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So, why do we all speak different languages?

An ancient Sumerian poem, like the Bible, explained the origin of different languages around the world as a divine punishment against human arrogance. The myth says once all men on earth spoke the same language and the same words for everything: all together, they decided to build a huge tower – ‘the Babel Tower’ – a tower which would reach through the sky all the way to God. But God prevented them from realizing their ambitious project with a cunning plan: he decided to mix up the languages of men, so that they could no longer understand one another.

Of course, it’s simply a mythological tale, but it’s the answer that ancient men gave themselves to explain the unintelligible mystery of thousands of different languages spoken in the world by different populations. Today, scholars believe that languages – the most powerful instrument of humans – are simply the peculiar historical manifestation of so many different and diverse geographical areas.

Nowadays, more than 6,000 different languages are spoken in the world – each of them with a long and distinctive history. Languages resemble evolving bodies, constantly changing throughout the centuries. Just think of the Shakespearean language used in his marvellous tragedies: imagine yourself using the same language while writing an email today…you might be considered a little strange!

Before learning a new foreign language, you might want to take a little time to  understand a little about the history of the language you are embarking upon! Personally, I think it’s helpful to understand a language through and through, to reach its heart, its essential reason for being.

Let’s take a closer look at the following languages: French, Spanish and Italian. These three languages are referred to as ‘romance’ languages, all born through a development process of Latin – the official language of the Roman Empire. Their common origin explains a clear similarity among these languages, especially when it comes to vocabulary.

In front of me everyday in our offices, I can see the French, Spanish and Italian FlashSticks notes, and if I take the word “sky”, for example, it’s “ciel” in French, “cielo” in Spanish and Italian (with a slight difference in pronunciation) - from the Latin word “caelum”. The same happens for the word “book”, which is “livre” in French and “libro” in Spanish and Italian, from the Latin word “liber”. Of course, these are just a couple of examples among thousands of similar words!

It’s interesting that so many words in the romance languages developed from the Latin that was commonly spoken by the lowest classes, very different from the literary Latin language. For example, to say “horse”, Spanish use the word “caballo”, so similar to the Italian “cavallo” and quite similar to the French word “cheval”. This word has its origin from the late spoken Latin “caballum”, different from the more elegant Latin word “equus”, commonly used by writers and poets.

So what about German? Clearly different from the romance languages, German belongs to the ‘Germanic languages’ – born in Northern Europe, among people placed along the borders of the Roman Empire –, as well as English, Dutch and Scandivian languages. This is the reason that the German word for “book”, for example, is “Buch”: so close to English, but so far from the romance languages!

At this point, you might be wondering why some words are so similar across all of the languages we have talked about? That’s the case with “mother”, for example, which is “Mutter in German, “madre” in Italian and Spanish, “mère” in French… The reason is that all these languages belong to the “Indo-European family” of languages, born and developed thousands of years ago in the European and Asiatic areas. So… the reality is that we are all relatives, and languages are much closer in origin that may be obviously apparent.

So… after our whistle stop journey into the heart of language history, which language would you like to learn, and why? Share your new language challenge with us on our Facebook or Twitter today!

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