are spent in trying to develop technologies that can understand language and translate from one language to another (something that will always be full of inaccuracies), when it would be far more efficient if all people of the world would learn at least one global language, regardless if that language will morph in different dialects over time, because it would be way better and more accurate like that than trying to translate from Mandarin to Londonese English. In essence, what I am saying is that it would be much better to have a language like English (with all of its accents - from australian one, to scottish, and so forth) as a global one, than having widely different languages all around the world, making translation and communication an impossibility.
- New discoveries and inventions that require new words and meanings.
I don’t think there is much to explain about this as many probably understand the idea. When Louis Pasteur discovered a method of making food safer to eat, the method became “pasteurisation”. Stethoscope, ambulance, leukemia, gynecology, petri dish, and so many other words were invented in the past 200 years specifically due to the industrial revolution (source). It is like people recently invented this thing and call it “hoverboard”, “twowheels”, or whatever. When new discoveries happen and new inventions are brought into the light, new words and meanings are invented. Usually it seems that many use a combination of other existing words (stethoscope - Greek “stethos” meaning “chest, breast” + the French “scope”), other times they borrow words from old languages (ambulance - the word comes from the French “ambulance”, from “hôpital ambulant” — literally “walking (hospital)”), sometimes they use the name of the discoverer, and other times they may just simply make up a new word.
- Human Biology (speech impairments)
You may have noticed how all children butch-up words when they are little. “Fire truck” will become “fire fuck”, “witch” can be “bitch” :), and so on. And that’s because of their anatomy: they can’t use their mouths and all of their biology involved into speech in the same way adults can. So some sounds they cannot reproduce. But some of these kids grow up with differences in the way their biology allows them to talk. We call them “abnormalities” only because we associate the rest with the “normal”. A lisp for example is one such “abnormality” of the human biology making the pronunciations slightly different from “normality”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c4DTIxBU7-E
Or for example I cannot pronounce the “r” the way most Romanians pronounce it, and I pronounce all words containing “r” in a different way, but only noticeable in Romanian and not English for example. These small inabilities to pronounce words are driving the evolution of language. If for example someone tweaks the language and adds words that are hard to pronounce for most people, then those words will mutate over time because of human biology (people will pronounce them “wrongly” until they will write them the same, and accept them as normal after a while). This is similar to kids that can’t pronounce certain words because of their biology. And on top of that people who are used to speaking one kind of language will find it hard or impossible to pronounce words from other languages and they will “mispronounce” them, and if these people are many and influential, they will change the language over time. For example if many Spanish speaking people migrate to the US, they will have an influence on how English words develop over time due to their Spanish accents. Or when English “borrowed” words from french and english-enized them (recipere - recipe).
So the biology of humans will drive such mutations of language over time, dragging along new rules in grammar, new pronunciations, and even new meanings.
In brief, separation of people, technology, new discoveries and inventions, and human biology, are what drives the evolution of language. At times pushing the brake pedal, at times the acceleration one, at times changing the gears or moving the steering wheel left or right. Watch this super great video explaining this evolution https://vimeo.com/180443446
Summarize everything we learned so far:
We have shown how the written language evolved and how it is connected with the spoken one, or not at all. The way we write influences the way we talk, and vice versa. Thousands of years made this loop more and more confusing and one language (or sets of) morphed into thousands of others, and at one point some humans decided to try and make sense of it all so they invented all kinds of rules that they called “grammar”. They started to come up with theories about syntaxes, define what “words” are acceptable, and so on. Of course they were faced with a ton of inconsistencies and perhaps made it even worse by trying to make sense of it all, and overall had no success as language mutates despite all of these roadblocks. And not only that but even when people accept a language’s rules (nouns here - verbs there, we write this way and not that way, punctuation, etc.) they often (or most of the time) use it in all kinds of individual ways that seldom respect these rules. So we talk in a way, write in another. Or write in a way, and read in another.
We are faced today with a gazillion of languages, some written - some not, all a fabulous mess. But this mess is somehow understandable looking at how many influences language has to face. Interestingly, despite all of these nonsensicalities revolving around language, IT has become a religion to most humans, a religion that is rarely scrutinized.
To make sure we understand this let’s put it in terms of colors. Look at this map and notice that we do not have colors for our eyes to define the multitude of languages in existence today. So the colors cannot be used alone, thus you have to also take into account the borders to properly get this. So that the green that you see for example, is not a single language represented by that color (but multiple depending on the borders), so you also need to look at borders because people in Northern Africa do not speak English :).
Understand the confusion with Norway, Sweden, and Denmark who speak a very identical language yet they are delimited here as separated on this map, yet Argentina or Mexico (or all others) are not delimited by dialects that could be more different from one another than how those three nordic languages are (look at Mexico divided by dialects how much complexity adds to this map if we were to apply this for each tribe). Though some dialects (well known ones) are indeed represented by striped lines on the map. But it is impossible to represent this mess properly. I would also have added shades of the same color throughout the map because as we have proven so far there are regional differences in speech and understanding of the same language that we don’t even consider as dialects. Anyways I hope this gives you a slight idea of the immensity and variety of the languages of the world and how impossible it is to define a language or understand it (grammar, syntax, meaning, etc.).
Now, what can we do to improve this situation? Can we create a global/universal language? Are we crazy to even ask this?
Well, first we need to make sure we have good reasons for even wanting to take on this challenge. Why is it so bad to have so many languages? Yes, there are so many nonsensicalities revolving all of them but that’s how languages are and always will be (in a constant state of mutation), so why bother? Are people starving because of so many languages? We seem to communicate pretty well despite all of this mess, right?
Well, in our next part we will look at this in detail because many may have no idea of how much this mess affects our lives and impairs our ability of developing a global society: language barriers kill people, create waste, conflicts, and put a big roadblock to science. So this is a serious business, not a nit picking thing that we use to showcase our “intelligence”.