AO Magazine - June 2020
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The American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson summed it all up in 1844, when he said: “We infer the spirit of the nation in great measure from the language, which is a sort of monument to which each individual in a course of many hundred years has contributed a stone.”
Languages are indeed a monument to our past. History is embedded in the content and structure of the 6,500+ languages spoken in the world today. Even when unwritten, language is the most powerful tool we have as humans to preserve our past knowledge, making possible both the living of a common history and the telling of it.
The emergence of language, a powerful engine of intellect and creativity, was a defining moment in the evolution of modern humans. Yet, how, when and where it came into being is still unknown and has intrigued many great minds over the centuries. They are questions for which we may never hold the answers.
The annals of history are also full of languages that have died out, cultures and societies that have come to an end, leaving no speakers at all. As many as half of the world’s tongues are expected to be extinct by the end of this century, erasing living documents of history. There is hope, however, as many nations are working hard to keep alive their critically endangered languages.
In this issue, we celebrate the wonder of words and explore the fascinating history of mankind’s most incredible creation. Language is, after all, at the very heart of human nature.