Language History (An Essay)

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Many observe the history of the languages of the world as a history of deterioration. Unquestionably, in bygone eras there existed more languages than exist today, linguists estimate that around 8000 BC there were upwards of 20000 languages in the world (Krauss, 1992). Currently, according to Ethnologue online there are 7,106 living languages in the world (Lewis, Paul, Simons, and Fennig (eds.), 2014). Some view this degeneration as representing deterioration in culture, or as a loss that unparalleled. However, society has not deteriorated, unless fast-decreasing poverty levels (Davis, 2013), longer life expectancies (National Institute of Aging, 2014), not having to hunt and gather all of one’s sustenance, and ameliorating standards of living (Davis, 2013), are signs of deterioration. As to the second point, loss of language is only unparalleled when it is lost by coercion, if a people voluntarily abandon usage of a language this by choice, attempting to ensure continued usage through coercion is improper. The history of language is a story of advancement.

What is the nature of language and what is the nature of the studies of language? The nature of language is clear. Language is human action (Hieber, 2013). “Human action is purposeful behavior” (Mises, 1949). The nature of the studies of language is less clear. The reason for this is that the studies of language are widely varied. Within the studies of language and, it should be added, linguistics, there are both social sciences and hard sciences. The hard sciences of language are, like physics and chemistry, observation based. Whereas, the social sciences of language, such as language history, are studies of human action and thus are praxeological (Hieber, 2013).

What then is involved in the history of language? The history of language involves language actions taken by individuals or groups of individual at a certain and unrepeatable time. The choices made by individuals of a period make up the history of language. Furthermore, not only is the history of language made up of language actions, it is also

influenced by other actions taken by individuals at a certain period. For example, the movement of people for place to place influences the history of a language. Therefore, language action like all human action consists of choices.

Thus, language action, as a part of human action, has applied to it certain praxeological principles. The primer example of this is the principle of the “Seen and the Unseen” (Bastiat, 2007). This is a principle is often illustrate by the parable of the Broken Window (Bastiat, 2007). Simply put, as Bastiat (2007) wrote, “…The first [effect] only is immediate; it manifests itself simultaneously with its cause—it is seen. The others unfold in succession—they are not seen...” Furthermore, every action has an opportunity cost, Mario Villarreal-Diaz (2011) explains opportunity cost as follows: “Opportunity cost is simply what is given up when a choice is pursued.” In language and the history thereof, this plays a major role. The reason for this is that language actions be definition have opportunity costs, when an individual decides to speak a certain language over another there is an opportunity cost, that is the individual gives up the next best alternative that would have been gained from speaking the other language. This raises another important point, individuals think on the margin (Rothbard, 1962), that is individuals think of their immediately subsequent actions before preforming it (Library of Economics and Liberty, 2012). In addition to opportunity cost, each action has a marginal cost. For example, if speaking a foreign language takes one an extra five minutes, the marginal cost of speaking a foreign language is five minutes for that individual. All of this leads to one point, language action, like all human action, involves subjective evaluations unique to each individual.

Language is ancient, perhaps not as ancient as is humanity, though basic need- or impulse-based communication probably is that ancient, but far too ancient for even the wildest speculations to be made as to the form of the first language. Furthermore, only total speculation can be made as to the origins of language, be they divine, gestural (Hewes, 1999). The age and development of language notwithstanding, language is one of the main means of communication. Communication is an encompassing term for communicative means that is language, gesturing, non-verbal sounds, aromas, lights, etc. Anything that

gets meaning across is communication. Communication through non-verbal sounds and gestures probably predate formalized language. The problem with attempting to determine the age of language is that there is no way to do it. The first languages were unwritten. Indeed, it is likely that hundreds, or even thousands, of languages died without record. Therefore, it is only truly possible to begin the history of language with writing. However, it is possible to say language long predates writing.

It is problematic to state the date writing precisely began, indeed impossible because the first writing was probably in a non-permanent form. Furthermore, there is ongoing debate about the people that invented writing. Many Sino-centric historians contend that a Chinese group; however, there is no proof of this. The most ancient extant example of Chinese writing, the Oracle Bone, dates from between 1400 and 1200 B.C. (Cambridge University Library Hopkins Collection, 2014). However, the Chinese represent the last ancient society to invent a script completely independently. In the traditional historic narrative, the Sumerians invented the first writing system. This view is now overturned by the Carbon-14 dating of Egyptian inscriptions found in 1988 Günter Dreyer at Abydos (Gascoigne, 2014). These inscriptions date between 3300 and 3200 B.C. (Gascoigne, 2014). The earliest dated Sumerian inscriptions date to around 3200 B.C. (Gascoigne, 2014). Thus, it is nearly impossible to state the script that came first. It is important to note that the Egyptians and Sumerians developed their scripts completely separately. The next ancient civilization to invent a script completely independently was that of the Indus Valley in about 2500 B.C. (Gascoigne, 2014).

Billions of people use versions of Egyptian, Sumerian, and Chinese scripts each day. There reason for this is language evolution as illustrated by writing. Language evolution is both unlike and like biological evolution. Language evolution is like biological evolution, in the fact that it is unseen while it is occurring, only after it has occurred, and that language and biological beings evolve to become more effective, better, and more adept to use. However, language evolution is unlike biological evolution in an important way. This is that fact biological evolution are determinable by mathematical formulae and consistent rules, that is biological evolution can be describe in terms of hard science, whereas

language evolution cannot be formulated and does not follow some definite pattern, such as in biological evolution in which genes mutate in certain pattern. That is not to say that there are not general patterns observed in the history of language evolution; however, these are specific and unrepeatable points in history. Unlike, in biological evolution languages can change in new ways, biological evolution only occurs through gene mutation.

Language evolves each day, without notice, each day language evolves to meet each individual’s preferences. Language is an every conforming means to a great many ends. Language tends to evolve to become better at achieving the various ends of individuals. If a scientist invents a new device, language must evolve to meet his ends of launching his device. That is, out of necessity a neologism evolves language. Similar, this process occurred at the meeting of explores with indigenous peoples. In American and, even British, English many words show some indigenous origin, from woodchuck {a simplification of an Algonquian word by English newcomers} to loot {from Hindi} (Oxford University Press, 2014). This is type of languages react.

Language have reacted in certain ways in the past that is not to say that languages can react differently, action ever changes. One of the ways is one language taking aspects of another that the individual users of the first language find useful in achievement of their means. Another way is two languages react to form contact language, a pidgin, or creole, a kind of synthesis. There are many other examples. The reason for these reactions is, of course, human action. This also means that trade does not cause language death. Generally, trade leads to health multilingualism. Writing from the 3000’s B.C. onwards shows this trend of react an evolution.

During the period of 1200 to 900 B.C. the Canaanites, or Phoenicians created a mighty trading empire across the Mediterranean (Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church [OLOLChurch], 2014). The Canaanites created the first alphabet from the logographic and ideographic script of the Sumerians (Gascoigne, 2014). This shift though seemingly unimportant to the average Canaanite at that time has shaped the development

of the whole Western World. This is because it is from the alphabet of the Canaanites that all modern alphabets ae derived. The Canaanites traded and set up small villages across the Mediterranean, exporting their language, or at least their alphabet throughout that region. The Canaanites spoke a Semitic language and wrote without vowels, as is still the case in Arabic and Hebrew. The Greeks adapted the Canaanite alphabet to meet their needs, adding vowels and eventually codifying a writing direct of left to right. The mysterious first inhabitants of the Italian Peninsula, the Etruscans, then adapted the Greek alphabet. The Roman, used by more than one third of the world’s population (calculated from Ethnologue online data; Lewis, Paul, Simons, and Fennig (eds.), 2014), alphabet is a derivative of the Etruscan alphabet. Cyrillic, Devanagari, Arabic, and Hebrew scripts, to name a few, are derivatives of the Canaanite alphabet. (See figure one).

The history of language and the history of human movement have close linkage necessarily. From a small area in the Sinai desert places and be as far away as Mongolian and North America use some form of the invention of the Canaanites. The Egyptian writing system was less successful. It all but died out by 425 A.D. (Ager, 2014). The hieroglyphics were high useful for stone inscription by more difficult to write on papyrus, thus, cursive scripts were created, Hieratic and Demotic, used mainly for religious and everyday writing purposes respectively. Some Demotic lives one in the writing system of the Copts, Coptic, though this mainly derives from the Greek alphabet. The script of the Chinese, skill used in a slightly evolved form by another third of the world’s population, export itself, though not quite as far and successfully as the Canaanite.

From about 2000 B.C., China has been an imperialist country. The first dynasty was the Xia, and the second, under which the script had formation, was the Shang (Poon, 2014). The non-phonetic script has been an asset for binding the people of the empire. The imperialist colonialism that besets Chinese history seen through the exportation of the script shows that forces is no way to promote the usage of a script or language. This is clear by the fact that Japan and Korea, two possessions of imperial Chinese created script in defiance of Chinese rule. The Koreans, to show freedom from Chinese rule under King

Sejong, created an alphabet. Perhaps this represents the reason Chinese script has usage in by no other languages than those originating in China, whereas the Canaanite, which was used by choice and not force, is used from the mountains of Costa Rica to the rainforests of Viet Nam, in one form or another.

Figure one (Boeree, 2014):

The key difference seems to be that the Canaanites never held swords to the throats of the Greeks or Etruscans to force them to use the Canaanite alphabet. The

individuals in Greece and Latium used the alphabet by choice. It is not that the Chinese had less spread than the Canaanites. Indeed, the country of China today controls some 9, 706, 961 square kilometers, whereas the Mediterranean region is about 2,500,000 square kilometers. Nor where the Canaanite more successful at coercion, indeed it was, only the script that people choose to use not the language. This same parallel occurs between English and Chinese today. In some part, the usage by 99 countries in the world of English is through choice, though at times the imperialist British used coercion to ensure usage of English. Whereas, Chinese has a spread of 33 countries. Despite that, choice has played a role in shaping the history of language coercion has as well.

The Roman Empire used coercive means to ensure Latin had use in all parts of its Empire. From Britannia to Aegyptus and from Gallaecia et Asturia to Syria, Latin was the language of state and culture. The oppressive Romans killed languages through the usage of force. Yet, even in the most oppressive societies, some of light of individual liberty breaks through. Individuals in all parts of the Empire created new languages from the Latin. These languages were termed Vulgar Latin. It is doubtful that anyone, outside of writers of high poetry and members of Imperial court used “official” Latin. These forms of Vulgar Latin slide unnoticed into becoming the Romance languages. Languages that inherited, not only vocabulary and functions from Latin, but also imperialist fervor. French fared best in spread, exporting itself to 51 countries, and Spanish fared best in number of native speakers, 414 million people. Four of the five main Romance languages, French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, and Spanish, have more than 50 million speakers and a global spreads ranging between 12 and 51. (See figure two.)

Figure Two (Lewis, Paul, Simons, and Fennig (eds.), 2014):

Name

Number of Speakers (millions)

Spread (Countries official)

French

75

51

Italian

63.7

10

Portuguese

203

12

Romanian

23

1

Spanish

414

31

The Germanic languages, the languages of a group of tribes of northern Europe, have the greatest distribution of all world languages (see figure three). This is because after the fall of the Roman Empire, the Saxons, Angles, and Jutes, colonized an island called by the Romans Britannia and by the Anglo-Saxons, Angleland. Both these names live on today as Britain and England respectively. It was on this island that one of the most influential languages of began. The English language has the largest spread of all languages and is the third most spoken language in the world (Lewis, Paul, Simons, and Fennig (eds.), 2014). The Danish and Norman invasions, the spread of Catholicism with the Latin language of the Bible, and the British imperial age shaped the language. In a great deal through mostly free trade and interaction English changed from a small tribal language to a global language of power. However, in some places the British resorted to the use of coercion to ensure the usage of English, making the language a killer language.

Figure Three (Lewis, Paul, Simons, and Fennig (eds.), 2014):

Name

Number of Speakers (millions)

Spread (Countries official)

Afrikaans

7

1

Danish

5.5

1

Dutch

22

1

English

335

99

German

78.2

18

Icelandic

.2

1

Norwegian

4.7

1

Swedish

9

1

How do languages like Latin and English become killer languages? For one language to become a killer, “One has to enter the home and prevent the parents from speaking their native language to their children.” (Hieber, 2012). What entity has this power? The state alone has this power. Through compulsory education in the language of the State. Through a consistent attempt to create one people, one nation, one world. Through utopian fantasies, in short, the State creates killer languages. However, urbanization is also a cause of language death that is a death through individual choice and thus is, as ever a loss to the field of comparative linguistics, natural thing to occur. None has the right to use force to make a language used or make a language unused.

The history of language is a history of decline in number and an advancement in effective and preferred usage. The loss does not represent a decline in society nor is it terrible, unless it is through force. Language is a form of human action and, therefore a branch of praxeology. Language is very ancient. The Egyptians and the Sumerians first began to write, followed by the Chinese. Languages react and evolve. Through trade and free exchange, the Canaanites exported their alphabet the world over. Whereas, by the use of imperialist force the language and writing system of China has limited spread and influence. The oppressive forces of the Romans spread Latin across Europe and Northern Africa. The people adapted Latin and formed one of the most successful groups of language. The Germanic tribes inhabited a small island and their language became the most widely spread language of the world. Languages generally only displace languages when the state forces people to use a language. Trade leads to multilingualism. All language involves choice: to speak or not to speak, what language to speak, how to speak, all of this is naturally the choice of the individual. The history of language is a history of choice.

Appendix A

Figure Four, Celtic Language Usage (Lewis, Paul, Simons, and Fennig (eds.), 2014):

Name

Number of Speakers

Spread (Countries official)

Breton

206,000

0

Gaelic (Scottish)

63,130

0

Irish

1,000,000

1

Welsh

536,890

0

Figure Five, Chinese Dialects Usage (Lewis, Paul, Simons, and Fennig (eds.), 2014):

Name

Number of Speakers (Millions)

Spread (Countries)

Gan

20.6

1

Hakka

30.1

13

Huizhou

4.6

1

Jinyu

45

1

Mandarin

848

13

Min Bei

10.3

2

Min Dong

9.12

6

Min Nan

46.6

10

Min Zhong

3.1

1

Pu-Xian

2.56

3

Wu

77.2

1

Xiang

36

1

Yue

62.2

10

Figure Six, Language Distribution for Languages with more 50 million Speakers (Lewis, Paul, Simons, and Fennig (eds.), 2014):

Name (Number of Speakers millions rounded)

Spread (Countries of Use)

English (330)

99

Arabic (240)

60

French (75)

51

Chinese (1100)

33

Spanish (410)

31

Persian (57)

29

German (78)

18

Russian (170)

16

Malay (60)

13

Portuguese (200)

12

Italian (64)

10

Turkish (71)

8

Lahnda (82)

6

Tamil (69)

6

Urdu (64)

6

Korean (77)

5

Hindi (260)

4

Bengali (190)

4

Japanese (120)

3

Javanese (84)

3

Vietnamese (68)

3

Telugu (74)

2

Marathi (72)

1

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