Why are There So Many Languages

People have always wanted to swap ideas with one another. In the Stone Age, the topics of discussion probably were how to make fire or how to process the hides. Since humans lived at different places on the Earth different languages developed almost simultaneously. Therefore, we call ‘bread’ as bread and the Arabs call it ‘chubs’. The migration of people caused the local languages to mix and give rise to new languages. Today, there are more than 6000 languages, not including special languages like the sign language for the hearing impaired and many different programming and cipher languages

Which languages are spoken the most?

Almost 900 million people speak Chinese, which is the most widely spoken language of the world. Russian is at the second place followed by English, German, with around 100 million people speaking it, is at the tenth place. Many countries such as Germany or Norway generally speak only one language; in India hundreds of languages are spoken.

If a country remains under a foreign influence for too long, native languages can die out. In Wales, which is a part of Great Britain, this almost happened because, barring a few adults, people could speak only English. Schools and radio programmes are now promoting the native language Celtic ‘Welsh’

How does sign language work?

People who are hearing impaired communicate with the help of gestures – energetic movements of the hand accompanied by a lively facial expression. Like every other language, gestures must also be learnt. While speaking a person may need a lot of words to say ‘shall we cross the bridge’, but a single gesture suffices for the deaf. This language is also used at places where listening is not possible: under water by divers or in space by astronauts.

Proper names have no gestures and are spelt with the help of finger alphabets.

Deaf people communicate with one another very rapidly but they also need to look at the person while speaking because facial expression is also a part of their language.

Why are many languages difficult to learn?

Learning a language is always a challenge. For example, while learning German we find structures such as ‘He is reading a book’ difficult, because this is said in a different way in German. Sometimes only tricks like holding the nose help us learn French sounds. It becomes very difficult to learn the language of the people whose culture is alien to us. Assuming our own behavioral patterns can lead to confusion and resentment. For instance, Westerners express a refusal by saying ‘no’ directly, in many Asian cultures this is impolite and the refusal is communicated in an indirect manner. That is why, learning a language also includes learning the behavioral patterns of the people whose language we are learning.

What are programming languages?

A computer needs clear instructions, called programs, which are written by programmers. Today, our demands from computers are very high: Process images, compare thousands of medical data, send e-mails, and instruct robots to build a car. Different programming languages were developed over a period of time to meet all these requirements. With some languages, you can write commands to process data in a database, with others, robots can be controlled perfectly.

What are cipher languages?

People who have developed a cipher language know how difficult it is to do so, One way is to attach a certain syllable after vowels: such as ‘sche’ alter a, ‘bio’ after ‘e’, ‘ning’ after ‘u’, and so on. ‘Apple pie’ then becomes ‘Ascheppleblo pieblo’. If you do not know how to decipher the text, it is almost impossible to understand what is written. In 1941, the Japanese secret service cracked the code used by the Americans, and Japan attacked USA. The Navajo-Indians in the US offered to develop a new radio code from their language, which was understood only by the Navajo at that time. No one was able to decode this till the end of the war.

After 1942, the Navajo-code was used in American ships. Only about 400 Navajo- radio operators knew this code. Photo: United States Marine Corps
Military meaningNavajo-termMeaning in Navajo
War shipLo-taoWhale
SubmarineBeah-loIron fish
Spotter planeNe-najahOwl

Did you know that …

Approximately half of the 6000 languages on the Earth face threat of extinction?

The Eskimos in North America have about 100 words for ‘snow’? It is quite natural since their life often depends on the condition of the snow.

The gesture languages vary from country to country?

There are television programmes, in which text is translated for deaf people? In such programmes, a corner of the screen displays a person using sign language.