Yesterday, 21 February 2016, was international mother language day around the world. This year’s theme is quality education, language(s) of instruction and learning outcomes. Something which is very apt in this day and age.
International Mother Language Day was proclaimed by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in November 1999. The date represents the day in 1952 when students demonstrating for recognition of their language, Bangla, as one of the two national languages of the then Pakistan, were shot and killed by police in Dhaka, the capital of what is now Bangladesh.
According to the UN, languages are the most powerful instruments of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage. They encourage people from around the world to develop, learn and respect other languages. So in honour of this wonderful observance, we have a few interesting facts about language for you.
Fun facts about language
- There are approximately 7 000 languages in the world, 90% of these languages are spoken by less than 100 000 people respectively.
- 46 languages in the world have only one speaker left.
- Almost 13% of the world’s population speaks Chinese Mandarin as their first language.
- English is the biggest lingua franca (language of greater communication) in the world – a quarter of the world’s population speaks and understands some version of it.
- 50% of education time in Luxembourg is devoted to language learning.
- 2 400 languages are currently classified as endangered, and language death occurs at rate faster than the extinction of some species.
- A language goes extinct every two weeks.
- Lord of the Rings has 12 imaginary languages.
- South Africa has the most official languages in the world.
- The pope tweets in 9 languages.
- The USA has no official language.
- The Ayapaneco language in Mexico has two remaining speakers who refuse to talk to each other.
- Esperanto is an artificial international language created in the 19th century which now has approximately 2 million speakers.
- After the Bible, Pinocchio is the book which has been translated into the most languages in the world.
- After a theory claimed similarities between Japanese and the language of the Native American Zuni tribe, research was conducted which confirmed biological similarities between the speakers of these languages.
- Basque, a language spoken around the Pyrenees in France and Spain, is not related to any other known language in the world.
- Welsh, surprisingly, is also spoken in Argentina.
- The largest language in the world is Khmer, a Cambodian languages with 74 letters.
- ‘Dord’ is a word which was mistakenly added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary in 1939 and remained there for five years before anyone spotted the error.
- Contrary to popular belief, English is a Germanic (Indo-European) and not a Latin (Romance) language. Some Latin language rules have mistakenly been applied to English for centuries and some English teachers still apply these rules erroneously today – this includes the rule that sentences may not end in prepositions, which does not apply to English.
- Accents and regional dialects can also be found in sign language.
- Dutch (a distant cousin of Afrikaans) is said to be one of the easiest languages to learn in the world.
- The five most difficult languages to grasp and learn are Arabic, Cantonese, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese and Korean.
- Learning other languages in addition to your mother language has been proven to improve first language usage, learning (not just language learning) and grasping concepts, boosts brainpower and improves job prospects by up to 8%.
- Language learning has been proven to reduce the onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
- NASA has sent information about earth into space on the Voyager 1 and 2. This information includes images and sounds of Earth as well as greetings in the 55 most widely spoken languages in earth. It is currently still travelling through space.
- The critical age period – which ends at age 12 – is the time most people naturally learn any languages.
- Most of the world’s languages are spoken in Asia and Africa.
- Several Afrikaans words have been borrowed into the English language which can be found in several countries in the world, these include: veld, apartheid, bakkie, biltong, boer, boerewors, highveld, kloof, kraal, ja, rooibos, trek, blesbok, duiker, eland, meerkat, springbok, hartebeest, wildebeest.
- In order to learn a language, a baby has to dis-learn sounds to make the specific sounds of his or her native language.
- Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia is the fear of long words.
We hope we’ve brightened your day with these interesting language facts. Why not use some of your native South African words to honour your mother tongue today?