Language lives as a breathing part of culture


A large part of my anthropology courses was dedicated to linguistics and giving my interest in communication at large that suited me just fine. I found this article on dictionary.com. Hey, Spellcheck can’t correct everything by itself. Peter Breugel was a pretty awesome Northern Renaissance painter, too.

A Modern Day Tower of Babel?

Have you heard the story of the Tower of Babel? According to the Bible, all of humanity lived together in harmony, until God decided to confuse the languages and spread the people across the Earth.This story points to one of the great mysteries of human culture: why do we all speak different languages? Our ancestors probably began using language between 200,000 to 50,000 years ago. As language evolved and moved across the globe, it changed.

Pieter Bruegel (Brueghel) the Elder (Dutch pronunciation: [ˈpitəɾ ˈbɾøːɣəl]; c. 1525 – 9 September 1569) was a Flemish Renaissance painter and printmaker known for his landscapes and peasant scenes (so called genre painting). He is sometimes referred to as the “Peasant Bruegel” to distinguish him from other members of the Brueghel dynasty, but he is also the one generally meant when the context does not make clear which Brueghel is being referred to. From 1559 he dropped the ‘h’ from his name and signed his paintings as Bruegel.

In the same way that geneticists trace how genes are inherited over generations, linguists follow how specific elements of language flow into other languages. Just as you inherit brown eyes from your parents, you learn that a table is called a table and that an adjective precedes the noun it modifies. By tracing languages this way, historical linguists map how languages relate to each other.

Some languages, though, lie outside of these trends and relationships. Basque, a language spoken in Spain, is unrelated to the Indo-European languages spoken around it. Languages that cannot be tied to others are called language isolates. One language isolate, Ket, astounds linguists around the world.Ket is spoken in Siberia, a remote part of Russia north of Mongolia. However, linguists have been unable to discover how it related to the languages spoken nearby, the language family known as Sino-Tibetan. Ket is not a tonal language like Han Chinese, the most widely spoken language in the Sino-Tibetan family, and its structure differs as well.

In 2008, Edward Vajda, a historical linguist, proposed that Ket was related to languages in the Na-Dene family. This shocked the world of linguistics. Why? The Na-Dene language family is spoken by Native American peoples in North America, thousands of miles from Siberia. However, in his analysis, Vadja traced their similarities and has convinced many other linguists that these two disparate languages are in fact siblings.

via Two related languages are found on opposite sides of the globe. | The Hot Word | Hot & Trending Words Daily Blog at Dictionary.com.

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