By Stephanie Ciccarelli
November 21, 2011
We know that there are hundreds of languages spoken in our world today, but where did all they come from?
Why are there so many?
Join me in a conversation about how our languages came to be and why it pays to speak more than one language in today's VOX Daily.
Have you ever been in an international airport or traveled to a foreign land? If so, you likely noticed how diverse cultures can be and how difficult it is to understand what someone is saying if they don't speak your language.
Few things in this world set people apart more distinctly than language and culture. Our familiarity with concepts such as "language barrier" and "culture shock" prove the point.
Maybe you live in a multicultural society like I do in Canada and are reminded daily of the global village in which we live. Although there are many benefits to this, sometimes we can run into challenges when it comes to communicating, whether verbally or in written form.
According to the biblical story of the Tower of Babel found in Genesis 11, the whole earth had one language and one speech immediately following the Great Flood. Noah and his family were saved having taken refuge in the ark prior to the flood along with mating pairs of every kind of animal who would later repopulate the earth.
As the story goes (I am paraphrasing), descendants of Noah traveled to Shinar in ancient Babylon and settled there with the desire to build a tower that would reach to the heavens to make a name for themselves lest they be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth. In response, God decided to confuse their language so that they might not understand one another's speech. The people ended up breaking off into groups and went their separate ways.
Many believe that this event sent by God (the confusion of tongues) was the ultimate cause of the early separation of mankind, their dispersal throughout the earth, and their division into races and nations.
I realize that this account isn't a universally accepted belief but I have included it for consideration. If you have other theories, feel free to share them in the comments below.
You might have noticed how some languages share a common ancestor and belong to what are called language families. A few examples of language families include Romance, Germanic and Slavic.
Have you stopped to think about which language family your language comes from? English is a Germanic language. English shares vocabulary and grammatical features with other Germanic languages such as German, Dutch and the like.
A few languages that fall under the heading of Romance include French, Spanish and Italian.
Something else of interest is that there are both living languages and dead languages. Living languages still change with the times as new words are created and old words are replaced with more relevant terms (for instance, "thou" versus "you"). One example of a dead language is Latin. While Latin is a language that can be studied or performed in, it is rarely used and does not lend itself to everyday conversation.
I'm not a linguist by trade but did at one point sing regularly in a variety of languages and could draw parallels between some pronunciations for various words that fell within the same language family. For instance, if you can speak or sing in French, it is easier for you to learn Spanish and or Italian because the languages are derived from the same language family.
For an English speaker, singing in Russian, Hebrew, or Greek proved more difficult for me to do because they do not fall within the language family (Germanic) I grew up speaking. Many people who speak multiple languages can do so with special ease given those languages fall within their language family. I wrote an article about the benefits of being a polyglot a while back that highlights how individuals, especially and those living in European countries, seem to be able to speak a number of languages for both business and pleasure.
Be sure to comment with your thoughts and observations!
Photograph information: The image I chose depicts the Tower of Babel with the Three Gossips rock formation in the background on the right in Arches National Park near Moab, Utah. Note that this is not the same Tower of Babel as in the biblical account.
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