URS Mystery of Language. B Where does language come from?
Continued from Part A Language fascination…………
Yes, I am fascinated by language. But where did language come from?? Realistically, it is not even possible to imagine how language or it’s “precursors” could ever transition, from fish to man, in any way, shape or form. No matter how you twist, distort or shape the “precursors” of the human brain, nerves, tongue, vocal cords and larynx voice box. In spite of the huge understanding of modern DNA, there is not the slightest credible finding of a transitional DNA jump from apes to humans, or from birds to apes, or from any species to the next species, in terms of the fantastic jump that is required along this theoretic “language phylogenetic pathway,” in order to “finally” generate real human language, any human language.
Photo 1: more than 6,000 languages of the world, and no one has a clue how language originally first “began,” except truly as an “act of God.” Roughly one thousand or more languages each, just in China, India, Africa, or the Indonesian Archipelago.
The complexity is unquestionably mind-boggling. It is already fantastically difficult to even imagine designing a system of making the sounds for any one word, let alone the construction of the sounds of words in phrases, in Shakespearean novels, in scientific jargon, in mathematics, in philosophical language.
And to think that there are 6,000 languages at least in the world, implying that the DNA, brain, nerves and muscles etc. etc. have to all have the potential readiness to meet this varying language challenge, to be able to speak in any one or few of the 6,000 plus languages. It is like the “system” is just waiting, at birth, to get ready to activate to meet one or few specific oncoming language challenges. “Any” child, who is not deaf or neurologically damaged at birth, can rapidly learn as a child, any language that he or she is born into. Isn’t that amazing?! “The system” is ready for all these many options, meaning that “the system” instantly knows how to adapt to think and speak even in the rarest birth language.
And this happens, no matter what race or ethnicity the child is, or wherever the child is born, in Africa or near the North Pole. And even the so-called wildest, and most “primitive” human being can speak from early babyhood and childhood. And he or she doesn’t just speak a “generic human language,” but the specific language of his or her tribe, to communicate very well with the other tribal members. And not just that language, but with the right accent, tones and grammar that the next tribe over the mountains may or may not be able to understand. A language that we do not understand, nor likely ever will, even though we are considered well educated.
Isn’t that shocking, and unquestionable, that every tribal child learns his own language, even though he doesn’t go to school and he doesn’t have a language teacher threatening him with a stick and blackboard. Often, so called primitive languages turn out even to be extremely complicated, and not in the least bit “primitive,” whatever that means. And the child definitely doesn’t need to learn to use a laptop computer or smartphone, in order to communicate quite effectively, with other tribal members, in the beautiful language of his birth.
And once so-called natives start moving around, and meeting other natives from the next mountain, ergo, you start finding that they can learn, and soon can be multi-linguistic, and do it far better than any linguistic professor from Harvard or Yale. As I travel with tribal people in the mountains of Thailand, when they meet others, they seem suddenly to be able to communicate across very different tribal languages. As a University educated city person, this often comes across as truly humbling.
My white American missionary friend’s son, who grew up in Turkey, can speak in 6 or 7 languages of the region including English, Turkish, Arabic, and Chinese. That’s very impressive of course, but many kids I teach in primitive mountain tribe areas of northern Thailand often speak in Thai, Lisu, Akha, Lahu, Chinese and English. When I teach them English, they also seem to pick it up quite well, and especially their pronunciations are often spot on. Frankly, often better than some others I have taught who are considered “more sophisticated,” usually from a background of speaking only one language. I imagine it’s because tribal kids already have so many languages, words and sounds in their brain that they can modify their existing sound tracks and switch to a new language more easily. Just like my childhood multi-linguistic background. The plasticity and receptivity of the brain in early life, especially, to learn any language, is really just amazing, and a shock to realize.
And in today’s world, isn’t it fun to be able to switch from language to language, using language translation apps? I use them all the time. The free Pleco electronic language dictionary app is tops for English/ Chinese conversions, try it. I use these apps immediately when I see difficult texts in non-English news reports, Facebook or WeChat. And any long article can now be Google translated right away. It may not be perfect, but I can easily catch the gist. Or even simply click on the text, and the English translation might come up right away for me, without even “copy and paste.” I can imagine that these instant translations can only get better. Funny enough, as I am writing these uncle Reggie stories, and getting them translated, I come up with words often that Google Translate doesn’t do so well, but they “humbly” ask me if I can “offer a better translation,” which often I can! So, when you use Google Translate, who knows, it could very well be from our Uncle Reggie team of translators.
2A: Google translation, 2B: We can give suggestions to improve the translation.
As a translator myself at church, usually from Mandarin into English, the greatest challenge is when I have to perform instantaneous headphone-to-microphone translations from the room behind the assembly hall. It is then that I recognize that the brain, nerves and muscles are amazingly able to instantly translate, synchronize and coordinate the words flying through the air, wires and brain. Even as the speaker is speaking in Mandarin, my brain has moved simultaneously into English, and out of my mouth comes English, as fast as the speaker is going. I am always astounded that it can really happen just like that, but it does, like at the United Nations I suppose.
But in reality, many bi or multi-cultural people normally function like that in any multicultural and multilinguistic society, translating furiously and quickly all the time between languages. Sometimes just in the brain, sometimes talking it out. And of course, with Google glasses etc., I am assuming that soon we could all be talking to a person that is speaking a totally foreign language, and the words will spill out onto our magic glasses or into our ear pieces, in our favorite language. What a fun time that will be!
People used to question how could the Supreme Intelligence be so intelligent as to be able to hear everyone speaking at the same time to him (like during prayers), in different languages, but now I have some idea of how it might happen. He’s wearing some kind of Super Master Translator Eyeglasses connected by Super WIFI to the Greatest Computer System of the Universe, or more likely His brain is already simply the Master WiFi Computer Translator, or something like that!
But the really simple reason He could hear and understand all languages is because He created language! That is the only logical way it could have happened, in my view. The great Designer who designed the entire universe, designed humans with the innate and unique ability to communicate in the beauty and mystery of language, any language. I don’t think there is any other way it could have happened. In order that we can communicate with other humans and also with the Designer Himself.
In any case, without any doubt, the greatest language that transcends all languages, to me, better than any of the 6000 plus known languages, is the language of love. That language was most dramatically, personally delivered, and sealed by Christ: in the ultimate love language of personal sacrifice, a language that can be understood in any language. His Book of the Greatest Love is translated into the greatest numbers of languages for any book, and linguists are constantly busy translating it into every language of the world, even those with originally no written language. It can be done, because the language of love drives this work, truly to the ends of the earth.
Photo 3: Akha language hymnal (A) and and Lisu language bible (B), using written languages designed, and taught to Asian minority tribes by missionary linguists. In a language of love, understood by millions, even in remote tribal locations of Thailand.