Six Things You Didn’t Know About Languages

By Sarah-Claire Jordan

Languages are extremely important. They are, possibly, one of the things that set humans apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. Besides helping us to communicate our needs and wants with each other, they serve as material for creating beautiful works of art in the form of poetry, novels, prose, and other kinds of literature. The connection between culture and language is so deep that, when a language dies, much of the culture dies with it. Here are six facts about language in general that you may not know:

1. We may never know what the oldest language is or was

Thanks to written records, we have been able to determine what some of the oldest languages are. They include Basque, Hebrew, Sanskrit, and others, but the oldest languages might never be discovered as they may not have been recorded in writing. Many cultures relied solely on speech in order to pass on information and teach children, and developed writing systems for their languages later.

2. The origins of language could date back to 100,000 BC

This is still debated among linguists and anthropologists, but many agree that a few things that appeared around 100,000 BC in the bodies of modern humans that would have facilitated the development of language. These physical characteristics are skulls of a particular shape and size, a certain type of brain, and a voice box. Without these, language still could have started to develop, but these traits certainly helped.

3. Language may be the greatest social bonding tool

Some linguists think that human language may have developed out of a need for a better social bonding tool than simply grooming. This makes sense, as bonding is largely based on the communication of needs, wants, emotions, and ideas that can be best expressed through language. Maybe the sounds we associate with certain emotions were the starting points for language.

4. Onomatopoeias are not universal

The words we use in English for different sounds, like those that animals make, are not the same in other languages, even though one would think that everyone would hear the same noise regardless of their native tongue. However, this is not the case, and so translators must also translate onomatopoeias as well as regular words.

5. The word for “mother” in almost every language has an “m”

In many languages, the word for “mother” either begins with or contains the “m” sound. This is possibly due to the fact that, for an infant’s developing mouth, an “m” is the easiest sound to make. It is easier than the “d” sound, so this could be partially why babies tend to say “mama” before “dada”, at least in English. Perhaps the word for “mother” came after the very first babies made their very first sounds?

6. Speaking a second language can make you smarter

Besides helping you to navigate whole new worlds and cultures, learning and speaking a second language could actually increase your brainpower. Language learning stimulates specific parts of your brain that aren’t active when speaking your native language, so your neurons are getting a real workout. This cerebral exercise is also thought to help prevent certain diseases, especially Alzheimer’s.

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Category: Foreign Language