Every boring email we type or moment of small talk we have at the grocery store is part of a historic and mysterious legacy: the creation of language.
The kind of languages we speak — from Arabic to Mandarin and English — feel like immovable constants in our lives, but in reality, these languages are shifting and transforming at every moment.
While the spread of slang through apps like TikTok or WeChat may seem like a modern phenomenon, new research published in the journal Nature on Wednesday uses genetic, archaeological, and linguistic data to demonstrate that this transformation can be traced back much further — all the way to 2000 B.C.E.
The Transeurasian language family the researchers focused on has connections to modern-day Japanese, Korean, Tungusic, Mongolic, and Turkic.
By tracking the transformation of ancient Transeurasian language, this research can help scientists not only better understand how language changes, but how its speakers change along with it.
Martine Robbeets is a linguist from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and the first author of the new paper. She explains that the significance of this study is that it shows how powerful linguistics can be when used in collaboration with other disciplines including genetics and archaeology.
“I think that the novelty of the research is not so much in applying one single method, but in bringing different methods and different disciplines together,” Robbeets tells Inverse. “[These questions] cannot be answered with linguistics alone.”
Read more: Inverse
Kim Il-sung, founder of the Hermit Kingdom, decided almost immediately after liberation from Japanese colonial rule that his northern half of the Korean peninsula would eliminate the use of Chinese characters, known as Hanja, altogether. Chinese characters, which had been mixed in with the Korean script for centuries, reminded Kim Il-sung of the suffering his country had endured under Japanese rule, and he would have no more of that.
Hangul (한글), the Korean alphabet once called “eonmun” (언문) or “vulgar writing,” was to be the only script of the North — and to that point, the Supreme Leader, as with most things, got his way (he eventually allowed the teaching of a limited amount of “foreign” Chinese characters). The origin of the Korean people is somewhat cloaked in mystery. But the prevailing theory is that they can trace their ancestry back to Central Asia, and the general region of the Altai Mountains, along the colliding borders of China, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Russia. Perhaps almost as significant as their origins is the language they speak, and the relatively modern development of the Hangul writing system in the mid-15th century by King Sejong, aka Sejong the Great.
Read more: OZY
Young North Koreans are demonstrating a growing appetite to learn foreign languages so as to improve their job prospects – and allow them to understand TV programmes broadcast by neighbouring countries.
Kim Jong-un reportedly made foreign language-learning compulsory from the age of four after taking power in 2011, but today many parents among the country’s elite are paying for extra tuition to improve their children’s chances of being accepted into Chinese or English university courses.
Read more: The Guardian