Language families: deep roots into our past

I firmly believe that at the beginning were several Babel towers. I trust our human ancestors for having invented language from scratch several times around in different places of the globe at about the same period of time. With the power of their awakening intelligence, several groups of humans must have each developed their own languages and these scattered, unrelated languages then gave birth to whole, beautiful language families.

Let me tell you here about the springing of one language family out of one Babel tower.

A tower among others

Once upon a time, there was a big village lost in the wild plains of some huge country itself located on a very extended continent. This was a long time ago. People were quite happy in this big village, living through the seasons, growing fruit and vegetables, harvesting from time to time and raising cattle. One day however, a brawl exploded for some futile reason between two merchants on the marketplace. The ambiance in the village wasn’t the same again after that and eventually, Matteo, the chief of the village, had to take the difficult decision to ask the two merchants to leave. The merchants already felt bad about all that had happened but, well, they had to leave and so they went. Each took his family with him plus some friends and other adventurers who wanted to join in. And the two groups departed in separate directions.

The group that left towards the East settled in a nice place near a forest and river. They were twenty-two persons when arriving; fifty years later, they were a little more than five hundred. The other group went to the West and they prospered as well as the first one. Both groups not only managed to survive, but also to adapt well to their new environments, whether they be nature or people. They learned how to harvest new crops under different landscapes and weathers. They also made friends and even married people who didn’t speak the same language as them. Because of course at first, the two groups only spoke their mother tongue. It was a fully elaborated language with a colorful vocabulary and an imaginative grammar. It served all the purposes the inmigrants needed, with an exception though: it didn’t allow them to interact easily with their respective new neighbors.

How languages become language families

The children were the quickest to get a hang of the foreign languages. But soon enough the adults too started learning how to say hello properly or how to ask for a meter of textile and get a good price for it. They too brought new words back home in the same way many people around the world nowadays adopt English words, adapting them to the sonorities and spelling of their own tongues or just incorporating them as they are.

New words were also created within the sole realm of the original language. Agglutinating two old words to form a new one was for example used several times in order to baptize a brand new agricultural or sewing technique. This kind of word creation is called ‘neologism’. Nowadays, ’email’ would be a good example of a neologism. The ‘e’ of ‘electronic’ and the word ‘mail’ give ’email’ or ‘e-mail’. It is by the way to be noted that ’email’ is not only a neologism, it is also a much appreciated borrowed word in other languages.

Some out-of-fashion words disappeared, some were trendily modified. Less effort being one of the most powerful vehicle of linguistic change, the two groups of people furthermore changed the pronunciation of their common original guttural language. They just started to pronounce things differently whenever they could find a shortcut and say things more quickly while still being understood.

The words and expressions borrowed from the two local populations, the creation of new words, the extinction of others and the changes in pronunciations all happened without the prior concertation or ulterior validation of the two groups of inmigrants. They lived very far apart and had no contact anymore. The original language of the two groups thus evolved little by little into two distinct child languages.

Four hundred years later, Steve and Piotr, two from-father-to-son merchants of distant little towns met on a marketplace. They had already started arguing very harshly when Steve spotted that very particular hand-woven shawl in Piotr’s carriage. That was the same kind of shawls his ancestors used to weave ! How could this awful merchant have that rare ancient garment in his carriage ?

– What is that !?, asked Steve in a tone that still contained a lot of anger from their starting dispute.

And they started to talk about it. They soon discovered that their families had the same ancestral roots in that old, now disappeared village. They sat down on tree stumps and spoke for hours. Of course, they spoke to each other in the lingua franca of the time, not in their respective first languages …

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