Last month, English language added the millionth word to its repertoire. (Don’t ask me, kaun sa labz?)
Compare this with Hindi, which has only about 120,000 words.
And meanwhile, only 14,135 people listed Sanskrit as their primary language in the 2001 Indian census.
Why do some languages die out and others survive the test of time? What is the most important factor that makes a language popular (i.e. widely spoken) – the lack of which leads to its extinction?
Perhaps, the answer is: adaptability.
Using lyricist Prasoon Joshi’s analogy, language is like an ever-flowing, and more importantly, ever-growing river. English is a perfect example, which has been importing words from all languages. It’s almost as adaptive as any language can possibly be. No wonder the most embracing language is being embraced so widely. If the language stops evolving, it can face erosion. Or worse, extinction.
There’s a growing concern in India that we’re loosing languages like Hindi, Gujarati, Bengali due to the spread of English in day-to-day conversations, especially among the younger generation. I think it’s quite a valid concern, but if we want to save our languages, we need to be more forgiving and less restrictive of things like word-imports. Tightening our firm grips to save the perceived sanctity of our languages – the purist attitude – may result in their eventual (and sad) demise.
P.S. That millionth English word might be a publicity gimmick, but Oxford English Dictionary lists around 600,000 words and that count surpasses all other languages by a huge margin.