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The History of Languages

A language is a structured system of communication.

The type of communication that involves the use of words.

What is a Language?

Apes and Whales communicate with each other.

Birds and Bees communicate with each other.

But only humans have developed a real Language.

No other species can express ideas using sentences constructed by a set of words (with verbs and nouns).

This skill is remarkable. And what is even more remarkable: Even children master this skill.


Spoken Languages

We are not sure of how old the spoken language is. The topic is difficult to study because of the lack of evidence.

We don't know how it started. But we have a clue.

The great African apes, Pan and Gorilla, are our closest living relatives. Why are they called "Apes"? Because they ape. Apes mime to get their message across.

It is assumed that the evolution of languages must have been a long process. Our ancestors might have started speaking a million years ago, but with fewer words, more miming, and no grammar.

The Tower of Babel

Pieter Bruegel the Elder - The Tower of Babel (Vienna) - Google Art Project

Cognitive Development

According to Hauser, Chomsky, and Fitch (2002), there are six aspects of language development:

  • Theory of Mind
  • Understanding Vocal Signals
  • Understanding Imitation
  • Understanding Numbers
  • Understanding Intentional Communication
  • Understanding Non-linguistic Representations

Human Languages

Human languages contain a limited set of Words put together in Sentences:

Example

I'm going on holiday in my new car.
Vado in vacanza con la mia macchina nuova.
Me voy de vacaciones en mi auto nuevo.
Ich fahre mit meinem neuen Auto in den Urlaub.

Computer Languages

Computers are programmed with a limited set of Words put together in computer Statements:

Example

var points = [40, 100, 1, 5, 25, 10];
points.sort(function(a, b){return a - b});
Try it Yourself »

Written Languages

Egyptian and Sumerian are the earliest known written languages.

(The oldest written language in use today, is Chinese)

3500 BCSumerian
3000 BCEgyptian
1500 BCChinese
1500 BCGreek
1250 BCChinese
1000 BCHebrew
900 BCAramaic
700 BCEtruscan
500 BCTamil
700 BCLatin
100 ACSanskrit
500 ACArabic
400 ACGothic (German)
700 ACEnglish
700 ACJapanese
800 ACFrench
900 ACItalian
1000 ACSpanish