The Origin of Language: One or Many?

Visionary-Origin-of-LanguagTokyo, Japan is the largest city in the world boasting a population of 37 million. Just taking a look at pictures of the mega city is overwhelming. With its massive sky scrapers, intertwined highways and all the city lights that make it visible from space it’s a wonder in human growth and invention. It really shows you how far we have come.

If you walk through the streets of one of these mega cities or any city for that matter you will see and hear many different things. But one thing remains constant among all the world’s cities no matter which culture you are a part of or place you reside.

Language.

You can hear it in the mouths of the citizens or blaring out of radio on a passing car. You can see it on billboards, t-shirts and pieces of newspaper which have been taken on a ride via the wind. It is everywhere and it comes in so many different forms.

There are so many different languages that are spread throughout the world and all of them have their own unique attributes that make them different. Some languages are verbal, others are written and some are just gestures made with the hands and arms.

Where did all these languages come from?

Is the origin of languages similar to a lone tree where they all started from a single source and moved up towards the sky where they branched off in multitude, forming branches off of branches with some branches dying off from not enough nutrients while others flourished? More commonly called monogenesis.

Or was it more like multiple trees that sprouted up close to one another and as they grew, branches on one tree would affect another while others remained distant and distinct? Or called polygenesis.

Before we go right to the answer we need to understand language change which can be explained with the children’s game called telephone.

the game works like this: A number of children sit around a circle and one of them decides on a message which is relatively long. The child then whispers their message into the ear of the person on their left who in turn whispers the message to the person on their left, and so on. The message is passed from one person to the next until the message comes back to where it started and is then said out loud followed by the original message. Normally the message has become distorted and holds little resemblance to its original meaning.

Now imagine that each child sitting around the circle is a generation and the message is their language. It is spoken and taught from one generation to the next but with each new generation it changes and evolves. With each passing generation the language becomes more obscure from what originally was.

It’s time to go back, all the way to the start where languages are thought to have been conceived. The theories for where languages started are broken into five different theories with some being more legitimate then others. The Yo-He-Ho Theory states that our first words were created as a result from the sounds we make performing heavy physical labor. From the moo of the cow to the splash of water the Bow-Wow theory suggests that originally language began with people imitating the sounds they heard from beats and birds. If you ever hurt yourself you know the “Ouch!” sound, the Pooh-Pooh theory says that our first words started as the responses to pain and other emotions. You can tell from the name of the La-La theory that is proposes that we were singing creatures and so our words reflected that nature. The Ding-Dong Theory states that all things have a unique natural quality and that is where human words were developed.

But we have a problem, because the previous theories and all theories related to what happened after language was first conceived are undocumented territory with little or no evidence to support any theories. While these theories seem to be good explanations for the origin of languages there is not enough evidence to prove much of anything near the beginning of language so they remain theories and little else.

We are stuck in the unknown.

But not all is lost. In recent years academics from many different disciplines are coming together to answer this question. Maybe we will see an answer in the next couple years or maybe we won’t. But, what is guaranteed is that once we get an answer it will give incredible insight into human development and evolution.

Thanks for reading this week’s post. What do you think about the origin of human language? Do you think it came from one source or many different sources? Let us know in the comments below.

Language and its Effect on Decision Making

morals-and-ethics

Now it’s time to think, well at least a little.

There is a runaway train barreling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The train is headed straight for them. You are standing some distance next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the train will switch to a different set of tracks. Unfortunately, you notice that there is one person on the side track. You cannot cause the train to derail or stop. You have two options:

(1)   Do nothing, and the trolley kills the five people on the main track.

(2)   Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person.

Now before you start getting too deep into your inner thoughts (whether they are brooding, lackadaisical, or as empty as a desert with only a single tumbleweed floating on by) hold on a second.

We have all heard these weighty moral questions at some point in time. Whether it’s the one above known as the Train Problem or the many others that can be asked they all make you decide which choice is the best, if there is one. Sometimes the questions change in order to make them harder like replacing the single person on the track with a loved one.

Makes it harder to answer doesn’t it?

But now lets say you speak two languages and are asked the same question but in both languages. Would you respond in a different way based off of the language which you are asked?

Our days and lives are filled with decisions. Some are more substantial than others requiring more thought while other decisions are simple and require no thought at all. When we are making decisions that require more thought because of the gravity of the choice we turn to two major factors: intuitive processes and rational processes. Intuitive processes are spontaneous and emotionally based while rational processes are based off of conscious thought of potential outcomes.

So how does language play into this if it plays in it all?

When someone has to make a decision in their own language they can make a more immediate decision and can incorporate both aspects of decision making more evenly into their choice. But when someone is making a decision in their second or third language they have to translate the question in their mind in order to formulate a response. The more time spent processing the question the more the rational part of the decision making process can take hold and shape the response. Therefore if you are asked in your foreign tongue you are going to be more rational in your response then you would be when answering in your native language.

Not only are you going to be more rational if you are asked in your foreign tongue you are going to be more utilitarian (the ends justify the means) in your response as well. With the time your mind spends converting the thought into words and then into the the new language you are changing how you feel about the answer and will think with less emotion and will act in a more utilitarian way rather than deontologically (do what is right, though the world should perish). As you can tell both effects are created through similar means; more thought processing.

But there is an exception. Depending on the age at which you learn your second language will play into how much the rational and utilitarian part will play in the decision. When children learn languages at early ages they incorporate more of the language into their intuitive structure. This means that they will think more evenly with both sides of the decision making forces as both languages take on a similar role as a native language.

Now let’s go back to the Train Problem. You can tell quite easily that language can play a role in decision making. And while very few people have to deal with life and death decision making scenarios in their day to day life there are many other big choices that people have to make throughout their lives. Think about two people trying to make a business deal. If they are discussing in both of their native languages the result could end up being quite different then if one person was speaking in their second language and the other in their native tongue.

Thanks for reading this week’s blog post. If you have any comments or questions you can put them in the comment box below.

The Global Sport

World Cup Logo

When tomorrow comes the biggest sporting event in the world will begin in Brazil. The FIFA World Cup brings the best soccer (football) players in the world together to represent their country and their home. Players that normally play apart will cast aside their club team colours for ones with their home country’s colours and will stand together.

This is one of those times when people wear their country’s colours with pride and are brought together for the love of their country more than ever. People will stand shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm all hoping and praying for their team to come out on top at the end of 90 minutes. The streets will be crowded and so will all the local places with a television. It will be a rush of emotions.

The World cup happens every four years and has been going on since 1930. It brings teams from 31 nations together in a competition for the World Cup and it is watched by a billion people from Botswana to Vanuatu.

But how many languages is it broadcast in?

If we take a look at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Media Rights Licensees we can see that there are 220 countries which have broadcasting rights and of those countries there is 53 in Africa, 57 in the Americas, 44 in Asia, 57 in Europe and 18 in Oceania. Throughout these countries there are many that share the same language and others which have multiple languages. All in all there are an estimated 150 languages represented when the World Cup hits the TV screens of the world.

With “he scores”, “goal”, these or some other variation being called in so many languages it cannot be questioned that soccer, sorry, football is the sport of the world.

What do you think about the World Cup? And do you have any other great goal calls? Let us know in the comments below.

The Loss of World Languages

tumblr_m66enubXzC1rqyge3A couple of weeks ago we posted an article about two men who were reunited after a long time apart and in the process they saved their native language, Ayapaneco. Cue the Peaches and Herb song “Reunited and It Feels so Good“. These two men refused to speak to one another for many years over a disagreement over the language and because of that their beloved language almost died out. But now it’s saved, being recorded and documented.

It’s a beautiful story where friendship prevails and it saves a dying language. But did you know that on average every 14 days a language becomes extinct?

Languages vanish for many reasons. There is language shift, which is when the speakers of a language switch over to a new language and stop teaching their original language. And then there is language death. This is when all the speakers of a language die out without the language being recorded or ever taught to the younger generations.

Because of these 231 known languages have become extinct and 2400 languages are in danger of becoming extinct. And that’s a lot. Remember that there are only an estimated 7000 languages in the world. So, if we do some math, 34% of the world’s languages are in danger of becoming extinct.

To better understand what that 34% looks like let’s look at it relative to the world population.

If we take the current world’s population and how it’s distributed throughout the world (http://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/world_population.htm) the languages that are on the verge of extinction would cover all of Africa, the Americas, and half of Europe. That covers most of the populated landmass on earth.

Language extinction isn’t slowing down either. It is estimated that by the year 2100 half of the currently spoken world languages will no longer exist while remaining undocumented (http://mises.org/daily/5846/why-do-languages-die).

Now you’re probably at the stage where you are wondering what is being done to prevent this. For one there are groups like the Rosetta Project and Endangered Languages Project which are trying to do their part to record these languages before they cease to exist. But there are also the many people looking to save languages by themselves and the language speakers themselves.

The definition of a language is “the method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way.” But it does little justice to describe what a language means to the people who speak it. A language is the very soul of the people who speak it today and all of those who have gone before, it represents the life of the people just as much as the music they make or the art they leave behind.

Languages are the very essence of a people and they should be saved.