History and Information on Languages and Linguistics Part 3

About information and history of the languages of the world, linguistics info migration of languages, spelling of langues, number of words and longest words.


In the Tower of Babel: Human Languages

Languages from the same families often have words that sound the same but have different meanings. The words die Gift for example, can mean "poison" in German.

The migration of peoples around the globe sometimes causes the formation of hybrid languages, of which Yiddish is an interesting example. It is the official language of no country, yet is spoken by about 4 million Jews, half of whom live in the western hemisphere. Its core is medieval German, but it also contains words from ancient rabbinical Hebrew, bits and pieces of Eastern European languages, and, more recently, American English. In turn it has contributed a number of words to American English, many of which appear in the Doubleday Dictionary. Some of these are "chutzpah," meaning a lot of nerve, "schmaltz" referring to something which is overly sentimental, and "schlemiel," a real loser.

Academics have long considered the English spoken by black Americans to be simply illiterate English, but some linguists now propose that it is a true dialect, influenced to some extent by African languages, and true to a grammar of its own. Many words have made their way from African tongues into English--words like "jazz," "voodoo," "tote," "gumbo," "buckaroo," "banjo," "okra," and "juke" (box). In the African language of Wolof, widely used among the slaves brought to the 13 Colonies, there is the word "hipicat" which means a man who is very aware.

It is possible to interpret characteristics of a people through the form and structure of their language. Some linguists say that the structure of our language actually shapes our view of the world. In that light it is perhaps interesting to note that English is the only language that uses a capital letter to indicate the 1st person singular. It is also the only western language that does not have at least 2 forms, polite and informal, of the pronoun "you."

In Siamese one shows politeness by using the word "slave" for "I."

In Arabic-speaking countries, where there has traditionally been an extreme distinction between the social roles of male and female, there is a different "you" for each sex.

In Chinese the word for "existence" is a compound of the words for "survival" and "destruction."

The English language contains more words than any other. Modern dictionaries have approximately 600,000 entries, compared with the 50,000 in Samuel Johnson's 1st English dictionary of 1755. In everyday speech only about 60,000 words are used. The most commonly used of these in order of frequency, are: the, of, and, to, a, in, that, is, I, for, as. In conversation the word "I" is used more often than any other.

People learning English as a foreign language are often confounded by the fact that pronunciation is not always reflected by the spelling of a word. There are 14 spellings for the sound "sh," and the combination of letters "ough" can be pronounced 8 different ways--as in: enough, dough, plough, borough, cough, and hiccough.

The longest word in literature appears in The Ecclesiazusae, by Aristophanes. It contains 170 Greek letters and written out in our alphabet has 182. The word, meaning a food preparation, is lopadotemachoselachogaleokranioleipsanodrimhypotrimmatosilphioparaomelitokatakechymenokichlepikossyphophattoperisteralektryonoptekephalliokigklopeleiolagoiosiraiobaphetraganopterygon.

The longest word in Webster's Third International Dictionary, 45 letters long, is pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis," a lung disease found among miners.

The longest word in the Oxford English Dictionary, having 29 letters, is "floccinaucinihilipilification," and means deciding something is worthless.

"Antidisestablishmentarianism," with 28 letters, is the most famous long word--ask any child.

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