Here at Languages4Life we're keen linguaphiles - lovers of language - and language and linguistics never fail to astound us! Here are ten of the most fascinating facts about language that we've come across recently. Feel free to add any more amazing facts in the comments!
A language exists in one of the smallest Canary Islands that consists entirely of whistling
Silbo Gomero is a language system that has existed for hundreds of years - since well before the first Spanish settlers on the Canaries. Thought to have developed as a response to the geographical features of La Gomera - narrow ravines and long valleys - to enable the islanders to communicate effectively over long distances. It's still used on the island today, and has been taught in schools since 1999.
English has more words than any other language
English has a vocabulary of around 250,000 words - more than any other language. The reason for this is to do with the way the language developed. English developed from the Germanic languages that German and Dutch also come from, but was heavily influenced by Latin and the Romance languages that evolved from Latin. It also borrowed words from around the world as a result of its colonial past.
The Adventures of Pinocchio is the second most-translated book in the world
No prizes for guessing the book that has been translated the most - the bible, into 460 languages - but who could have predicted that the adventures of a wooden puppet who wanted to be a real boy would be the second most-translated book worldwide? First published in the original Italian in 1883, it has since been translated into 260 different languages.
Russian was the first language spoken in outer space
Yuri Gagarin was the first human in space in 1961. He called mission control while orbiting the Earth and spoke in his native language. There's a story that his first words in space were, "I see no God up here," but in actual fact, according to the flight transcript, he said, ""The craft is operating normally. I can see Earth in the view port of the Vzor. Everything is proceeding as planned" - not quite as poetic!
Languages are becoming extinct at the rate of one a fortnight
Linguists estimate that there are just over 7000 languages spoken in the world today, but almost a third of those have less than 1000 speakers. The least-used languages are disappearing at a rate of one every two weeks. Some languages vanish with the death of the last speaker of the language, while others die out in bilingual cultures, where indigenous languages are gradually overwhelmed by the dominant language used in education, business and entertainment.
Euskara is the oldest living language in Europe
Euskara is the language spoken in the Basque country in northern Spain. It is a language isolate, meaning it has no connection to any other known language. It was present before Indo-European arrived - its origins date back to the Neolithic age. So if you visit the Basque country, you'll be listening to a language that was spoken 12,000 years ago, which is truly amazing!
Cryptophosia is a secret language spoken by twins
Twins often develop their own language as toddlers, unintelligible to outsiders - even their own parents or other siblings! Up to 50% of twins develop a cryptophosia, which usually consists of onomatopoeic expressions and words from their parents' language adapted to the speech abilities of toddlers.
Around 8% of Spanish words are actually Arabic or derived from Arabic
There was a hugely influential North African presence in Spain for 700 years. It lasted from the Berber invasion of Andalusia until the Christian expulsion of their Muslim descendants in 1492. As well as architecture and cuisine, they left an enormous linguistic legacy. Every Spanish word that begins with 'al' is, in fact, an Arabic word - and once you know this you'll hear them constantly!
More than half of the world's population is bilingual
We're based in a bilingual city but it's not as unusual as you might think! Bilingualism exists on all continents, across all age groups and has done for many thousands of years. Some countries are home to a lot of languages - Papua New Guinea has 840! - while some countries promote an official two-language policy. International business is a major reason for bilingualism, with English the global language of commerce.
Humans started using language roughly 100,000 years ago
Most linguists agree that language first originated in south-west Africa around 100,000 years ago, a theory based on the study of phonemic diversity. It's amazing to think that people have been chatting up a storm for over 100,000 years!