Language – The Evolution of Human Communication

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The most important invention of man is by far language. The very existence of social organization lies with an individual’s ability to communicate with another individual either by touch, gestures or utterance. The possession of verbal language is perhaps the greatest reason that mankind has survived through all forms of natural challenges and still emerge as the dominant species on Earth.

Language is common to all human societies and is fundamental in the development of culture in the human race. While language is something compulsory to every toddler, its importance is often forgotten, left unknown or taken for granted. Through language, mankind is able to share information which would otherwise be buried through the death of an individual. Without language, the accumulation of knowledge from preceding generations would be loss and subsequent new generations of man would have to relearn painful experiences.

Fortunately, man created thousands of languages either independently or through interactions with other human civilizations to ensure not only their survival but the continuous development of culture, science and art. This in turn, provided the force needed to accelerate human knowledge as descendants of the previous generation is able to start from where their forefathers left off. However, in the perceived attainment of glory and pride is man’s ultimate weakness. As certain as ones greatest strength is also ones greatest weakness, language must suffer from the same fate.

In order for language to be useful, each and every one of its users must be subjected to a universally accepted set of rules, or grammar. Only then, can an individual create new statements that will be perfectly understandable to other individuals using the same language. This is a double-edged sword as it permits language to be used with a delicate and great precision while at the same time clouding it with considerable ambiguity. The same can be said of both sentence structure and vocabulary that must be generally accepted by the wider majority in order to be of any use to the individual. Thus, in attaining the flexibility of communication, language betrays its tail of rigid rules.

It is a lie to say that all languages are equal. Indeed, it would be an even greater folly to believe that they will ever be equal. Although almost all kinds of spoken languages operate by similar principles which enables their translation, certain language are indeed more advance and developed than others. In all ages, a Lingua Franca dominates the world of humanity. The first was probably the Egyptian and Sumerian languages, followed by a clear acceptance and dominance of Greek, Latin and English in chronological order. English has remained the dominant language to this very day.

There are three undoubtable factors that enables a language to become a Lingua Franca. First and foremost, the language must be widely used. This is evident because the civilization to which the Lingua Franca originates must be at its finest moment, dominating in trading activities, in higher education and in international relations. The second factor, is the scope of vocabulary both contained within and newly created of the language itself. All languages that has previously attained the status of Lingua Franca must have a wide range of words that enables it to describe numerous objects and abstract ideas. Whether its vocabulary is borrowed, like how English enriched itself with Latin, French and German, is inconsequential and irrelevant as long as English is the medium of communication.

The third factor and often the most tricky to ascertain, is the practicality of the written form of the language. The earliest script was probably in the form of pictographs – sequences of pictures each of which represented a specific object or actions. The written form used by the Egyptians as early as 3,000 BC were signs and symbols gradually added to represent things that could not be easily depicted. Although the hieroglyphic method was able to transmit complex messages,  its users needed the knowledge of several thousand characters that made the refinement of the language’s written form increasingly impractical. The Lingua Franca on the other hand, is more often than not a practical language that enables its users to describe complex ideas as simple and as accurate as possible.

Base on the three factors mentioned above, one can understand why higher level education is dominated by English. First, English is the common language used in international relations and trading activities. Second, English has incorporated the words of many other languages into its vocabulary and is able to be a suitable medium of communication for complex ideas. Last but not least, English is practical. One does not study science in the language of the Red Indians simply because no substantial books of science was ever written in their language!

The 15th century brought the dawn of paper manufacturing and printing upon mankind. The ability of large-scale production of books changed the landscape of language for all foreseeable time. The coming of both the radio and television bypassed the need for the written form of language in many aspects. The Internet resurrected the importance of a Lingua Franca in international relations and communications. All these developments are only made possible by building on the invention that our forefathers have given us. Language. And in the near future, English and Mandarin will be the Lingua Franca of our day.

Comments
9 Responses to “Language – The Evolution of Human Communication”
  1. Bill Chapman says:

    You don’t mention Esperanto, a planned lingua franca. Esperanto is a tribute to human linguistic ingenuity. Take a look at http://www.esperanto.net

  2. Henrypoong says:

    Allow me to add another point here.For a language to be a Lingua Franca, it must be flexible enough to adapt to the ever evolving environment and global.One of the factors contributing to the rise of China is the flexibility of Chinese language, which essentially is a variant of pictograph.For instance,”computer” in Malay is “komputer”,and this shows a lack of originality and failure to be independent and thrive within the parameter of the language itself.Whereaas,the Chinese language is different in the sense that instead of borrowing the term”com-pu-te-r ” from the English,computer is translated into”tee anne now”,literally means “electricity powered brain”.

  3. Henrypoong says:

    The lack of flexibility results in priorities being given to a more dominant and practical foreign language when it comes to naming a new revelation of invention made in a country where the Lingua Franca is not a national language .If any new techonology is pioneered in malysia,instead of first being given a Malay name,that new technology will be given an English name first, only then it is translated into Malay.How ironic for a Malaysian invention to be named in English first.That why it is very likely for Malaysia to forever trail behind other developed countries such as China,Japan and US.

  4. jamesesz says:

    Good point, Henry! It looks like my essay failed to cover those points. But my thoughts on it are the same as yours!

  5. Brian Barker says:

    As far as the international use of Esperanto is concerned, can I suggest the following Youtube video if you have a moment? http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=_YHALnLV9XU

    Professor Piron was a translator with the United Nations.

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