Category Languages of the World

Why is Bengali not in the list of classical languages of India?

At present there are 6 languages which are marked as classical language in India.

  • Tamil (declared in 2004)
  • Sanskrit (2005)
  • Kannada (2008)
  • Telugu (2008)
  • Malayalam (2013)
  • Oriya (or Odia) (2014)

The reason why Bengali is not in this list is – Bengali has been derived from Magadhi-Apabhransha which is again derived from Sansrit-Prakrit. Unlike the classic languages which predates bengali and are more of a direct language.

According to information provided by the Ministry of Culture in the Rajya Sabha in February 2014, the guidelines for declaring a language as ‘Classical’ are:

“(i) High antiquity of its early texts/recorded history over a period of 1500-2000 years;

(ii) A body of ancient literature/texts, which is considered a valuable heritage by generations of speakers;

(iii) The literary tradition be original and not borrowed from another speech community;

(iv) The classical language and literature being distinct from modern, there may also be a discontinuity between the classical language and its later forms or its offshoots.”

Bengali does not satisfy all the criteria mentioned above.


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What is body language?

Every day, you use your arms and hands and head or other parts of your body to help you say things. Sometimes your actions say things almost better than words can.

In school, you raise your hand. This tells the teacher you are asking for a turn to speak. When riding a bicycle, you let others know you are going to turn by signalling with your arm. Once in a while, you might shrug your shoulders to tell someone, “I don’t know,” or “Hmmm, maybe”.

Babies “speak” almost from birth. They frown, laugh and snuggle. Their mothers and fathers respond to every “word”.

Everyone around the world uses body languages to speak. We all greet a friend with a smile, and we all frown or cry when we are sad. But be careful! Some body language means different things in different places.

Did you stick out your tongue? In Tibet, you’re saying, “I respect you”. In Western countries, you’re saying just the opposite!

Did you tap your forehead? In the U.S.A., you are saying “smart”. In the Netherlands, you are saying “crazy”.

Did someone tell you “Shhh”? In Australia, you need to be quiet. In Germany, you’d better “hurry up”.

Did you nod your head, then shake your head? In most countries, you said “Yes”, then “No”. In Bulgaria, you said “No”, then “Yes”.

Saying good-bye? Wave to the English with your palm facing out, fingers waving. Wave to Italians or Peruvians with your palm facing in.

Are you making a circle with your forefingers and thumb? In most countries, that means “Okay!” In France, it means “It’s worthless”. In Greece and Italy, it’s an insult.

Want to point to something? In most countries, you use your finger. In Thailand, you use your chin.

A pinch on the cheek is a friendly greeting and a sign of affection in some parts of Eastern Europe.


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What are the different ways to say hello?

How many different ways can you say hello? Here are seven different ways. Try them!

  • In French, you say Bon jour
  • In Portuguese, you say Ola
  • In Turkish, you say Merhaba
  • In Vietnamese, you say Xin Chao
  • In Spanish, you say Hola
  • In Lithuanian, you say Labas
  • In Swahili, you say Jambo

Now, how do you “see” hello? It depends on who’s writing it! Try copying some of these friendly written greetings from around the world.

Do you want to learn more words in another language? Find a radio station or TV channel on which people are speaking another language. Listen for a while. See if you can work out what some of the words mean. Practise saying them. Or read product labels and public signs that include your language and another language. Compare the words and see how much you can understand.


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Why do children speak more than one language?

How many ways can you say “Hello”? Some children speak more than one language, because the people they live with speak different languages. Children who live in places like Western Europe, where many countries and cultures are close together, often learn a second language.

Even people who speak the same language don’t always say words the same way. In the U.S.A., people in the northeastern states may say “dahg”. People in the southeastern states may say “dawg”. They are all saying the word dog, but they have different ways of saying it.

There are about 6,000 languages in the world, and most people speak and understand only one or two. People who know more than one language can become interpreters. Interpreters are people who translate words from one language into another. When world leaders meet, they often exchange ideas through an interpreter.

When people who do not speak the same language get together, they talk through interpreters.

Canada has two official languages, English and French. Many children there learn to speak both.


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Braille is a system of writing that uses raised dots, punched into paper or plastic. It enables people with little or no vision to read with their fingers. The system was invented in the first half of the nineteenth century by Louis Braille (1809-52), a Frenchman who had him been blind since the age of three.

Braille is a system of touch reading and writing for blind persons in which raised dots represent the letters of the alphabet.  It also contains equivalents for punctuation marks and provides symbols to show letter groupings.

Braille is read by moving the hand or hands from left to right along each line.  The reading process usually involves both hands, and the index fingers generally do the reading.  The average reading speed is about 125 words per minute. But, greater speeds of up to 200 words per minute are possible.

By using the braille alphabet, people who are blind can review and study the written word.  They can also become aware of different written conventions such as spelling, punctuation, paragraphing and footnotes.

Most importantly, braille gives blind individuals access to a wide range of reading materials including recreational and educational reading, financial statements and restaurant menus.  Equally important are contracts, regulations, insurance policies, directories, and cookbooks that are all part of daily adult life.  Through braille, people who are blind can also pursue hobbies and cultural enrichment with materials such as music scores, hymnals, playing cards, and board games.

Various other methods had been attempted over the years to enable reading for the blind. However, many of them were raised versions of print letters.  It is generally accepted that the braille system has succeeded because it is based on a rational sequence of signs devised for the fingertips, rather than imitating signs devised for the eyes.

At eleven years old, Braille found inspiration to modify Charles Barbier’s “night writing” code in an effort to create an efficient written communication system for fellow blind individuals. One year earlier he was enrolled at the National Institute of the Blind in Paris. He spent the better part of the next nine years developing and refining the system of raised dots that has come to be known by his name, Braille.

After all of Braille’s work, the code was now based on cells with only 6-dots instead of 12. This crucial improvement meant that a fingertip could encompass the entire cell unit with one impression and move rapidly from one cell to the next. Over time, braille gradually came to be accepted throughout the world as the fundamental form of written communication for blind individuals. Today it remains basically as he invented it.

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Languages grow and change because they need to. New words are invented when new ideas or articles require a name. Usually, new words are based on earlier ones. When the television was invented, the word chosen to describe it was a combination of an ancient Greek word, meaning “far” and a Latin word to do with “seeing”. Sometimes a writer takes delight in inventing words. Lewis Carroll wrote a poem about a creature he called the “Jabberwock”, for example.

Sometimes a “new” world simply borrowed from another language. “Chocolate” came into the English language as a version of the Aztecs used to describe a drink made from the cocoa bean. This drink was unknown in Europe until the Spaniards discovered the Aztecs in South America. Once it was known, it had to be named! Borrowing the local name for it was an easy solution.

Many of the new words added to the ever-growing lexicon of the English language are just created from scratch, and often have little or no etymological pedigree. A good example is the word dog, etymologically unrelated to any other known word, which, in the late Middle Ages, suddenly and mysteriously displaced the Old English word hound (or hund) which had served for centuries. Some of the commonest words in the language arrived in a similarly inexplicable way (e.g. jaw, askance, tantrum, conundrum, bad, big, donkey, kick, slum, log, dodge, fuss, prod, hunch, freak, bludgeon, slang, puzzle, surf, pour, slouch, bash, etc.).

Words like gadget, blimp, raunchy, scam, nifty, zit, clobber, boffin, gimmick, jazz and googol have all appeared in the last century or two with no apparent etymology, and are more recent examples of this kind of novel creation of words. Additionally, some words that have existed for centuries in regional dialects or as rarely used terms, suddenly enter into popular use for little or no apparent reason (e.g. scrounge and seep, both old but obscure English words, suddenly came into general use in the early 20th Century).

Sometimes, if infrequently, a “nonce word” (created “for the nonce”, and not expected to be re-used or generalized) does become incorporated into the language. One example is James Joyce’s invention quark, which was later adopted by the physicist Murray Gell-Mann to name a new class of sub-atomic particle, and another is blurb, which dates back to 1907.

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This stone was found near Rosetta, in Egypt. On it was an inscription, given three times in three different languages. One of the versions was in Greek, which scholars could read. Another version was in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, a kind of picture-writing that no one in modern times had been able to decipher. Given the Greek “key”, it became possible to read the hieroglyphs on the stone, and later, thousands of other hieroglyphs carved on monuments and buildings.

In the 19th century, the Rosetta Stone helped scholars at long last crack the code of hieroglyphics, the ancient Egyptian writing system. French army engineers who were part of Napoleon Bonaparte’s Egypt campaign discovered the stone slab in 1799 while making repairs to a fort near the town of Rashid (Rosetta).

The artifact, which is made of granitoid, came into the possession of the British after they defeated the French in Egypt in 1801.

The stone features a decree issued in 196 B.C. by a group of Egyptian clergy and Egypt’s ruler, Ptolemy V, attesting to his generosity and devoutness. It originally was displayed in a temple, possibly near the ancient town of Sais, then centuries later moved to Rosetta and used in the construction of Fort Julien, where it was eventually uncovered by the French.

The decree on the stone is written in three ways: in hieroglyphics, which was used mainly by priests; in ancient Egyptian demotic, used for everyday purposes; and in ancient Greek. The use of hieroglyphics died out after the 4th century and the writing system became an enigma to scholars.

British scientist Thomas Young, who began studying the Rosetta Stone’s texts in 1814, made some initial progress in analyzing its hieroglyphic inscription. Young surmised that the cartouches—hieroglyphs enclosed in ovals—contained the phonetic spellings of royal names, including Ptolemy, who was referenced in the Greek inscription.

Ultimately, it was French linguist Jean-Francois Champollion who deciphered the Rosetta Stone and cracked the hieroglyphic code. Between 1822 and 1824, Champollion showed that hieroglyphics were a combination of phonetic and ideographic signs rather than just symbolic picture writing that didn’t also represent sounds of language, as earlier scholars had suspected. For his discoveries, Champollion is heralded as the founding father of Egyptology.

Today, the Rosetta Stone, which measures about 44 inches tall and 30 inches wide, is housed in the British Museum in London, where it’s been since 1802, except for a temporary re-location for safekeeping during World War 1 to an off-site, underground spot.

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Not all languages are related, but they do seem to form related groups. Most languages that were originally European, some of which are now spoken all over the world, are thought to have developed from an ancient and unknown language those linguists known as “Proto Indo-European”.

Most languages belong to language families. A language family is a group of related languages that developed from a common historic ancestor, referred to as protolanguage (proto– means ‘early’ in Greek). The ancestral language is usually not known directly, but it is possible to discover many of its features by applying the comparative method that can demonstrate the family status of many languages. Sometimes a protolanguage can be identified with a historically known language. Thus, provincial dialects of Vulgar Latin are known to have given rise to the modern Romance languages, so the *Proto-Romance language is more or less identical to Latin. Similarly, Old Norse was the ancestor of Norwegian, Swedish, Danish and Icelandic. Sanskrit was the protolanguage of many of the languages of the Indian subcontinent, such as Bengali, Hindi, Marathi, and Urdu. Further back in time, all these ancestral languages descended, in turn, from one common ancestor. We call this ancestor Proto-Indo-European (PIE). Language families can be subdivided into smaller units called branches. For instance, the Indo-European family has several branches, among them, Germanic, Romance, and Slavic.

Sometimes it is relatively easy to establish relationships among languages. Let us look at the Romance languages. We know that Italian is a descendant of Latin, a language that was spoken in Italy two thousand years ago and one which left a great number of written documents. The Roman conquest helped spread Latin throughout Europe where it eventually developed into regional dialects. When the Roman Empire broke up, these regional dialects evolved into the modern Romance languages that we know today: French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, and others. These languages form the Romance branch of the Indo-European language family. By looking at the word for ‘water’ in three Romance languages, one can easily see the similarities among them.

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Many people have dreamed of a world in which everyone speaks the same language. Some international jobs use one language to avoid dangerous misunderstandings. However, even gestures can be misunderstood, as a shake of the head can mean “yes” in some countries and “no” in others!

There already is a universal language — a statement that is backed with ample evidence. That language is modern American English, also referred to as proper English. There are many good scientific and historic reasons for what has already happened, and the evidence is literally within these words that I type.

Yes, there is a tendency for languages to propagate and diverge, and yes, language and culture are one. As long as there are different cultures there will be different languages. But this has to do with how they are born. We do have a tendency to want to communicate with more people and the right people in the proper way. So there is a desire for a universal language.

But universal never meant international until very recently. If all you knew were the people in your village and had no contact with the outside world, universal would be your village. With media and better transportation, countries became smaller, and universal became national. So governments chose their national language and made it official. This is all hard evidence that backs this statement:

Hence, the real question is, (1) why doesn’t English diverge and (2) why doesn’t English immediately retrofit to cultures?

If you look at most languages in most countries, you will indeed see that languages naturally diverge into their dialects, and often this divergence is problematic for countries that wish to act as a whole. So in Japan for example, there is Standard Japanese (Hyojungo) that is defined as the language of Japan. Yet, plenty of dialects still are used daily, and most Japanese, if they are not born and raised in Tokyo, speak fluently in their local dialect as well as in Standard Japanese.

However, if you look at American English dialects, you will find that the language has an uncanny ability to remain rigid. Most English dialects lean towards different accents and intonations, and certainly local idioms and favoritism persist, but overall, English never breaks where other languages always do. Spelling and grammar remain, and proper English reigns supreme, globally. This all happened quite naturally… No one polices English. It organically grew into the role of a global standard. So what was the secret? What special powers does the English language possess?

Something interesting happened with English when it became the language of choice for scientists. English became more scientific. This happened in the mid-19th century. The scientific community was international and tight. They needed to be able to communicate, and the language they chose was English. They didn’t force their identity and wave their flags. They sought unity.

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Languages are living things, changing all the time to meet the needs of their speakers and writers. It is only in the last few hundred years that attempts have been made to standardize the way in which languages are used, so that people using the same language can understand each other as well as possible. In the world today, Mandarin Chinese is the most widely used language, with over a billion speakers. English is next, with around half a billion speakers.

Chinese characters can be very complicated, with up to 26 strokes in each. The Japanese have adapted over two thousand characters to write their language, but they also have two alphabets, one for Japanese words and one for foreign words!

People sometimes speak of “Chinese” as if it’s a single language. It’s actually a group of related languages, of which Mandarin Chinese is by far the biggest. It’s an official language in the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of China (Taiwan), and Singapore.

The native name for Mandarin, Putonghua, literally means “common speech”, although in Taiwan people call it Guoyu – “national language”. Historically, it was also called Guanhua – “the speech of officials”. Since Mandarin is more common in northern China, it’s sometimes referred to as beifanghua (???) – “Northern Dialects”.

Mandarin is written using Chinese characters (sometimes called “Han characters”), an ancient pictorial system where each symbol represents a different word. There are two main versions – “traditional” characters, used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau, and “simplified” characters, used in China, Singapore, and Malaysia. It’s estimated that you need to learn 2,000-3,000 characters to read a newspaper – an educated Chinese person will know about 8,000!

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