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12 interesting facts about languages


interesanti fakti par valodām

Language is a complex and fascinating aspect of our life, which scientists believe to have evolved from various sounds: grunts, groans, buzzing, as well as hand gestures. Born from these primitive sources, languages lived on, and then died. Here are some interesting facts about the world's languages.

As of today, there are over 2700 languages in existence, with more than 7000 individual dialects. The most widely spoken ones are Chinese, Spanish, English and Hindi (in that order). Chinese, spoken by the largest group of the world's population, accounts for over 50 000 characters, but reading a daily paper would only require you to know about 2000 of these.

A language dies once in every two weeks. Or a dialect, at least. Researchers estimate the number of extinct languages to be 231. In turn, 2400 of the world's languages of today are now deemed endangered and on the brink of extinction.

The most widely translated book in the world is the Holy Bible. It is available in 2454 different languages. The children's book Pinocchio comes second, whereas the world's most translated author is Agatha Christie.

Cambodian Khmer alphabet is the largest one in the world, with its abundance of 74 letters. Rotokas language, on the contrary, makes do with the shortest one, just 12 letters. Despite the vast wealth of Khmer alphabet, the language with the most words, over 250 000, is English.

The United States of America speak over 300 languages, and the record number of official languages now belongs to the Republic of South Africa, which has 11. In the US, 21% of the population aged five and above speak a different language at home. Only 62% of them speak Spanish. In turn, 56% of these Spanish-speaking residents speak English "very good".

Some of the oldest languages are Sanskrit, Sumerian, Hebrew and Basque. The only way we know about these once-existing languages today is through historical evidence. We will hardly ever know the answer to the question of which of the world's languages is the oldest, as the origins of most languages are impossible to date conclusively by relying upon oral traditions.

An opinion exists that the first languages appeared at some time about 100 000 years BC. The question of how old is the phenomenon of language is disputable, but most linguists share the view that it appeared roughly at the same time with the evolution of modern human, the homo sapiens, in Africa, with the modern skull shape and vocal cords. Appearance of the new tools – the skull shape, the brain, and the larynx – could manifest the development of the language as well. Some anthropologists even go as far as to assume that language could actually evolve before the physical evolution of the human brain and larynx to the modern condition, but 100 000 BC is a good starting point for further studies.

Language developed as a means of strengthening the social ties between our ancestors. A study on macaques supports the idea that languages could evolve as a substitute for earlier ways of courting, as the optimum means of establishing mutual relations. Another theory suggests that our ancestors started developing their languages by imitating various sounds, such as bird tweeting or animal sounds. Yet another theory states that communication between people could start with subconscious sounds – sounds that humans make due to pain, surprise, boredom or joy.

Learning another language can make a person smarter. Many scientists believe that by becoming a polyglot, one enhances one's brain capabilities. Moreover, there are studies suggesting that speaking more than one language can impede the brain ageing process.

Languages continuously influence each other. English, for example, comprises some 30% of French words at its base, which have been lexically adopted and, over time, became the norm in everyday communication.

Moreover, there are over 200 artificial languages developed especially for books, TV shows and films, including 13 different languages of the universe created by J.R.R. Tolkien. It is worth mentioning however that "fake" languages had been developed centuries before our days – invented for philosophical debates.

Different languages can have different words for denoting the same sounds. Kellogg’s corn flakes, for instance, when eaten in America, do indeed sound like "snap, crackle and pop". In Germany, in the meantime, these would sound like "Knisper! Knasper! Knusper!", in France – "Cric! Crac! Croc!", and in Spain – "Cris! Cras! Cros!" Cats that say "meow" in America would say "meo-meo" in Vietnam, "nau" in Estonia and "ngyau" in Malayan. Cows may "moo" in Latvia, but Bengalese cows pronounce "hamba".


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