Spoken Languages.

Chamula, Mexico. Their language is not written.

Today I opened a favorite book and began to read.

As far as opening sentences go for blog posts, that’s probably not the most shocking. It’s kind of like what happens on Facebook when you scroll through the statuses of your friends. You usually find out someone has just eaten a corndog, is headed home from work or is engaged in a variety of other activities that really have added zero knowledge to your world.

And yet today I opened a favorite book and began to read.

I make this point yet again because I’ve been pondering what it would be like to live in a community where language is solely a means of oral communication. It seems almost unbelievable that writing systems were developed as early as 3000 B.C. and yet there are still people groups in the world that do not have a written language.

Reading is such a part of my day that I can hardly imagine what it would be like if this skill were removed. This morning when I awoke I reached over and clicked the “off” button on my alarm. Then my arm automatically reached for my cell phone and I scanned all emails, texts and Facebook messages that might have come in during the night and early morning hours. After getting ready I headed downstairs, poured a cup of coffee and sat in front of the computer for my daily news reading ritual. I would estimate that 80-90% of my daily activities are possible because I live in a society with a developed writing system. How different things would be if I did not!

My son is 4 and ready for his second year of preschool this fall. He is beginning to learn letters and sounds and I am anxiously waiting the day when he can pick up a book and read it without having to wait for mommy. I can remember the first book I was able to read. It was a small, square hardback library book with an orange cover. It told a simplified version of the Cinderella story with pink, gray and white illustrations. I thought I had conquered the world!

It is incredibly difficult to estimate how many people groups still do not have a written language. Most of them are smaller minority groups that have been absorbed into a majority culture and have had to play catch up, learning to read a second language before ever experiencing a writing system in their heart language. I can only imagine what it must be like when a linguist begins to work with their community and they learn to read, for the first time, in their native language.

At Live Lingua, we know that language is powerful. Words, both written and oral, can bring about cultural change, open new worldviews and spark the imagination. Today as we strive to learn another language may we do so with gratitude and humility, remembering those around the world who have yet to experience such a privilege!

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