Language – how we learn it, how it influences our thoughts or how to master it – has always been a subject of debate among experts. Here are a few facts about language that may surprise you.
1. Bilingualism is good for the brain.
Several recent studies have shown that being bilingual can help delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease by approximately four years. It turns out that juggling more than one language might be giving our brain the workout it needs to stay in better shape.
2. Human infants have what they need to learn any language almost from birth.
When infants are between the ages of 4 to 6 months, they have the ability to make all the sounds that exist in all the languages spoken in the world. As they learn to speak, they retain only those sounds they need for the language or languages they are being taught.
3. Languages are not islands unto themselves.
Languages impact one another more than we might think. In English, for example, we’ve borrowed words like kimono (Japanese), entrepreneur (French) and shish kebob (Turkish). But that’s not all. When translating from French to English, translators must avoid using what are known as “gallicisms.” These are words or expressions that have been influenced by the French language making a sentence sound slightly off. Similarly, translators working from English to French must look out for undue influence from English, referred to as “anglicisms.”
4. Languages can die.
There are about 7,000 languages and dialects in the world today and some 2,400 of them are considered endangered. It is said that one language dies every 14 days.
5. There’s more than one sign language.
Different countries use different sign languages. In fact, there is an estimated 300 different types.
6. Animals can understand us.
This should come as no surprise to pet owners, but animals do understand human language. The average family dog may be able to understand 100 to 165 words, while cats are believed to recognize somewhere between 25 to 35 words. Even more impressive, Koko the gorilla was able to learn more than 1,000 English words.