September 28, 2014

Slice of PIE: ESL in the 29th Century and What Was Extant in 8000 BC?

The international language of aviation is, “of course”, English.

The international language of business is, “of course”, English.

The intergalactic language of The Empire AND the Republic, is “of course”, English...

How about we go the other way? What was the language of commerce on Earth eight thousand years ago?

That would depend on where you lived...

Some 10,000 years ago, there were many languages – though linguists, archaeologists, and evolutionary biologists have traced them back to their “roots”. They might be broken down into a few groups: Indo-European, Sino-Tibetan, Niger–Congo, Afroasiatic, Austronesian, Dravidian, Altaic, Japonic, Austroasiatic, Tai–Kadai, Eskimo–Aleut, Na-Dené, Algic, Quechuan and Nilo-Saharan.

Do you know what this means: “Alā! Kējō Taru!”

It’s written in the source language of English – why can’t you read it? All right, how about the same question written in Latin. This one is only a fifteen hundred years old and is a DIRECT root of English: “Salve! Lorem ipsum dolor sit Tarusatium!”

Still nothing? Hmmmm…we’re getting dangerously close to just telling you what it means. One more try – this time an even closer time period in which this would have been considered a common language: “How now! Yclept Taru!” (Not entirely accurate, but the general idea would be the same.)

STILL nothing? All right – I relent: “Hello! My name is Taru!”

“Alā! Kējō Taru!” – Indo-European, approximate 10,000 years ago.
“Salve! Lorem ipsum dolor sit Tarusatium!” – Latin, late Roman Empire, about 1500 years ago.
“How now! Yclept Taru!” – Old English, approximately 400 years ago at the height of the British Empire and “America” was only a rude colony.

From my own heritage, in Norwegian, “Hei, jeg heter Taru!”; and from my wife’s German heritage: “Hallo, mein Name ist Taru!” (Whew! I might have guessed that one!); and from the place I live now, “Aanii! Ndishnikaaz Taru!”, Ojibwe was the language I would need to speak to be understood – and not run out of town.

All this to say that when it comes to English as a Second Langauge and the ATTITUDES people have about language – especially when addressing the issue of people learning English as a second language, there’s not much separating all of us all from being incomprehensible to one another.

The next time you talk to someone for whom English is a second (or third or fourth) language, consider that your own English skills would have brought you face-t0-face with a grossly negative response wherever you’re reading this even as few as two hundred years ago. You might even be transported to the country your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, or great-great-grandparents came from and find that your English is the incomprehensible language.

As for the science fiction context, why do we blithely assume that dolphins, chimps, or (for gosh sake) ALIENS will be even remotely comprehensible – or that they would even CARE to be comprehensible to us or that they would want to learn to speak English? Even given that they would find Human languages comprehensible, why would they learn English when more people on Earth speak Mandarin Chinese than English. What if their brains are hard wired to understand the structure of Basque? In that case, “Kaixo! Nire izena da Taru!”

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