People often describe German, my native language, as hard and aggressive. They relish criticizing its guttural sounds, long compound words, and the sentence structure, which is said to be especially complex. Perhaps you’ve seen the much-shared video featuring characters like a Bavarian in traditional costume who says a series of German words – but instead of pronouncing them “normally,” he exaggerates the harsh sounds to an absurd degree. A few months ago I took part in a less-than-enjoyable Facebook discussion devoted to the question of what anybody could ever find appealing about German. I quickly found myself in the position of trying to defend my native tongue – and soon gave up, since no one seemed inclined to change their entrenched opinion.

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His most recent book is Birdmania: A Particular Passion for Birds. His… More…

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. That’s what John says in his Gospel. But the story of the Word is more complicated for human beings. Creatures roughly like us in all the essential ways have existed for a couple of hundred thousand years. But it was only around 30,000 years ago, more or less, that people started talking to one another in any way that we would recognize as language. A threshold was crossed, an innovation took root. No one knows exactly how or why it happened. It just happened, and at around that time something we can call language began truly to take root and spread amongst the species we call Homo sapiens. The “sapiens” (Latin for “wisdom”) refers to the way that our species has consciousness, awareness, the ability to reason, and so forth.

More…