Language: Evolving Over Time and Space

Frank B. WithrowBy Frank B. Withrow

The English language is the most used language in the world. Many of its 1,000,000 words are adapted from other languages. English has 44 sounds that are represented by the 26 letters of the Roman alphabet. The 26 letters are combined 196 ways to represent the 44 sounds of English. Therefore, English is only a semi-phonetic language in its written form. English adapts many words from other languages but often retains the spelling of the original language while anglicizing the pronunciation of the word. For example, “bouquet” from the French language is pronounced as “bokay” in English while retaining the French spelling. Spelling bees are thought to have originated in the USA, and the reason is probably because English spelling must often rely on memorization.


Vocal sounds and hearing are used as the warning system for humans and animals. A dog will bark to express its awareness of danger in its environment to alert other dogs. Many animals have vocalizations that are used to warn others of impending dangers. Vocalization superimposed on the eating and breathing systems is the expressive mechanisms used to warn and alert others. Hearing is the receptive sense that alerts individuals to danger. 

Expressive and receptive communication systems evolved into the complex speech and language system we know today. Oral-aural communications frees us to be able to use all other body systems while still retaining communications in all types of situations. Oral-aural communications does not require light and is detected globally. In fact, speech can be detected in noise.

About five thousand years ago written language was added to spoken language. Written language bonds human kind across time and space. The skills and knowledge of one generation could be transferred to the next, and such knowledge could be transferred geographically through the written word.

Words often take on different meanings from time to time. Therefore, we must always be cognizant of the norms of society when words were created. I am reminded of my mother who was born in the 1890s who, when I was growing up, talked about the “gay” young men in our neighborhood. “Gay,” for her and her time, did not carry the meaning it does today. Therefore, language must always be examined in the context of its meaning when it was used.

Our Founding Fathers understood this and expected living documents, such as the Constitution, to evolve and expand in meaning as times changed.

Today scientists tell us there are perhaps billions of planets similar to Earth with a high probability of life, and where there is intelligent life, there will be language. The spoken and written languages of the world — and perhaps the universe — are marvelous tools we use, but they change with time. See

Spoken and written words are perhaps the most wonderful tools we have to share our private personal experiences with our fellow human beings both today and tomorrow.


Thomas Jefferson’s words continue to grow in meaning as the world changes and as our scientific knowledge pushes us towards new horizons. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

3 Responses

  1. Great reflection, Frank.

    The poet George Seferis wrote the Bible should be translated in Greek by each generation, as a kind of test of the evolution of the language. So what about making US children translate the founding texts you quote into contemporary US English, besides making them learn them by heart?

    • Claude I agree that translating our founding papers into modern English could help us understand it better. The founding fathers were living in a world of 3,000,000 people hanging on to the edge of the east coast of a newly settled continent. In fact they were taking it away from the native inhabitants. Thus all men created equal while a wonderful concept is yet to be achieved.

      • I question the comment `taking it away`. What exactly were they `taking away` and is that the position of the involved parties at the time? Or we assigning responsibilility retroactively for future actions taken by completely different individuals who share nothing but skin color? What happened to `sharing`?

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