The life cycle of a language

Not many people know that there are over 6,700 languages in the world, and only ten languages cover around half of the population. 

Even fewer people know that 43% of all languages are considered endangered, and by the end of the century about 3,000 languages will disappear.

We’ve written a blog about endangered languages (link), were we touched on lost knowledge and culture that die with these languages. Today we’d like to look at language creation and evolution.

With the global evolution and through the mixing of cultures thanks to travel and migration, many languages are mixing up too. Many words are being borrowed from other languages and are being used in their native form without translation. So we essentially end up using foreign words as our own.

In recent weeks, the Chinese Government has been concerned with this language evolution, and have started to look into restricting this change. For instance, words such as Wi-Fi have started to appear in advertising and it has been seen as a negative influence on the Chinese language. They are being protective of their language, and are looking into ways of prohibiting the use of untranslated words.

It seems that currently English is the leading language from which words are making into the common use in other countries. For example, in Poland the word deadline is commonly used by business people without translation.

This trend has been happening for centuries, and is a natural evolution of languages around the world. This on-going change needs to be addressed by professional translators, who in order to stay in touch with the languages they work in, spend hours in reading press and monitoring official changes in languages in order to provide high quality translations.

However, apart from dying languages, and natural language evolution, there is another trend worth mentioning – language creation.

It appears to be mainly used for movies, and the most known new language is Dothraki which has been created for the HBO show Game of Thrones. This brand new language was created by David Peterson. In this article ( you can read how Peterson approached this process.

Creating new language isn’t as simple as replacing existing English words with new made up words. This would be not be a new language, it would still be the same language. It would only be a notational variant.

Language is so ingrained in the culture that the new language has to represent that culture. As Peterson explains, Dothraki is used by ‘warriors tied inextricably to their horses’. Therefore, the language they use is full of references related to horse riding. Even the language name translates to ‘riders’.

As you can see, world is full of languages. Some of them are near extinction, and some are just springing to life. However, the clear thing is that languages are closely related to culture and anyone attempting translation, needs to have a huge knowledge and understanding of both the source and the target languages.

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