Exploring Intriguing Language Trivia

The other day I read an article about a language called Ayapaneco. Wikipedia states that there are approximately 15 speakers whose ages range from 67 to 90. What caught my attention about the language, however, was not its rarity, but the story surrounding it. In 2010 a story started circulating stating that the last two speakers of the Ayapaneco language were enemies and no longer talked to each other. So I wondered, “How does a language get reduced to just 2 speakers? Don’t they have a family, children or a community?” And while thankfully, the story was incorrect, the truth was no better as the language truly was, and is, on the brink of extinction. This got me thinking about this topic. So what are some of the interesting facts about language?

  1. 7,105. That’s the official number of languages given by the Ethnologue The Ethnologue is a trusted encyclopedic reference work cataloging all of the world’s known living languages. This is data out of 195 countries. Just over 6% of the languages have over a million speakers, but the surprising part for me was that, collectively, those speakers constitute 94% of the worlds population. I’ll leave that to simmer a bit.
  2. Pirahã. I know, I know. It does kind of sound like something with really sharp teeth that could jump out of an Amazonian swamp to bite the living daylights out of you. Pirahã is a language spoken by approximately 380 Brazilian people that whistle, hum and encode this language in music and cultural exchange. Just in case you missed it, the language can literally be hummed and whistled and can be understood without the use of any physical words.
  3. Isixhosa, one of 11 official languages spoken in South Africa (and if you are a Marvel fan, also one of the main languages of Wakanda), has an ace up its sleeve that ensures only those who can create clicking sounds with their tongues can speak it. Needless to say, even the Black Panther himself needed special warrior training (1000 tongue-push ups a day) to even vaguely recreate the unique sound of the language.
  4. What does this have to do with language? The color orange derives its name directly from the fruit. Before the 16th century, anything orange in the English language was referred to as yellow-red. Portuguese merchants brought the first orange trees to Europe from Asia in the late 15th and early 16th century, along with the Sanskrit naranga, which gradually became part of several European languages: “naranja” in Spanish, “laranja” in Portuguese, and “orange” in English. The earliest recorded use of the word “orange” in English was in the 13th century when it referred to the fruit. It was only in the 16th century that the word was used to refer to the color.
  5. ‘Resurrection,’ is probably a term that conjures up imagery of religious zealots, fanatics and miracles. Except this article is about language. Enter the spoken Hebrew language, a modern day, resurrected Lazarus. It was on October 13th, 1881 that the language was once again revived by a group of friends. Eliezer Ben-Yehuda and his friends made a pact to only converse in Hebrew, this resulted in the modern Hebrew language becoming official in British-ruled Palestine in 1921.
  6. Khmer, the official language of Cambodia, has the largest alphabet in the world with 74 letters. The language is also spoken by some 16 million The alphabet is so huge that some of the letters have no current use. Think of them as reserves, just in case another language rises in alphabet muscle and tries to topple them from the leader board. So in a game of “show me your alphabets” English would definitely come out short.
  7. Languages are on the brink of extinction. One of the saddest things in human existence is the extinctionof a language. Language is perhaps at the very heart of a peoples identity, tradition and cultural practices. The death of a language is essentially the death of its people. Taushiro, Chemehuevi, Lemerig and Kaixana are essentially languages on the brink of, if not already, extinct. The latter, is a Brazilian language thought to have had 1 living speaker in 2008, Raimundo Avelino. He would be 88 years old this year.

Language has come a really long way. Each language cementing itself in time and in history. Engrained in the everyday lives of those who rely on it for both expression and purpose. As millions of people interconnect in the global village called planet earth. As they cross borders (whether national or through commerce, via technology or missionary outreach) their biggest desire remains simple, to be understood. For this and other reasons, ITC exists. We bridge the gap between people allowing them, their projects/products and objectives to be understood.

By Matthew Mokoena | April 19, 2018 | Categories: ITC | No Comments

About the Author: Matthew Mokoena