If the origin of most languages is Latin, what is the origin of Latin? Also, how is a new language formulated? And what is the origin of the far eastern languages such as Chinese and Japanese? | Notes and Queries (2023)

If the origin of most languages is Latin, what is the origin of Latin? Also, how is a new language formulated? And what is the origin of the far eastern languages such as Chinese and Japanese? | Notes and Queries (1)
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If the origin of most languages is Latin, what is the origin of Latin? Also, how is a new language formulated? And what is the origin of the far eastern languages such as Chinese and Japanese?

Richard Lundy, Wirral

  • The problem is connected to the origin of man (or rather homo sapiens sapiens). A look into http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origin_of_language might give some insight.The traditional (and not all that far back reaching) idea is a kind of family tree (similar to those simplified evolutionary trees you should find in any biology class book), and Latin isn't really the root of every language but an offshoot from Indoeuropean language. However, this one isn't *the* root either. As to new languages, one possibility is sufficient differentiation (often helped by political structures) - such as Dutch some centuries ago or nowadays "Swiss German", both being offsprings from German. Just note that Swiss TV news and films are subtitled for Germany and Austria A similar tendency might one day make American a language separate from (British) English.

    R. Wittig, Freiberg, Germany

  • Latin is far from being the origin of most languages, but forms the basis of the Romantic languages of Europe. English borrowed some Latin during the Roman occupation, but Latin was in no way involved with all the languages in, for example, the Philippines or Africa. I believe there are some linguists who believe that they may one day be able to deduce that there was an original human language from which all others diverged.

    Vivienne Cox, London UK

  • Latin is part of the Indo-European family of languages which came from an unknown common root language; Proto Indo-European. Sanskrit, Latin, Celtic and Germanic languages are (among others)said to belong to the Indo-European family. Japanese however is not part of a large family of languages. I have heard it said that Japanese is related to no other language, but on the other hand it apparently has some similarities to Korean and for some reason, Turkish.

    sam, murayama japan

  • The first question is invalid: Latin isn't the origin of most languages. Vulgar Latin was the ancestor of a number of European languages (the Romance languages French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, etc.), but these constitute only a tiny minority of the world's 7,000-odd languages, even if between them they are spoken by a sizeable minority of people alive today. Latin was the Italic language spoken by the Latins, who settled the area of Italy known as Latium (Italian 'Lazio') several centuries BC. Latin's similarities to other European and Indian languages justify its inclusion among the Indo-European languages, which are thought to descend from an ancestral language known as 'Proto Indo-European', spoken several thousand years ago. The only new languages which are 'formulated' in the normal sense of that term are artificial languages (e.g. computer languages, or invented spoken languages like Esperanto). It could be argued that pidgins are 'formulated' in some sense, although they seem to arise spontaneously without much deliberate designing or planning being involved on the part of their speakers. Finally, if you're looking for an origin for Chinese, you have to specify which of the many languages labelled 'Chinese' you're talking about - although Chinese people are in the habit of calling them 'dialects', some of the varieties labelled in this way are so different that we can equally well think of them as languages in their own right. Mandarin Chinese, which is spoken by a large proportion of the population of China, is (like many other languages of that country) classified as a Sino-Tibetan language. Japanese, on the other hand, is put in a language family on its own, as it doesn't appear to be related in any obvious way to other languages of east Asia, or indeed anywhere else. It has borrowed from (Mandarin) Chinese very heavily, so for that reason shares numerous superficial features with it. Japanese must have developed from some earlier language(s), of course, and since Japan is an archipelago the ancestral language(s) would presumably have been brought from the mainland of east Asia when the islands were first populated. For further information see Ethnologue (www.ethnologue.org).

    D. Watt, York, England

  • Latin is not "the origin of most languages." Very few: Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, and Romansch (and possibly Walloon). These are called Romance languages because they derive from the Roman language, i.e., Latin. Cultural influxes and population shifts generally account for the formation of new languages. Latin grew out of the clash between the Osco-Umbrian invaders and the indigenous Etruscans in what we now call Italy. You might, with some justification, call English a "new" language, for the Anglo-Saxon invaders of Britain spoke a language that you would not recognise, but they called it English (or maybe Anglisch - the tongue of the Angles). A lost language that we linguists call Aryan was the source of a "new" language, called Gothic, That one was the ancestor of German, Dutch, Swedish, Icelandic, English, Norwegian, Frisian, Franconian, and Danish. We call this group Germanic languages.I know little or nothing of such oriental languages as Japanese, Chinese, Korean, etc.

    Mark, Honey Island, Texas USA

  • The origin of most languages is NOT Latin. (Do you really think Mandarin or Cantonese or Tagalog or Sanskrit are Latin-based?) Many European languages have a strong Latin base simply because the Romans ruled Europe for hundreds of years - languages such as French, and Spanish are called 'Romance' languages for this reason. Most European languages are related, having originally derived from ancient Indian languages.

    Lane Blume, Marrickville, Australia

  • The origin of most languages is most definitely NOT Latin, and it is not the origin of English, which comes via German and a lot of other influences (including Latin and a lot of French) from the Indo-European language group, so your language is related to languages from south Asia, notably Sanskit. Latin can be said to be the origin of the romance languages, Italian (obviously), French, Portuguese, Spanish and some less wide-spread languages all based in Europe. Not all European languages are strongly influenced by Latin, notably Basque, Magyar and the Baltic languages. The natives of Papua New Guinea speak thousands of different languages, none of which owes any debt of origin in Latin, as is the case with all Asian languages, as you have guessed. In fact it is probably the other way round, Latin evolved from a language developed in Pakistan, on the banks of the Indus River. All societies of people develop languages. If they are in contact with other cultures, they borrow from each other, but if they are isolated, as some Amazon tribes have been until recently, they invent their own unique language. I hope you study languages, and in English, look at a dictionary when a word interests you, and see where it came from.

    Stephen Brown, Wellington, NZ

  • Not sure if this is an answer or further query but Irish/Gaelic is claimed as being the only stand-alone language in western Europe, with Latin having little bearing on it. Personally, Bengali seems to have some shared characteristics, but that might be shared Anglicisation.

    Claire Higgins, Ballymena, Ireland

  • This was taken from Yahoo - 16/4/2011All the world's languages may date back to a single 'mother tongue' spoken in pre-historic Africa, according to new research. The study suggests that between 50,000 and 70,000 years ago humans spoke in a single dialect that proved the catalyst for human civilisation.The report by Dr Quentin Atkinson from The University of Auckland in New Zealand is based on phonemes - distinct sounds such as vowels and consonants that make up language.He analysed the number of phonemes found in 504 world languages, and hypothesized that languages with the most phonemes were the oldest. Also, the dialects furthest away from the 'mother tongue' were found to be less complicated.The study found that some of Africa's languages (which feature clicks) have over a 100 phonemes, while Hawaiian - spoken on the furthest point on the migration route out of Africa, only has 13. In short, the further away from Africa you get, the fewer phonemes are found.Effectively then, Dr. Atkinson argues that the sub-Saharan region of Africa is the cradle of all human language.This fits with what scientists call the 'Out of Africa' theory - that early humans evolved only in this region, then migrated to the rest of the world around 70,000- 50,000 years ago, the period mentioned in the study."It was the catalyst that spurred the human expansion that we all are a product of," Dr. Atkinson told the Wall Street Journal.During this time there were sudden, dramatic advances in human behavior, with our ancestors creating cave art and making sophisticated hunting tools out of bone. Experts argue that these advances were the result of language, which prompted more abstract thinking.The study also suggests that while language began to be spread throughout the world during this period, humans may have actually begun communicating verbally over many years earlier.Professor Robin Dunbar, an anthropologist at Oxford University told The Mail that based on this study, the origin of language could now be pushed back to between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago.Written by Orlando Parfitt

    Phil Biggerton, Coventry UK

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