"Words and sounds carry histories with them. Not only their own histories, but those of people who have uttered those words."- Me aka Yash.
So firstly, what do I mean by the quote. I mean and I believe that our languages are more than just tools of communicating. They carry all information about what the speakers of the language as a whole, have seen in their multiple years of existence, what other peoples and languages have they come across, and much more. As such, languages record a part of the people's history. There have been times where languages have helped us answer some questions from History.
So now, why do I believe so? Take for instance, the 'have seen in their multiple years of existence' part. Languages have vocabularies. Vocabulary is the body of words used in a language. When people encounter something new, which they are likely to come across again and again, they assign a word to it. By doing so, they are creating a record of the existence of that object.
Living in the twenty-first century, we are no strangers to the concept of adding new words to languages. The technological revolution has added so many words to our jargon: email, texting, captcha, blog, to name a few. I would not be surprised if say 800 years from now, new technology not withstanding, the presence of these words in a text will be used to date documents, as those before the Internet revolution, or those after. By inventing these words, we have added meaning to sounds and symbols, which have stored an imprint of our civilization.
If the above example seems too hypothetical for you, let us take a real example. There is a group of languages known as the Indo-European (IE) languages. These languages are all derived from a totally undocumented, unspoken, but a common ancestor, called the Proto-Indo-European (PIE). We have traced the existence of this language by comparing various Indian, Iranian and European languages The speakers of these languages are called the PIE people and they migrated to all over south Asia and Europe, and ended up spreading their language, which evolved into various daughter languages. The result: a very large percentage of the world's population speaks IE languages. Now there are various questions regarding these people. What was their original homeland? When did they begin spreading? There are various theories regarding this, and my purpose is not to answer these questions. But, words can provide a clue about the answers.
Most of earlier IE languages (Sanskrit, Latin, Greek, Persian) have similar words for 'horse'. If you know these words, it might seem they are not so similar after all, but there is a series of sound changes which accounts for their little differences. But in any case, assume, for the sake of my argument, that these words all derive from the same PIE word. That means, PIE could not have split into various languages before its speakers had come across the horse, and added a word for it to their vocabulary. What does that tell us? That PIE speakers, before diverging into various groups lived/had lived in a place where there were horses. Similarly, PIE also had a word for 'chariot', which would imply that PIE speakers invented the chariot before spreading. This is what would constitute linguistic evidence. Linguistic evidence, along with archaeological and genetic evidence can help us answer questions about these people.
Another way in which words help us know about the history of their people is through the similarities between words across languages. The similarity of words in IE languages helped us find out about the existence of their common ancestor, the PIE. Similarly, the similarity of the Romani language, a language spoken by Romani people of Europe, with North Indian languages, helped us trace the origins of the Romani people to North India. Genetic evidence supported this hypothesis.
Words and sounds also record history, when those of one language create an impact on another one. For example, see my previous post about how the Hindi word for 'I' has come from Persian. This word, with what I assume would probably be millions of other word, is evidence that Persia and India definitely had very strong cultural links.
Even though I had promised, I would make this post more 'global', there is another very interesting phenomena in Hindi, which I feel obliged to show. Originally, Hindi lacked the sound 'f''. When words from Persian and Arabic entered Hindi, 'f' was pronounced as 'ph' (p with a puff of air, how British and American English speakers pronounce p in the beginning of words) . So 'safed' (white) became 'saphed', '' 'faisla' (decision) became 'phaisla'. A very large percentage of the population pronounces these words so.
But at the same time, there began a process of correction- an attempt to replicate the original sounds: so 'safed' was pronounced 'safed' and 'faisla' was pronounced 'faisla'. However, along with it, the 'correction' spread to the original Hindi 'ph' as well, which became 'f'. So the original 'phal' (fruit) is now pronounced 'fal', and 'phool (flower) is now 'fool' (pronounced the same as the English fool). Now, there exists two groups of speakers: those who use 'ph' in all cases (which is generally thought of as the 'uneducated' way to pronounce the letter), and those who use 'f' in all cases. Very few speakers retain the distinction between the Persian 'f' and the Indian 'ph'. Persian and Arabic, have very lastingly made their imprint on Hindi, and this process has recorded the historic influence that Persia had on India.
And therefore, my quote.
Hoping that this was an interesting read, signing off from my second post,