How and why languages change

Languages can be divided into different “language families” from where they originated. Such a language family is the Indo-European languages, which include most of the modern European languages. Finnish, Sami and Hungarian belong to the Finno-Urgic family, and Chinese, Japanese and many others come from other families.

The Indo-European language is belived to have started out in India, and from there it spread to Europe. Click here to see a chart showing how the languages have evolved from Indo-European. Please note that the chart is simplified and that some older and newer languages have been omitted (these include among others some Persian languages, variations of Celtic and some Romance, Germanic, Slavic and Baltic languages ).

When scientists work out how languages are related, they compare the grammatical structure and the words of the language. Studying written material from different periods in history, and knowing the history of the cultures are also important

We have taken a couple of words and written them in seven languages which all come from Indo-European:

English Norwegian German  Italian French Latin Hindi
One En (Ein)  Ein Un Une Un Ek
Two To Zwei Due Deux Duo Do
Three Tre Drei Tre Trois Tres Teen
House Hus Haus Casa Maison Domus Makaan

Why does a language change?

  • The way you speak is very different from how the language was spoken 200 years ago. A language changes over time, and here are some reasons why:
  • It’s influenced by other languages as a result of trade and travel
  • New technology demands new words.
  • The pronunciation of words changes (this is a slow process)
  • New words are invented as a result of movies, music etc.
  • People settle in new places far from others and over time develop their own variation of language: a different pronunciation, invent words of their own.
  • Within a language: Bad communications in the old times resulted in many different dialects.
  • In addition, the ruling powers have various ways of dealing with change. Here are some methods that are practised:
  • On Iceland all foreign words are translated to Icelandic. The Icelandic word for “telephone” is for instance “síma”, an old word meaning “string” or “thread”.
  • In English the spelling is usually maintained the same even if the pronunciation changes. This makes it easier to read literature from “the old days”, but can make spelling a little problem.
  • In Norway the spelling usually changes with the way people speak.

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