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Languages are not inmutable

October, 20 2009 Leave a comment

People see languages as rigid, not mutable. This is a very Victorian concept that is as absolutely wrong as generally accepted.

The most evident fact that denies this precept is that most languages feature some degree of internal variability. Sometimes this is easy to appreciate. People from one city not necessaryly spokes the same way people from other nearby city does. This theme came out in a conversation I had some days ago. In that conversation, being there people from different cities, we suddenly started to debate how some words weren’t used for the same thing on our localities. In fact, I can tell about a funny story related to this. Some years ago, one friend of mine had some holidays in other city here, in Galicia, about 150 km south from where we resides (Same language here and there). So, this friend of mine went to a restaurant and he decided to have “xoubas” for lunch, he thought we was asking for squids. He wasn’t served a squids but some fish that we commonly refer to as “parrocha”. He was shocked so he asked and, for his surprise, he discovered he was served properly. In same that conversation it was told about two very closed small villages with two relevant phonological differences. It was argued that those differences might have developed because of one village having always depended upon fishing while the other had done so upon agriculture. It’s even common for big difference to exist inside the same city; take as an example cockney. But variability is not only limited to geographic variation. People may spoke in a different way depending on social background.

Then, it’s usually forgotten that languages have evolved through time. Indeed this is the main reason why though not speaking the same language we might understand other languages’ words or phrases. Italians understand quite easily Spanish and even Germans could understand some English. This is because those languages have a common origin. Latin evolved very fast once the Roman Empire fall and produced all romance languages, as it’s the case of Spanish and Italian. And if languages have evolved in the past it’s going to be the same in the future. Languages change because people made them change. Today’s English will have nothing to do with tomorrows English. I even dare to state that the moment one language stops changing it’s about to get extinct.

Finally, people communicate differently as they grow. Just as a baby has yet to acquire speech abilities, adults might improve vocabulary, use it grammar differently or even innovate. Young generations don’t use the language as older generations and in fact this is what makes languages change over time, evolve.

If you’ve been reading carefully you might notice that not necessarily languages are a defined entity. Sometimes is very difficult to stablish a limit between two languages. Languages are no more than a property of a speech community, a network odf speakers, which not necessarily is a closed community. I’ll write more about this in the future. For the moment, lets simply state that the Victorian way of conceiving language must die, and a Darwinian vision applied.

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Categories: i18n, Random Toughts