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Posts Tagged ‘language history’

Language Family

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

Languages change and evolve all of the time; words become disused, new words are created and given new meanings. Many forces can change the shape of a language. In Italy, geography changes the language, across the country several dialects are spoken, which have evolved differently in different regions. Time also changes a language, the English we speak today is worlds apart form the Olde English spoken a thousand years ago, or even the English of Shakespeare spoken four hundred years ago.

Some parts of a language will change, but many features will remain the same. Because of this we can trace a language back thousands of years to its original roots. Languages belong to families. Many languages may have common roots, that is an original language from which they were derived.

To return to the example of the dialects of Italy, it’s possible to trace back through time to find its roots. Today in Sicily, people speak Sicilian and Italian. It is important to note that the advent of television in the 1960s meant that many people who would only have learnt Sicilian have since learnt Italian. The Sicilian Dialect most likely was derived from Italian settlers, who came from mainland Italy and settled there at some point in history. Because of the geographical separation from the mainland, over time this Italian evolved into the Sicilian they speak today. The Italian language was derived from Latin in a similar fashion. Many other languages share their roots in Latin, such as French, Spanish and Portuguese. This is what’s known as a language family.

If you decide to learn a second language that is in the same family as your first language, you may find it easier than learning a language from a different family. For instance if you speak English, which is part of the Germanic language family, you may find learning Dutch, Danish or Norwegian easier than a language form another family.

The language from which other languages stem from is known as the Proto-language. German and Latin are both proto-languages. It is not always possible to trace a proto-language. In some cases the speakers of this language did not write and leave any records of what they spoke. In such cases, linguists do their best to reconstitute such languages from what evidence they find.