Week #42: Thinking about language
The offspring of my sibling is awaiting a brother or sister any day now. Thus, every morning, the first question that gets asked is: “Has Zoe [the name given to the impending baby (I don’t know why!)] camed out yet?” No amount of coaxing and explaning has resulted in a grammatical correction. In fact, we’re now all talking about Zoe being “camed out” as well.
Apart from the side-splitting mirth that “came-ing out”, “skipes” (spikes) and “oosh” (shoe) have brought me over the years, it has been fascinating observing how a baby, toddler and now a small child develops language skills. Yet, oddly enough, I’ve been blogging about reading and writing for 42 weeks now (late this week; travelling; apologies), and yet not one post has been on the subject of language, without which both reading and writing would be impossible.
In fact, the only reason I started thinking about language was because of this amazing language tree. Funny how we rarely think of where all the words came from, where they keep coming from.
Do we take language for granted? After all, without it, we wouldn’t be able to read, write, communicate. Heck, we can’t even think without language. So where did it all start? From a prehistoric grunt? How do animals manage without it? Is it language that sets us apart from other animals? How did words come into being, to mean certain things? Why are languages so different? And why are languages so similar?
The language tree answers some of these questions, but yet others remain. However, there is one thing we do know—language isn’t something that just is; it is something that grows and changes with time and the human experience. Every year, Oxford Dictionaries Online adds about 1,000 new entries. And this is just English. And not only do new words come into being, old ones get booted into obscurity, and some existing ones take on new meanings. It is estimated that a new word is created every 98 minutes, that is, around 14.7 per day. Phew.
In other words, this language thing, it’s not quite set in stone, is it? (Even though I declare “phablet” was a mistake and is the worst word ever!) Can you imagine civilization without language? Just think of all those books never written, never read…