In the April edition of Science magazine, which bills itself as a leading journal publishing original scientific research, global news and commentary, the evolutionary psychologist Atkinson and his team reported on the origin of language. The main message of the article is that linguistic and genetic diversity are shaped by a parallel mechanism which supports the theory that modern human languages originate in Africa. Atkinson et al are postulating that the evolution of language builds on similar components as the theory that explains the propagation of human genetic material throughout the world.

Let’s start with some of the basics on language to get our bearings. Statistics on the number of world languages vary, some researchers say there are in total 6000, others claim that this number should be 7000.  Atkinson’s theory is constructed from the view and analysis of phonemes. A phoneme is the smallest speech sound, or an indivisible unit of sound, that are distinguished by the speakers of a particular language. An example in English are the sounds for p, b, t and p in the words pad, bad, pat, and bat.

Roughly outlined, the theory states that language expansion is implicated by the travelled distance and the subsequently territorialised region from the African point of origin. That is the number of phonemes used in a particular language decline the further away the splinter group settled from their point of origin. The reasoning goes that when splinter groups took off and settled away from the population, they only carried a subset of linguistic information with them. This transit phase, experienced by splinter groups, created a bottleneck, or the so called founder effect, until the group settled again and grew in size. Then, the phonemic range expanded relative to the growth of the now settled group.

Keeping in mind that other important details have been eschewed from this brief outline, it still seems a viable explanation of how the effects of time (travelled distance) and space (location from the point of origin and group size) at first imply constraints and then create opportunity in shaping our linguistic abilities and diversity. In lay terms, it may be comparable to a ripple effect on the surface of water when throwing stones in a pond and watching the ripples expand. Near the point of origin, where the stone hit the water surface, we expect to see a much tighter ripple pattern than in some other spot located away from the stone. In other words, the tighter ripples carry more information.

The reality of language, however, has little to do with comparable physical effects. Languages in the world are handled like a currency, where the value of the language is tied to the political influence of a nation. This is immediately evident when looking at these figures: The governing body of the EU, which claims 27 member countries and approximately half a billion people, has stipulated three official working languages, English, French and German. NATO, a political and military alliance of 28 member countries, hyped as transatlantic link between Europe and North America, goes even a step further with only English and French as official languages.

Here we can simply infer that behind these two languages, English and French, operate the most powerful nations. In support of the language as currency paradigm, another point can be made. The value of a particular language, as yielding political power, has been ‘saved up’ over the centuries in form of territorial expansion by colonising countries and imposing an official language other than that of the native speakers. Hence accumulated linguistic territory aids political agendas by creating advantage in controlled information flow. Interesting to notice here is that if we turn to the African continent where according to Atkinson et al language originates, we find the largest group of countries implicated in colonising the continent.

Maintaining a nation’s linguistic stance in the world goes hand in hand with the upkeep of political power on the global scene as recently illustrated by French president Sarkozy. In struggling to keep the French language strong as player on the political stage, he appointed Jean-Pierre Raffarin to head a special mission of “francophonie”, which lobbies UN and EU institutions reminding their work force to speak, document and disseminate information in French. This approach may counteract what Louis Michel, a member of the European Parliament, calls an anglophone strategy, or linguistic terrorism, to impose English as the only language all over the world.

So where does this leave us, regarding the role of language on the world stage? Obviously, language is a currency in support of the political world system. A political system that schemes through power and influence to control the way we use money. A system that selectively distributes money to those with money, whereby this selection depends on location, nation, and family one is born into on this planet. Those who are unselected in this system, the vast majority of humans in this world, are suffering and starving without access to satisfy their basic needs.

Language, we believe, is meant to communicate, and if we were to go by Atkinson’s theory, diversification of language is just a matter of human cognition acting in space-time. Then what is more significant, the information that is being communicated or the language – the wrapper – used to communicate the message? From the perspective previously outlined the answer implies that if you are born into an English speaking country you automatically have the best possible prerequisite to wrap up your message. Evidently, the value of communication has been displaced, it serves to build up a nation’s ego, while keeping through hierarchy those who have and those who have not, separated from each other.

Speaking of hierarchy, we must briefly venture into multilingual education. The distinction of a first and second language is a peculiar one, and a way to reinforce the political and monetary system. You may be fluent and more up-to-date in your second language but only in your native language you get a free ticket in having an authority on the proper use of the language. For example, you might speak Bengali as your ‘mother’ tongue but you have lived and worked in English speaking environments for a many years. Yet you are still tagged as native Bengali speaker and not as native English speaker. This becomes particularly apparent when applying for positions in translation and/or teaching occupations.

The hierarchical division of first, second or even third languages is further perpetuated in language education. Linguistic cognition studies have shown that developmental stages of children can easily encompass the learning of more than one language. Hence, we are not limited in learning multiple languages and creating a rich communication base. The limitation comes from the language education which does not foster ‘deep’ communication, where children learn to speak and write without fear, and learn to communicate in languages which may be of lesser political importance.

As we have seen ‘language as currency’ speaks of the limitations that we experience throughout this entire world. Those who live and speak languages of nations with political power are living privileged lives and have access to knowledge and information that those who live in nations without political power and money can only dream of. However,  language as currency is only a symptom in the overall political scheme. The root is the monetary system from which all limitations flow including our ability to communicate with each other.

It is therefore common sense to address the main issue, money, by changing our monetary system from one of inequality to one of equality. With an equal money approach to the world, the use of language will change and we will be able to unify the language diversity. Children in an Equal Money System are learning languages from the point that language is used to communicate with one another, to enhance understanding and learn to make decisions that are best for all.  An Equal Money System supports every language equally and because learning will no longer be based on ‘performance’, to survive in a competitive system, multilingual humans will be the norm.

For more information on an Equal Money system:

http://equalmoney.org/

http://www.youtube.com/user/EqualMoney101

References:

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/332/6027/346.abstract

http://lefrancaisenpartage.over-blog.com/article-jean-pierre-raffarin-nouveau-defenseur-de-la-francophonie-47416245.html

http://europa.eu/index_en.htm

http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/index.htm

http://www.vistawide.com/languages/language_statistics.htm

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