All social animals communicate with each other, from bees and ants to whales and apes, but only humans have developed a language which is more than just signals. Our communication even differs physically the form of speech compared to other animals. We cannot date exactly since when we developed this special talent. Our ancestors might have been speaking since a million years ago, but were not so fast in delivery. They might also have a small set of vocabulary and simple grammar. Perhaps, the origins of language will still be very obscure. By contrast the origin of individual languages has been the subject of precise study over the past two centuries.
There are roughly 6,500 spoken languages in the world today. However, about 2,000 of those languages have fewer than 1,000 speakers. The most popular language in the world is Mandarin Chinese. There are 1,213,000,000 people in the world that speak that language. Languages are linked to each other by shared words or sounds or grammatical constructions. The theory is that the members of each linguistic group have descended from one language, a common ancestor. Although the origin of language is hotly debated, many scholars believe the first spoken language appeared in sub-Saharan Africa at about the same time modern humans emerged. As these people spread out through the Mediterranean, Europe and Asia, many new languages were born of this single ancient one. Some well-known members of the Indo-European language family are Greek, Latin, Spanish, English, Persian, Sanskrit and Hindi. How crazy is it to think that all of these languages have that one common ancestor, spoken by semi-nomadic farmers thousands of years ago.
Within Europe, there is a fascinating divide between the Romantic and Germanic languages. The Romantic are those descended from Latin in the family tree, and the Germanic are those descended from local Germanic tribes. This divide reflects the areas conquered by the Roman Empire, (with the exception of England.) On the Romantic side, Europe boasts languages such as Spanish, Italian, French, and Portuguese. Germanic languages are those of Norse, Dutch, and English and, of course, German. Also prominent are the Celtic languages, such as Irish, Scots Gaelic, and Welsh. Considered important in three of the worlds major religions, Semitic languages are believed to have developed from a single tribal group in Arabia around 3000 BC. These languages then spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
Out of the 6500 languages spoken in the world today, one-third are found in Africa. This is clearly a very diverse continent in terms of language, and there are in fact six different language groups within Africa. As the widely-accepted birthplace of humanity, and host to so many languages, one would assume a good amount of research exists on the language family trees in Africa, but this is not so.
Until recently, it was accepted that some language families developed independently, such as in East Asia, however, some scholars today believe all language families have origins in ancient Africa. It is absolutely mind-blowing to think that so many different languages could be connected by a single common ancestor. From sub-Saharan Africa to Persia, to India, to Mongolia, to the spread of the Roman Empire, human language has followed us throughout history. All people are connected, and it is time we started pointing out our similarities rather than our differences.