Language: A verifiable instrument for measuring historical developments (Part II)

By Nancy Olakunle


With new historical landmarks come new experiences, change in outlooks to life, and subsequently, change in vocabularies. Gradually over the centuries, new inventions have resulted in new words because these new innovations are given names and associated words. For instance, there was a time when the word “money” was inexistent. But as the world evolved and moved from trade by barter to the point where a particular item would become generally accepted as a medium of exchange, the word “money” found its way into human vocabulary. The same goes for inventions such as cars, boats, electricity, generators, and time gauges such as watches and wall clocks.
Another major example of how language documents history is the case of style. As the world progressed, different dressing styles have come and gone, but their names have remained with people as reminders of their existence. In Yorubaland of Nigeria for example, clothes like “aso oke”, “kente”, “dandogo”, “kembe” etc, indicated an era when such were in vogue, and the society have graduated from these names to new forms of the same words, hence, indicating a development and advancement in style and trends.
Language has also been a documenter of history through the constantly, changing cultures of the world. There used to be a time when the word “pants” in the Nigerian society referred to undergarments. But today, pants refer to a part of the normal garments. Cell-phones arrived in the world technological platform with a name already given to it, though it is good to note that something called telephones used to be the rage of a time past. Telephone came, spent its time and is almost extinct now in most homes, as it has given way to something called cell-phones. Even cell-phones are evolving into new words like “android phones” and “symbian phones” to mention a few.
With each new invention, new words are invented and old words take on new meanings.
In essence, what we learnt from all these examples is that names continue to come and go, although some of these words survive the test of times and historical evolution.
To exemplify the above submission, history’s influence on language and the continual usage is reflected in how the word “China” doesn’t just refer to a country. Because the contact and resultant relationship between Britain and China led to a trade that involved some nice breakable dinner sets, due to reasons completely known to them, the British resorted to calling these beautiful kitchen wares simply “China”. Even if tomorrow, the relationship between China and Britain ceases to exist, this language will continue to bear witness to that relationship that once existed.
There are endless examples to site as reflected on the words that we use every day, Terms which reminds us of events that otherwise we would not have remembered. Even in our immediate surroundings, terms like “My oga at the top”, “Na only you waka come”, “Eko o ni baje”, “Ko duro soke”, and many more will remain in the society of origin for long as reminders of happenings in this era of ours, and they would probably even influence people’s way of talking for a long time to come.
The obvious truth, though, is that these languages and terms, together with the innuendos they seem to portend, will always serve as reminders and documenters of historical events as long as societies exist.