Languages-music to my ears
21st Jun 2013
As I was sitting in the reception at one of the busiest hospitals, waiting for the doctor to call the patient I was interpreting for today, I looked around the room and saw many people from different backgrounds and ethnic groups. I could hear a cocktail of languages being spoken, some of which I recognised and many that I didn’t. But it was music to my ears! I love to hear lots of different languages whether I understand them or not, I love the unique sounds, the variation in the tones, the way a person’s body language changes with whatever they are saying and also hearing the odd words which I may understand. It’s almost as though I am making up my own story in my mind of whatever is being said. It is a beautiful experience - that is why I love languages!
So what is a language? Language is a method in which humans communicate their thoughts and feelings. It could be spoken, written, gestures or facial expressions. Language is deep-rooted in human culture, so including communication, it also has social and culture uses, like giving us identity.
The 10 main languages spoken in the UK, according to the 2011 Census are: English, Polish, Punjabi, Urdu, Bengali, Gujarati, Arabic, French, Chinese and Portuguese. The 5 most difficult languages to learn are Arabic, Cantonese, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese and Korean.
I was reading an article about languages a while ago which really had an impact on me and prompted me to do some of my own research on it. It is currently thought that there are in the region of 6000-7000 languages spoken today and this is just an estimate. The exact number of languages spoken is unknown. Now this is what shocked me the most, it is believed that from the estimate of 6000-7000 languages which are currently spoken between 50-90% of them will become extinct by the year 2100. Over a million people use only 150-200 languages. And there are approximately 46 languages where there is only ONE speaker. Now, when the last surviving speaker dies the language dies too. When a language disappears or becomes extinct it takes away with it the knowledge of history, its culture, stories, poems, songs and this list is endless. This is a very hard hitting fact for people like me who feel so passionate about languages.
The reason behind this is globalisation and cultural homogenisation.
From my personal experience and from what I see every day, I see the same happening with my native language. There are many instances whereby a lot of the words have been substituted by English words and the native language words forgotten. This has its advantages because we are becoming more diverse and knowing a second language is becoming increasingly important with globalisation and cultural homogenisation.
However, there is also a certain group of individuals who tend to suffer a lot because of this. As the languages become diluted, there is also a change in social roles between generations i.e. grandparents, parents, children and grandchildren. This has an impact on culture and the changes in culture.
So….I salute all linguists who work very hard to provide a professional and confidential service.
Mamta Pabari, Hindi, Gujarati Interpreter (full time)
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