The Sunday Feed

Polyglot

“Buying bread from a man in Brussels
He was six foot four and full of muscle
I said, “Do you speak-a my language?”
He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich”

These are the lines from the chart topper called “Down Under” by the famous band, Men at work. The video is quite hilarious and very well shot and edited for a something that was released in the early 80s. For those not residing in Australia, vegemite is a spread for sandwiches, toast, crumpets and cracker biscuits as well as a filling for pastries. It is quite like Guinness, you might not like it at first but it grows on you till you get addicted.

No one in this world knows how language came into being but one thing is for sure that it was a happy accident so to speak. Someone dropped a big stone on someone’s foot and the language came into being. There have been several studies done on the origin of humans but surprisingly all studies were stalled in 1866 by the Linguistic Society of Paris which banned any existing or future debates on the subject, a prohibition which remained influential across much of the Western world until late in the twentieth century.

A lot of scientists believe that language took speed about 1.8 million years ago and most communication before that was done through sign language. Many believe that that all the languages ​​of the world have originated from Sanskrit somewhere. The Sanskrit language has been spoken since 5,000 years before Christ.

The famous American linguist Noam Chomsky bases his theory on the idea that all languages contain similar structures and rules, a universal grammar, and the fact that children everywhere acquire language the same way, and without much effort, seems to indicate that we’re born wired with the basics already present in our brains.

It is believed that a child finds it easy to learn a language as compared to an adult. Apparently that is because they do not have shortcuts wired in their brains like us and so they do not bypass the essential steps required in gaining prowess. I watched this episode where a small girl of 4 from Russia could speak 7 languages fluently. The program is called “Little Big Shots” and the episodes can be seen on YouTube. The funny part was that in the interview her demeanour was very much like any other children of her age. However, when it came to communicating in different languages, she could put an ordinary adult to shame.

It’s hard to come up with exact numbers, but linguists have estimated something like 31,000 languages have existed in human history and that’s the lowest estimate. Currently, there are roughly six thousand languages spoken in the world with English spoken by about 1.13 billion people followed by Mandarin by 1.17 billion. Well the exact figures will always be debatable but you get the idea. Dumii which is a Kiranti language spoken in the area around the Tap and Rava rivers and their confluence in northern Khotang district, Nepal is the least spoken language.

Language consists of four dimensions: the sound system (the phonology), the meanings system (the semantics), the world formation rules (the morphology), and the sentence formation rules (the syntax). The different subsystems involved in the acquisition of a language are assumed to have differences in developmental progression and the optimal period for acquiring them.

In Australia, 200 languages are spoken all across as it is multicultural in nature with Italian and Greek being the second and third most popular. If you look at the Australian history, apart from the people coming from Britain, the Italians and Greeks have contributed a great deal in development of Australia. Other than their ability to adapt and excel in any field, they have a special talent in running small enterprise, especially in the food business.

As always, I will end with something positive. I will start a mini course on learning Italian from tomorrow. Reason is that apart from the fact it is so popular in Australia, I personally like the language! Though it is loud at times and is spoken with a lot of animation, there is a great deal of sweetness in it. Usually when I watch international films or TV series, I turn down the volume to focus on the sub-titles. Not when I am watching “Inspector Montalbano” or Inspector Rex both of which happen to be thrilling detective stories. I will give myself 3 months to see if I can sing the popular Italian songs without much effort. I think I should be fine because I am still a child since I’ve applied the brakes on growth long ago when I heard a wise man say, “Please don’t grow up, it’s a trap!”

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