Let’s Talk About Language!

Our everyday words have been evolving since the Stone Age but it was a 19th century German, August Schneider, who first theorised that languages are like living organisms, to be born, develop and die – the concept of evolution applied to language.  We are all aware of words whose meanings have altered in our lifetime: gay, cool, and wicked among others.  And new words constantly appear: selfie, upcycle, Brexit.  Language is what defines us as humans: just two words – ‘You’ and ‘I’ make up 10% of all informal conversation.  We get by with a limited range of words, many people never progressing beyond the vocabulary of a ten year old, but research shows that the more effectively we use language the happier we are.
Learning another language gives us the opportunity to note similarities in the mostly European ones we study and we can often guess at the meaning of a foreign word from our native English, together with a little Latin and a smattering of schooldays French, German or Spanish.
Being able to speak a second language can help to keep the brain sharp as we age: bilingual people are always having to choose between words from both languages.  Exercising the mind like this makes the brain work more efficiently and can reduce the effects of  much-feared dementia, as of course can brain-training puzzles, regular exercise and a good diet.  The brain changes in response to something new, no matter how old we are.  ‘You are never too old to learn’ is a reassuring thought for all of us lively-minded and eagerly-learning members of SLU3A.  Sylvia Mountford.

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