Language is a complex and fascinating aspect of our lives that scientists believe evolved from a series of grunts and hand gestures. From those primordial beginnings languages were born and died, complex systems of understanding built upon fundamental foundations. Here are some of the most interesting language facts from around the world.
1. There are 2,700 languages with more than 7,000 individual dialects spoken all over the world today. The most widely spoken languages are Chinese, Spanish, English, and Hindi, in that order. Chinese, the most spoken language worldwide, has more than 50,000 characters. But you only need to know 2,000 of those characters to be able to read the newspaper.
2. Every two weeks, another language dies. Or maybe an accent. There are more than 231 completely extinct languages and 2,400 of the world’s languages considered to be in danger of disappearing.
3. The Bible is the most widely translated book available in 2454 different languages. Pinnochio comes in second. But Agatha Christie is the most translated author in the world.
4. The language with the largest alphabet in the world belongs to Cambodian Khmer and has a length of 74 letters. The shortest alphabet is 12 characters long and belongs to Rotokas. However, the language with the largest number of words is English, with over 250,000 words.
5. Over 300 languages are spoken in the United States, but South Africa holds the record for the country with the most official languages (11). Among the US population, 21% of citizens five years of age and older speak another language at home. Of these 21%, 62% speak Spanish. Among these Spanish speakers, 56% speak English “very well”.
6. The oldest known languages include Sanskrit, Sumerian, Hebrew and Basque. But the only reason we really know that is because there is a written record of those languages. Answer to the question What is the oldest language? It can’t really be answered, because it doesn’t take into account spoken languages with oral traditions.
7. The language is believed to have originated around 100.00 BC. The question of how old the language is is still being debated, but most linguists agree that it began around the time that modern humans (Homo sapiens) in Africa evolved with modern skull shapes and modern vocal chords. With the right tools—the size of the skull, brain, and voice box—that should have meant the evolution of language. Some anthropologists even speculate that language could have evolved before the physiological evolution of modern brains and larynxes, but 100,000 BC is a good starting point to start from.
8. Language was developed to strengthen the social bonds between our ancestors. A study of macaques supports the idea that languages may have evolved to replace grooming as a better way to form personal bonds. But another theory is that our ancestors began developing language by mimicking natural sounds, such as bird chirps and animal noises. Another theory is that human communication may have begun with involuntary emission of sounds: sounds of grief from pain or surprise, wails of grief, or cheers of joy or victory.
9. Learning a second language can make you smarter. A number of scientists agree that being multilingual can boost your brainpower. Other studies also indicate that speaking more than one language can help slow the aging process of the brain.
10. Languages constantly influence each other. For example, the English language, itself, is 30% French, because it has adopted words through lexical borrowings. This is especially true when we think of ballet, as almost all of the words describing this style of dance are in French.
11. There are over 200 artificial languages invented for books, TV, and movies, including 13 distinct languages in Tolkien’s universe. But “fake” languages go back centuries when languages were invented for the purposes of philosophical discussion.
12. Onomatopoeia, though, is not shared across languages. Rice Krispies in the US goes “Snap, Pop, and Pop.” But in Germany, they go “Knisper! Knusper! Knusper!” In France, they go “Kreek!” crack! Croc! And in Spain, they went “Cris! Cras! Cross!”
Bonus! Since this blog is written in English, here are some interesting facts about the English language in particular.
The most common consonant in English is the letter it begins with: E. But the most common consonant in English is R, followed by T. More English words begin with S than any other letter. The English word “alphabet” is made up of two Greek words, which are the first two letters of the Greek alphabet: alpha and beta. The longest word without a real vowel in it is ‘beat’.