Friday 22 October 2021
How different languages share a common ancient thread
April 21, 2021 | By - Abha Sharma

How different languages share a common ancient thread

The UN-designated English Language Day and Spanish Language Day will be celebrated on 23rd April 2021. But what makes this day so special? Apart from the fact that both Spanish and English are the 2nd and 3rd most spoken languages worldwide (native speakers), the day also symbolizes the evolution of spoken communication in humans.


language day

Origin and Spread of Languages

Both English and Spanish are classified as European languages by origin. It is common knowledge that English originated in the United Kingdom, and Spanish in present-day Spain. Both languages have their fair share of regional dialects in their countries of origin, and different accents are common across regions of the world where these languages are spoken. Both English and Spanish spread throughout the world primarily through imperial conquests. With the growth of British and Spanish empires in the medieval period and their subsequent conquest, the languages spread to almost all continents.


language day

Today, English is the primary language of the United Kingdom, Australia, USA, and Canada, and is a major official language in more than 20 countries across Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. Spanish, similarly, finds itself as the primarily language of Spain and almost all countries of South America except Brazil and Guayana.

A Common Source?

However, what is interesting to note is that historians and linguists from around the world trace a common source of both these languages. Even more intriguing is the fact that this common source may be true for languages far away like Hindi and Persian, making English and Spanish distant cousins of modern-day languages of Northern India. Let us see how.


language day

Modern-day historians trace modern-day languages of Europe, the Northern Indian subcontinent, and Iran to a common language which they term ‘Proto-Indo-European’. It is generally believed that this common ancient language prevailed around what is today the Caucasus region of southern Russia. As migration to various regions took place over centuries, this language gradually gave way to divergent language branches which evolved independently and became totally unintelligible from each other.

One such major language was Latin in Europe and Sanskrit in India. From Latin, further evolution took place as speakers spread over different regions of Italy and the Iberian Peninsula, giving way to present-day Italian and Spanish. On the western European front, a completely different evolution took place of Germanic and Western dialects, influenced by Latin, and gave way to Scandinavian languages, German and English. So, while these differences are obvious, commonalities from Latin origin too are obvious.

Interestingly, similar evolution in Central and South Asia led the way for the development of present-day languages of northern India like Hindi, Gujarati, Punjabi, Bengali, and Marathi. And while a lay speaker today may be able to identify common roots between close languages like Italian and Spanish, and Hindi and Bengali, it will be impossible to differentiate between languages like Hindi and Spanish.

An Ancient Thread

But what this evolution tells us is a story of connection and commonality. Despite thousands of years of evolution and divergence, languages remain connected by an ancient thread. It will be interesting to note that the term ‘pater’ in Latin, is ‘pitr’ in Sanskrit, ‘padre’ in Spanish, and ‘Father’ in English. Similar such words and verb roots can be found common by an expert eye or even some bit of observation.


So, to dedicate this day to the languages is not to mark only the prevalence and importance of these languages, but to also showcase what binds us as human beings- the power of communication. And in keeping with the importance of communication, 23rd April will also mark World Book Day by UNESCO.

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