Tuesday, August 23, 2011

My day of languages

If I were to mark each day of my life with a theme -- well, I actually have been doing that in a sense with the title of my daily posts -- then today will be the Day of Languages.

It began when we had a discussion among my colleagues about the Malay language - one of them commented that it does not have an original word for "bag". It uses a loanword: beg.

Later, I remembered Pastor Marvin (of Pantai Baptist Church or PBC, where I am attending for now) had announced that he will be speaking on the topic of the Bible this coming Sunday, in conjunction with the 400th year of the publication of the King James Version of the bible. I am looking forward to hearing it. Other than its spiritual aspect, the history and the technicalities of the Bible takes a very special place of my interests.

It reminded me of two books I have read before -- The Story of English by Robert McCrum and In the Beginning: the Story of the King James Bible and How It Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture by Alister McGrath -- that the work of both Shakespeare and the KJV bible is "regularly singled out as one of the most foundational influences on the development of the modern English language" (1). As such, the King James Version serves as a polished jewel in the crown of English language and culture (2).

However, I began to think that with the mark of the 400th year of the KJV, wouldn't the modern version of the English language be considered a very young language? What with the Chinese language that I believe is more than a thousand years old? And I have always thought that the Malay language is a very young language, but English too?

I do know that the modern English language has its origins in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, which began in the early 5th century.

I shared this with a friend who goes to PBC too and he did not quite believe me when I told him he would not understand Old English. So I showed him The Lord's Prayer in Old English (3):

Original and Translation
Fæder ūre þū þe eart on heofonum
(Father of ours, thou who art in heaven,)

Sī þīn nama ġehālgod.
(Be thy name hallowed.)

Tōbecume þīn rīċe,
(Come thy riche [(kingdom])

ġewurþe þīn willa, on eorðan swā swā on heofonum.
(Worth [manifest] thy will, on earth as also in heaven.)

Ūrne ġedæġhwāmlīcan hlāf syle ūs tō dæġ,
(Our daily loaf do sell [give] to us today,)

and forgyf ūs ūre gyltas, swā swā wē forgyfað ūrum gyltendum.
(And forgive us of our guilts as also we forgive our guilty)

And ne ġelǣd þū ūs on costnunge, ac ālȳs ūs of yfele.
(And do not lead thou us into temptation, but alese [release/deliver] us of [from] evil.)

( Soothly.)

So in that sense, English isn't so young - it has been evolving for 1500 years till what it is today. A fully developed and perfected language takes a very long time.

A perfected language is one that has a letter of every single sound, one with words that are very original and one that has a wide vocabulary to cover a wide scope in the articulation of meanings. I do not think the Malay language is that fully developed, not even English but it is better, comparatively. I am not sure about the other languages, but I was told that the Arabic language is considered a highly perfected one, as well as Korean.

I went to check out the ages of language and found quite a comprehensive list here in Wikipedia. And I am surprised to find out that Old Malay is as old as Old English, 683AD and 650AD respectively.

Here some familiar ones:
* Greek - 1425-1375 BC
* Old Chinese - 1200 BC
* Aramaic - 950BC
* Hebrew - 950BC
* Korean - 100BC
* Arabic - 512AD
* Old English - 650AD
* Old Malay - 683AD
* Japanese - 700AD
* Old Hindi - 769AD
* Old French - 842AD
* Italian - 960AD
* Middle English - 1066AD
* Thai - 1292AD
* Korean (modern?) - 1446AD
* Early Modern English - 1470AD

Modern English is almost at the last of the list, albeit incomprehensive. And I did not realise that the Greek language is so old, older than Hebrew. But of course that will be Old Greek as compared to the current Modern Greek, which has evolved from Koine or Common Greek, what is used during the New Testament time, i.e. the language of the written text of the NT extant that we have now.

Indeed, a very interesting day of discovery for me.


(1) Alister McGrath, In the Beginning, (New York: Anchor, 2001): 253
(2) http://www.sovereignword.org/index.php/defense-of-the-traditional-bible-texts-and-kjb/233-thomas-holland-crowned-with-glory-chapter-05-the-english-jewel
(3) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_English

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