Evolution of Language

Noun Challenge: July 24, 2014

Today’s noun: Scale

What do you think of when I say the word scale? The first thing I thought of of was a fish. You know, like the skin of a fish. Then I thought about weight scales, and distance scales. There are so many meanings of the words scale. It can also be used as a verb meaning to climb, or remove scales from something.

So where am I going with this?

There are a bunch of words in our language that mean many things depending on the context. Why? How did that happen? How did the word used to describe the protective coat of a fish or reptile, come to mean the same thing as what we use to measure weight?

The answer is that each of these meanings of the word scale came from different parts of the word, with different languages.

As a student of Anthropology and Geography, I’ve been taught about how languages develop. Basically, you start with one language; everyone speaks this language. We all know that language evolves. Twenty years ago, the word tweet was used to describe the sound a bird makes. Now it mean to post your ramblings, in 140 characters or less, on the internet for people to read. So, as long as the group stays together, the language evolves as one. But when a group becomes isolated, whether socially, or physically, the language begins to evolve differently. That’s how you get so many different languages.

That’s why American English and British English are so different, but we can still, mostly understand each other. That’s why Swedish and Norwegian are similar, yet different.

So, languages all come from a common place, which is why we have words in one language that are similar to words in others. I started learning Spanish at about 3 or 4 years old, and continued to about 7. Honestly, I don’t remember much more than “hola” now. I could look at something written in Spanish and have absolutely no clue as to what it says. But then I started learning Italian, and I started to be able to read Spanish as well. Weird, right? Not really. They have a close relationship.

Anyway, my point is that many languages look similar to others. I learned Italian, and could suddenly understand a little Spanish as well because the words were similar. Put that together with languages evolving over time and you start to get similar words meaning slightly different things. This is why we have words like scale that mean so many different things.

Language is weird.

As always, have a grand day and I’ll see you tomorrow!



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