In my last post, I enumerated quite a number of ways Literature had being useful to humanity, and also how it had been used dangerously and how through it, it had been quite handful in correcting misinformed literature. Well, I think at this point it is impertinent to ignore the mother of literature which is clearly language. Language is one of the earliest inhabitants of the world, as early as when human beings multiplied from one to any figure we have today. There is the constant need for human beings to communicate, not just to interact of course but to understand and tolerate, on the basis of which agreement and progress could be achieved. And language had always being there to help them out, even to the extent of building societies which constitutes the global village. I’m a language student, and if I’m obliged to speak on what language is and how important it is, I would have enough to say but this post has nothing to with linguistics. Rather I want to introduce you to the contributory power of literature to the development of language as a whole, and it is quite difficult to grasp this if we fail to make an emphatic pointer to the etymological meaning of literature. Literature is derived from the word ‘literate’ which means to ‘read’ and ‘write’, and giving this definition is not meant to disregard any of the extensive meanings of literature; literature have a complex and acceptable body of definitions, especially, since the advent of technological innovations and outlets.
First of all, I would like to start the journey of this exploration from the western world, and when I say western world, I mean Europe. One of the earliest languages exposed to the contributory power of literature is Greek and Latin. That is because those were the first sets of languages that were exposed to the level of literature which was fairly above the basic sources of literature which were oral tradition and culture. Ancient Greece had once been the world power, and besides the imposition of Greek by the Greek government on other nations which were mostly acquired constituents of the Greek Empire, literary stalwarts like Socrates, Aristophanes, Euripides help in developing the Greek Language by writing plays, mostly tragedies and rarely comedies. Apart from that, due to the spread of Christianity beyond the borders of the Jewish nation, and the fact that Greek was Lingua Franca of the world at that time- making Greek considerably a more ‘superior’ language to Hebrew and Aramaic; the bible was translated and read by the world in Greek, hence, strengthening the Greek language. Developing a language has to do with the expansion of its vocabulary, popularity, acceptability and indirectly improving the study of its grammar. After the fall of Greece, Latin, a language spoken in ancient Rome took over from Greek as the world’s Lingua Franca. This is rapidly followed by the translation of the bible from Greek to Latin, and in the wake of the beginning of Roman Catholic, the Pope degree the compulsory adoption of Latin as the only sacred language of the bible. According to religious scholars and historians, it was a heresy- punishable by public immolation- to read the bible in other languages which were considered as ‘inferior’. This under duress encouraged the wide learning and usage- especially when it comes to literature, that is, reading and writing- of Latin, and you could imagine the great advantage that was to the development of Latin as a language.
Now, you might find yourself wondering why these languages, despite their exploits then, are hardly known today. Well, that is because literatures are now less written in these languages, compared to the new literature champions like English and Arabic. Before I go into a surface survey of the history of English language and how it gained prominence as it is seen today through the contributory power of literature, I want to draw your attention to Arabic language. Arabic language is one of the most, if not the most widely spoken language in the world, however, in Africa, Arabic is top on the list followed by Swahili. Well, if you can speak English or perhaps French and Arabic is quite alien to you, and you are wondering how Arabic came to attain such level of popularity, the answer to that question is quite clear. Arabic is the Lingua Franca of the Arab world because the original language of the religion in the Arab world is Arabic. The Qur’an and Islamic literatures are written and read in Arabic, not that the Qur’an had not been translated to other languages, but mostly, the Arabic version of the Qur’an is recited. Furthermore, the Arab world began to expand their constituencies mostly through jihad in parts of the Middle East, the Mesopotamia borders, North Africa and so on. And the jihadists, after conquering a territory, made it a culture to establish, alongside the building of Mosques, Qur’anic schools where the pupils were taught how to recite the Qur’an and master Islamic precepts, literatures and education in Arabic, thus underpinning the development of Arabic as a language.
Back to English Language, the pattern of its development is somewhat identical to others which I have mentioned earlier, be it Greek, Latin or Arabic, and that was through colonization. Even the United States of America -the present world power- was colonised by England. But before now, English Language was nothing to identify with. The English Language was given birth to after the coming together of the Anglos, who were originally of the English ancestry and the Saxons, who belonged to an ancient West Germanic tribe that settled in England during the early fifth century. The amalgamation of the Anglos and Saxons gave rise to the Anglo-Saxon domain who adopted the Old English as their language. The Old English then developed to any of the Englishes in the world today, that is, the Australian English, American English, Indian English, Canadian English, Nigerian English and so on which are nativized versions of the original English from Great Britain. The English nation started to encounter a rise in the development of their language basically when it took a giant stride of translating the bible into English. This was engendered by King James I, who ordered the translation of the bible.
Following the commencement of the Renaissance age- the rebirth of learning, which was marked by the fall of Rome, Italian writers, like Francesco Petrarca moved into England and literary works of these foreign writers were translated from Greek and Latin into English. Subsequently, writers of English descent started to write in English, even though some scholars believed that Greek and Latin were more superior and were languages more appropriate for literature than English. The likes of Daniel Defoe, who wrote the first English novel, entitled Robinson Crusoe, William Shakespeare, who is considered the Father of English Drama came into limelight. And across many of the ages, like Renaissance, Neo-classical, Romantic, Elizabethan, Victorian and so on, many of the greatest English poets, playwright and novelists were produce, like John Keats, William Wordsworth, John Donne, Alexander Pope, Charles Dickens, Christopher Marlowe and many more.
More so, the English explorers and missionaries started dispersing in great and persistent troops to different parts of the world where, in other to communicate and preach the Christian doctrine effectively, the missionaries established schools manned with the English Curriculum. Because these schools were operated in accordance with the English Curriculum, only the literatures of the Englishmen were read in schools. This, in summary, was how English Language became a highly developed language, and even after decolonization, English Language, though a variation of it, was still spoken, and the emerging literatures from the former British colonies were written in English Language, thus fortifying the prominence and development of English Language.