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I am fascinated by language. The evolution of language, both verbal and written, is very interesting. Language is such a human thing and like human culture, changed and modified as people migrated and mixed together over many years. It fascinates me to study the very first known written languages and how they developed from hieroglyphs to more efficient symbols. The ancient Egyptians started out with what was essentially pictographs but as their society grew and the need and desire for written records increased they developed a form of writing that was faster, simpler, and took up a whole lot less space. Although they still used hieroglyphs on monuments and in tombs, they used cuneiform for all official documents, records, and diplomatic correspondence. Generally, any complex society would develop a written language out of necessity. Oddly, the Celtic people, although they had a unifying language and a very complex culture, had no written language, which has always mystified me. Ultimately, they adopted alphabets from other cultures with whom they interacted, particularly Latin, which makes sense since the Romans spent many centuries attempting to weaken their culture and squash them like bugs. To the victor goes the alphabet, I guess.
The Vikings didn't have much of a written language. The Vikings used runes, which were pretty fundamental, no frill kind of letters. Because the Vikings had no paper, everything they wrote down and it wasn't much, was either carved into wood or stone and consisted only of straight lines. Evidently, carving anything too curvy was a definite time waster. Pillaging and plundering probably didn't require a lot of note taking. When the Vikings became serious traders they used either Greek or Latin. There's nothing like business to create the painful necessity of paperwork.
In my study of languages there has been one aspect of all European Languages that I have always found utterly incomprehensible and annoying. Why on earth would anyone take the time and expend the effort to give inanimate objects gender? This is something that makes no sense to me whatsoever but it appears throughout all European languages, romance and otherwise. What on earth is the point of assigning a gender to a thing which is completely devoid of biological function? If you want to be completely technical about the business, gender is really just about the two components necessary for any living biological entity to procreate. One female living thing + one male living thing = more of whatever it happens to be. Call me crazy, but assigning a gender to a coffee table is pretty much a complete waste of time. You can take two coffee tables and put them together in a romantically lit hotel room with soft music and a bottle of good wine but no matter how long you give them to get to know one another you will never end up with a couple of adorable little end tables as a result. For that matter, who decided that doors are feminine and gardens are masculine, or for that matter, why? There must have been some Roman with a lot of time on his hands and an odd imagination. The Germans have 3 words for ocean, or sea, one is masculine, one is feminine, and one is neutered; a fact that is kind of creepy and not to be pondered too vigorously. For a people known for their efficiency, it seems like a silly waste of time anyway.
English is the only Indo-European language that does not have gender specific nouns, which I find eminently sensible. Much to my surprise, I discovered that Old English did have gendered nouns until the 1100's, when they were dropped like a hot potato. No one is certain how or why this happened but the general the best theory I read was that with the influx of Old Norse with the Vikings, the ancient Germanic language of the Saxons, and the Norman invasion when they tried to make everyone speak French and failed utterly, things just became terribly confusing because no two languages agreed on the gender of anything. When you have one group of people calling a pig sty feminine and another defining it as masculine it probably got pretty much like language mayhem, particularly since it probably made no difference to the pig farmer and definitely was of no interest to the pigs. After all, a pig sty is just a thing and isn't likely to father or give birth to another pig sty. It's just a place where the pigs live.
English is a wonderful, expressive, and efficient language that is a conglomeration of lots of languages and has the most vocabulary words of them all. Thank goodness it had the good sense to drop the whole sexual orientation of inanimate objects thing. I salute the pig farmers who got tired of trying to figure out if the pig sty was a boy or a girl and decided that it was just a place for the pigs to hand their hats.
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