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History of Language

by Millie Clayton (follow)
Communication (121)      Emotions (85)      Social (19)      Society (12)      Language (10)      Interaction (8)      History (6)      Anthropology (1)     

Image Courtesy of Amelie Scalercio: http://cargocollective.com/ameliescalercio

It didn’t occur to me that the English language had a history of its own. In doing some light research I discovered to my great surprise that ‘Gothic’ was actually a language and not just a subculture. I discovered the existence of the word ‘diphthong' referring to the way in which two vowels are pronounced as they occur within the same syllable. Despite me reading over this definition several times, I still couldn’t tell you what the hell it means. I found out there have been events within Modern English, tangible events, which have been documented to demonstrate significant changes in what our language means to us today. An example was ‘The Great Vowel Shift,’ which marked a period where profound alterations in the pronunciation of long vowels became standardised.

Unearthing this cornucopia of information took me less than five minutes. Primarily I felt excited to realise the elaborate history waiting to be uncovered in the linguistics arena. This excitement then manifested into profuse frustration. There was too much to learn. Too many facets to the language that seemed superficially trivial. Facets that had layers of inconsistencies and 'exceptions to the rules' that we originally learn as being concrete.

I thought about the list of words that exist to describe various bodies of water. River, lagoon, ocean, pond, rivulet, puddle. That’s six. Inlet, lake, stream, dam, canal, bay, creek. Thirteen! Billabong, cove, channel, brook, loch and gulf. That is seventeen! Seventeen words to describe a body of water.

The complexities of language became more palpable on a trip to France a few years ago. Struggling with what minimal French I was equipped with, a discussion took place about University studies in which I brought up procrastination. To procrastinate, or ‘procrastiner’ in French, was a verb completely foreign to the French. They looked at me bewildered and I assumed that I had mispronounced terribly. Despite the english word having french roots, the French were not aware of the existence of 'procrastiner.' What remains ambiguous is whether the French just never procrastinate, implying that they don’t have the necessity for the existence of such a word, or, contrastingly, that they are not aware of its existence and therefore cannot act in such a manner.

Whilst one could argue that being bilingual expands the confines of one's mind, others may find it perplexing to simply grasp hold of their mother tongue. Whenever thrown into another country where I am out of my comfort zone, forced to communicate in a language not my own, I can never write something of merit. Whilst the inspiration is there, I can't speak non-English only to then write with the proper articulation of a person my age. It appears as if a ten year old has selected words they know at random to formulate a sentence. Perhaps it is a matter of fluency, but dreaming in english to then think in french phrases intermittently makes me feel befuddled.

Language acts with symbols. We are confined by the language that we utilise. As I try to discover more words, I aim to better my own self-awareness. It seems that the more I learn about the language I express myself in, the more I am able to pinpoint my standing in the world. I don't always like what I find but it may be a step closer to actualisation.

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