Wooden alphabet letters on wall

12 Interesting Facts About Languages

Language is a complex and fascinating aspect of our lives that scientists believe to have evolved out of a series of grunts and hand gestures. From those primitive beginnings, languages have been born and have died, with complex systems of understanding built on basic foundations.


1) There are 2,700 languages with over 7,000 individual dialects spoken around the world today. 

The most widely spoken languages are Chinese, Spanish, English, and Hindi, in that order. Chinese, the most spoken language around the world, has over 50,000 characters. But you only need to know 2,000 of those characters to be able to read the newspaper.


2) Every two weeks, another language or dialect goes extinct. 

There are over 231 completely extinct languages, and 2,400 of the world’s languages are considered to be in danger of dying out.


3) The Bible is the most widely translated book available in 2,454 different languages. 

Pinocchio is a close second. But the world’s most translated author is Agatha Christie.


4) The language with the most extensive alphabet in the world belongs to the Cambodian language Khmer and is 74 characters long. 

The shortest alphabet is 12 characters long and belongs to Rotokas. The language with the most words, however, is English, boasting over 250,000 words.


5) Over 300 languages are spoken in the United States, but South Africa holds the record for the country with the most official languages (11). 

In the United States, 21% of citizens five years and older speak another language other than English at home. Of that 21 percent, 62% speak Spanish. 


6) The oldest known languages include Sanskrit, Sumerian, Hebrew, and Basque. 

But, the only reason we really know this is because there is a written record of those languages. “What is the oldest language?” can never fully be answered, as it doesn’t take spoken languages with oral traditions into consideration.


7) Language is thought to have originated circa 100,000 BC. 

The question of how old language is is still being debated. Nevertheless, most linguists agree that it began around the time when modern humans (homo sapiens) evolved in Africa with modern skull shapes and vocal cords. With the proper tools in place — skull size, brain, and voice box — language evolved. Some anthropologists even speculate that language could have developed before the physiological development of modern brains and larynges, but 100,000 BC is a good starting point.


8) Language was developed to strengthen social ties among our ancestors. 

A study of macaque monkeys supports the idea that languages may have evolved to replace grooming as a better way of forging interpersonal bonds. Two other theories posit is that our ancestors began to develop language by imitating natural sounds, like bird calls and animal noises. Or human communication may have started with the emanation of involuntary sounds: distress sounds from pain or surprise, or wails of sadness, or cheers of joy or triumph.


9) Learning a second language can make you smarter. 

Many scientists agree that becoming a polyglot can boost your brainpower. Other studies also suggest that speaking more than one language can help to slow down the aging process of the mind.


10) Languages are constantly influencing each other. 

The English language is 28.3% French, adapting words through lexical borrowings. This is particularly true when we think about ballet, as almost all of the words that describe that style of dance is in French. 


11) There are over 200 artificial languages that have been invented for books, television, and movies. 

This includes 13 distinct languages in the Tolkien universe. But “fake” languages date back centuries when they were invented for the purposes of philosophical debate.


12) Despite that, onomatopoeias are not shared across languages. 

Rice Krispies in the United States go ‘snap, crackle, and pop.’ But in Germany, they go ‘Knisper! Knasper! Knusper!’ In France, they go ‘Cric! Crac! Croc!’ and in Spain, they go ‘Cris! Cras! Cros!’ Bees don’t buzz in Afrikaans, they go ‘zoem-zoem’. And while cats say “meow” in America, they say “meo-meo” in Vietnam, “nau” in Estonia, and “ngjau” in Malay. Cows are sacred in India, but they don’t say “moo” in Bengali, they say “hamba”. Thai owls say “hook hook” instead of “hoot”, and Albanian pigs don’t say “oink”, they say “hunk hunk.” 


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