Spoken versus Written Language

A totally random point re: spoken vs. written language. A few years ago, I watched the five-part BBC documentary “India,” which I totally recommend. The series starts off in Southern India in Kerala with the priests of an ancient fire worship religion that passes down their prayers from one generation to the next orally. This has been repeated uninterrupted for thousands upon thousands of years. The language itself is dead and the priests no longer even know what the prayers actually mean, yet they dutifully and perfectly transmit the sound of the words from one generation to the other. There is no written form of the language either. Scientists think this might be one of the oldest forms of language that still exists, but we have no idea what any of it means. I find it fascinating and so bizarre. They make sure the younger novices (children, who spend their lives learning these prayers) perfectly repeat and regurgitate the “correct” form of the prayer, but no one understands it! I think there’s something to take from that about what happens to a language when it doesn’t change/morph with time. Living languages change with time, dead ones stay the same.

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