The Mystery of Language

‘Those who know nothing of foreign languages, knows nothing of their own.’

-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

‘Accent is the soul of a language; it gives the feeling and truth to it.’

-Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Language is a vast field of study and I think that is so because it’s a mystery. You’ll have an idea of what I’m trying to convey as we go on. We’ll dwell more on language as a general concept rather than specific languages e.g., English, Chinese, etc. The Bible tells us that there was only one language before God punished the Babylonians and made them speak in multiple languages ‘to confuse them’. That is what Quentin Atkinson, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Auckland in New Zealand and author of the study, might be proving inadvertently (his study is scientific and non-religious).

His study suggests that the world’s 6,000 or so modern languages may have all descended from a single ancestral tongue spoken by early African humans between 50,000 and 70,000 years ago. His study is also consistent with the prevailing view of the origin of modern humans, known as the “out of Africa” hypothesis.

According to the LOTH thesis, ‘thought and thinking are done in a mental language, meaning, in a symbolic system physically realized in the brain of the relevant organisms’. I don’t want to get philosophical here so go to if you’re interested:

Kinds of Languages

I. Auditive or Spoken

There are approximately 3000-6000 languages that are spoken by humans today.

II. Visual Languages

The Written Language

Have you realized that the written language is more active now than the spoken ones? Technology is causing that. As days go by, more and more people are using the Internet, mobile phones (texting), and other hi-tech gadgets for correspondence rather than talking in person. As a coincidence and cause, people are getting more separated so the situation is somewhat being forced. Tunku Varadarajan’s suggestion in the Daily Beast illustrates this point by suggesting that the next G20 meeting be done by eMail!

a. Programming Languages

These are the languages used by computer programmers -and ironically now it seems, by ordinary netizens and people. Most netizens use their self-made codes for personal messages, specifically in phone texting and instant messengers, so we could say that their own language was programmed.

b. Sign Language

There are sign languages for the handicapped, sportsmen, military, and who knows what else.

Mind Language

There’s also the mysterious language called mind-reading. It’s a known fact that some people can communicate with eye contact only. I sometimes do. I remember an incident where I noticed a street vendor was staring at me with terrified eyes. I knew that he was trying to tell me something which I didn’t get. I just knew that I should shut up. After about a minute, he told me that the person passing by was a dirty undercover cop. Then I got it. The vendor thought that I was looking for street drugs and he was afraid that the undercover will hear us talk! I laughed and told him I wasn’t looking for ‘stone’ (street drug) anyway and thanked him for his effort.

There are still lots of mysterious correspondences which I’ll try to write about. Do you know of any?

Death of Dialects and Languages

Another Case of a Dying Language

The Mexican language of Ayapaneco is another one at risk of extinction. Only two people can speak it fluently now but they refuse to talk to each other just because of mutual avoidance! What a tragicomedy.

The dialect of the Philippine province of Zambales is Ilocano and I believe it’s dying. I handled a public computer shop there and the children playing video games aren’t speaking their own dialect anymore -they’re speaking the national language Tagalog instead so what can we expect is that the children of these children wouldn’t be speaking their dialect at all anymore.

And I wonder how many more provincial dialects are dying this way.

The Degeneration of Language

In the Philippines, we use a corrupted version of English we call ‘Taglish’ (tagalog-english). It was alright with me until the phrase ‘wait lang’ began to be used. ‘Lang’ in Tagalog (the Philippines’ national language) literally means ‘just’ as in ‘just a minute’. So if we translate ‘wait lang’ literally, it would mean ‘just wait’. The upper-class of Philippine society was where that phrase originated and that was acceptable until illiterate and street people started using the phrase. Even their children say that to them!

I might sound hypocritical but I don’t think illiterate and impoverished people should pretend to be ‘class’ by using that phrase. In the first place, wouldn’t it be more polite to say ‘wait please’ instead of saying ‘just wait’?

Here’s a question for musing: did moral degeneration and technology (textese or mobile lingo) cause language degeneration? Keep in mind that I’m not talking about any native language but language in general.

, Pocholo Peralta ,