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date: 14 June 2024


The Oxford Companion to Philosophy
Simon BlackburnSimon Blackburn

What do we share when we share a language? Just as we count species by asking whether two candidates for the same species can interbreed, so we count languages by asking whether bringing speakers of them together breeds communication. By such a measure the world contains at least 4,500 natural languages, or languages naturally learned and spoken. Africa contains between 700 and 3,000; New Guinea languages alone number around 1,100, divided into some sixty families (it is the task of anthropological linguistics to bring a theoretical taxonomy into the superficial chaos). The imprecision of counting reflects phonetic, grammatical, and semantic lapses from perfect identity.... ...

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