Language is wine upon the lips: Virginia Woolf
The single greatest invention of human kind is attributed to fire by some, and to wheel by others. Their claims may have the weight of the scientific community but for the masses, the language is the real innovation.
The language brought the dawn of knowledge; turning over the leaf to doubting, questioning, reasoning, explaining and understanding against the centuries old simple animalistic instinct of following. What use could be any scientific invention to human kind if we were unable to communicate? Despite being a product of human invention, the language encompasses the entire human needs of communication and expression. That is the real beauty of the language.
Since the time that has solid recorded evidence, the language has been used as the basic tool for communication. As the literal definition of language goes it is a set of symbols, figures, and, or rules that can be manipulated to give meaning to the vague ideas. Jane Wagner once said, “I personally think we developed language because of our deep inner need to complain.”
We don’t know this theory to be true but what we know is “Words have a longer life than deeds.” Pindar (522 BC – 443 BC). Who began to use language or who developed it in its present form, we are totally unaware of but we definitely know that language and its rules came into being in 5th century BC in present day India for the language of Sanskrit. The rules for the Persian language were formed in 760 AD. The development of language has been fluctuating but not its usage with the passage of time.
Modern natural language – that is the language humans use for general communications -came into being almost 50, 000 years ago in Africa before they dispersed into other parts of the world. There are almost 6, 912 languages currently spoken in the world. The top five of the most spoken languages of the world are Chinese at number one with 1, 209 million people speaking it, Spanish with 332.3 million, English 309.4 million, Arabic 206 million, and Hindi with 180.8 million speakers. Urdu, Pakistan’s national language, is at 20th number with 60.5 million speakers. Another 60.8 million people in Pakistan speak Punjabi which resembles to Urdu a lot.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Thought is the blossom; language the bud; action the fruit behind it.” Civilization in general has made use of the language in many ways. Language, on the other hand has reciprocated its effect on civilization. Language brought a sense of perfection and purposefulness to the civilization. It has been used as a tool to manipulate the inexperienced ones. Interpretation of laws, reading out the death sentence, poets’ imagination, writers’ fiction, deals in market, schooling, politicians’ charm, all are dependent on language. By endowing the civilization with all of its features, the language has been forced to accept the norms and rules made by the civilization in reply.
The remarkable features that the language is resplendent with are varying in their usage, degree and conformity. The foremost of them can be its ease and adaptability. This can be seen in a toddler. As a child learns a few words of any language, he also learns to use them and put them into meaningful phrases or sentences. The child can make an extensive number of sentences out of a thin vocabulary. This strange phenomenon of ease in using the language has kept many sociologists, psychologists and linguists busy in research.
Relationship between man and society is known through its customs, mores, norms, tradition, laws, ethics, music, religion, language, rituals; collectively known as culture. These customs, mores or norms are transferred from one generation to the other through a learning process. Learning process in term uses language mainly, though not fully, as its carrier. Consequently the language has not only become a part of the culture but also a carrier of the culture. “Language shapes the way we think, and determines what we can think about,”
Benjamin Lee Whorf’s, who was an American linguist noted for his hypotheses regarding the relation of language to thinking and cognition, words support this theory.
Scalability is another feature that has made its mark. Scalability means that a particular language or use of language can be expanded to any required extent. Important point in doing so is not to lose its functionality. In earlier times, when science had not made such progress, the use of language in scientific field was also limited. But with the growth of science into many fields and sub-fields, the language has also grown itself to match the required needs without losing its functionality.
“Language is the archives of history,” Ralph Waldo Emerson said this truly. Change is must in a vibrant and active society. How far a change in a society can affect its culture is also seen first in its language. The language in this role acts as an historian recording the changes in behavior, traditions, rituals, laws, ethics and other ingredients of a culture. “Change your language and you change your thoughts,” Karl Albrecht said. The language can also sometime be used as a catalyst for change. When Turkey replaced Arabic alphabets in its language with the Latin alphabets in 1928, it not only depicted the change in Turkish culture but also proved as a catalyst for the social change Turkey was undergoing those days.
“Language is the means of getting an idea from my brain into yours without surgery,” Mark Amidon. This sure is true in the present day world. The world with its so much diversity in population also caters for its linguistic needs. Diversity in languages makes possible for all humans to interact and communicate. Almost 7, 000 different languages are alive in the world in a sense that they have a following in spoken and, or, written form. All of the basic human needs for communication are being meted out in an efficient way naturally and without any interception. This diversity in languages owes much to the flexibility of a language in accepting and improvising to new ideas.
Another feature of the language is its universality. All the languages of the world basically offer almost same facilities (read communication) and attempt to accomplish same objects (read understanding). Walking on the same lines, many linguists claim that there is a universal grammar and a universal language out of which current modern languages have evolved. Noam Chomsky also claimed this in his work on generative grammar.
May be the most misused or overused function of the language is manipulation. As one gets hold of the language, one’s command to use it for one’s purpose also increases. This way a person can manipulate a language in such manners as suit best for the achievement of his goals. History is filled with examples in this context. Carl Marx, Hitler, Mao Zedong, Khomeini, Osama, Bush and many others have used this ability of the language to their own purposes regardless of the social value of their ideas.
Whatever else the language may be, it is also the representation of the truth and reality. The language does not represent anything more or less than the ideas and thoughts. Words; the building blocks or unit of the language, have no sense unless we attach any reality or any abstract idea to them. American short-story writer and poet Edgar Allan Poe has rightly said that words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality.