Daily Archives: January 5, 2008

The Evolution of Language

Language is one of the things that is truly evolutionary in life. While people debate the evolution of species, we know that words change. Sometimes words start out as two separate words. Eventually, they get a hyphen to connect them. Eventually, these words become so linked in people’s brains that the words are slammed together to form one new word.

Language started as an oral practice before people ever wrote it down on a tablet or piece of paper. There are some amazing things about language that linguists have not really figured out even to this today. How does your brain know where one word stops and another one begins when listening to someone speak a known language? Scientists are still baffled by this because there is no noticeable space, such as you find in written language.

As I have begun to study Hebrew at Union PSCE Seminary, I am learning so much about even my native tongue. I had either forgotten these things from childhood or had never stopped to realize them. I plan on writing a lot about words as I process through the things I learn in my Hebrew class.

Here’s just one example of the great insight that can be seen by studying the meaning of Hebrew words used in the Tanakh (Old Testament). For starters, Hebrew never uses “is” or “are” equivalents. The present tense verb is assumed unless otherwise stated by the language used. This means you can have a sentence without a verb if the verb in English would be “is” or “are”.

Hebrew by default considers the place of action to be the present. This has ramifications beyond just language. It means that every noun is understood by what it is doing not necessarily what it is as a person, place or thing. I am reminded that life is mean to be lived in the present. We can’t usually change the past. And we can’t do anything about the future except do the right thing in the present.

Language is fascinating because it reflects the story of the people who speak and write it. Stop to consider how your language has changed through the years. What does this say about society? What does this say about you?