Six thousand and eight hundred is the frequently cited number of languages existing in our world today. These different tongues reflect the ‘babel’ that emerged over the last 125,000 years or so since we Homo sapiens spread out all across Africa then burst from our common ancestral homeland to fill almost all possible environmental niches across this planet.
Ninety four per cent of humanity speaks 215 or so of these languages. Half of all of us, though, have one of just 11 world languages as our mother tongue. This leaves, according to UNESCO, the vast remainder spoken by less than six per cent of the world’s people.
The dynamic nature of language accelerated by our electronically wired and social media connected world will likely continue to show us the influence of other cultures on our own way of speaking and by logical extension, perceiving the world. From “Gangnam style” to kimchi, the music and tastes of South Korea’s 50 million inhabitants can be cited as just one of many recent examples of the globalization of language and culture. How are other cultures influencing us?
By listening closely even on the streets of Whitehorse you can probably hear three or four different languages being spoken over the course of an average day. With Filipino Canadians regularly serving me at businesses I patronize, I have taken to saying “salamat” instead of thank you both as a normal courtesy for their attention to my needs but also as a way of welcoming them and the culture they bring, which is already enriching the Yukon.
The word salamat is used as “thank you” in a number of Filipino languages such as Cebuano and Tagalog. Its origins can be traced to a Semitic root word likely spread by far-ranging Arab traders centuries ago. We touch and are touched by many other cultures, whether we consciously recognize it or not.
A rising percentage of our fellow citizens speak more than one language. Polling data over the years has shown that this multiculturalism indeed is one of the factors that make us Canadians proud of our homeland. The sad realities of the mistreatment and abuse suffered at residential schools and its subsequent generational impact, which Yukoners shared with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission earlier this week, and the steady decline of Yukon First Nation languages, however, remind us of multicultural challenges we must face. How can we show our support for Yukon First Nation cultures and languages?
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins tonight and runs through Friday, Jan. 25. This year the Student Christian Movement of India chose the theme “What does God require of us? Their reflection, drawing on the biblical passage Micah 6:6-8, sees the search for a visible church unity as being linked to the dismantling of the caste system in India, which condemns the Dalits or ‘untouchables’ to the lowest rungs of society.
Dalits make up 80 per cent of Indian Christians. For them, “the lifting up of the contributions to unity by the poorest of the poor” is essential. Our unity, here as well, should see and understand the critical importance to us of those who have been marginalized and oppressed among us.
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.