This is the famous Waldseemüller map, from 1507. It is believed to be the first use of the word “America” as a name for the newly-encountered continents. Waldseemüller was apparently impressed with the stories of Amerigo Vespucci, and bestowed the name on today’s South America in honor of Vespucci.
also named North America “Parias” on this map. Parias came directly from a passage in the Four Voyages of Amerigo Vespucci: the expedition arrives at a region that was “situated in the torrid zone directly under the parallel which describes the Tropic of Cancer. And this province is called by them [the inhabitants] Parias.” The (possibly) indigenous name did not stick. (I had not heard the word “Parias” before writing this post, and you probably hadn’t either.) Instead, the two continents are called after a random Italian explorer because a random German mapmaker was a fan of the explorer’s book. But that’s history for you.
The Waldseemüller map was intended for a well-educated, elite audience. It was large, made of twelve panels, each 18 by 24.5 inches (46 cm by 62 cm). The entire map could be hung on a wall, or kept folded for when one wanted to reference a particular panel. One thousand copies of the map were printed, and unfortunately, there remains only one survivor in its entirety. It is now housed at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.
It was made up by Donald Watson, who founded the first organization for those seeking a lifestyle free from animal products in 1944 in London. Watson and his friends – correctly – thought that ‘non-dairy vegetarians’ was a bit too long a term. So they agreed to create a new word, something shorter and easier to say.
Many options were considered, including vitans, dairybans, benevores, and allvegans. They eventually decided on “vegan” as it took the beginning and the end of the word “vegetarian.” It may also have been influenced by the fact that a popular London vegetarian restaurant was named “Vega.”
The first modern sign language for the hearing impaired is credited to Pedro Ponce de Leon, a Spanish Benedictine monk who lived in the 1500s. Native Americans had long used hand gestures to communicate with other tribes and to facilitate trade with Europeans. Inspired, de Leon adapted the gestures used at his monastery to create a method to teach the deaf to communicate.
de Leon’s first success was with Gaspard Burgos, a deaf man who, because of his difficulty with oral communication, had been denied membership in the Benedictine order. Under de Leon’s tutelage, Burgos learned to speak so that he could make his confession. Burgos later wrote a number of books. de Leon went on to teach a number of other individuals how to speak and write, using his sign language, but his exact methods of teaching have been lost to history.
It took another Spanish cleric building on his work, one Juan Pablo Bonet, to write the first surviving work on educating individuals with hearing disabilities. Titled “Summary of the letters and the art of teaching speech to the mute” it was published in Madrid in 1620. However, both de Leon and Bonet focused on teaching the deaf to speak and write, and their sign languages were systems used to facilitate that. Their manual systems were not true “languages” with grammar and syntax.
In the Ubang language of southern Nigeria, men and women speak different languages. While there are many words that men and women share, there are others which are different depending on their gender. It’s not a matter of adding a suffix or changing the tense – men’s words and women’s words are totally different, with different letters and different sounds.
Raised by their mothers and other women, boys grow up speaking the female language, but at age 10 they’re expected to switch to the male. “There is a stage the male will reach and he discovers he is not using his rightful language,” says Chief Oliver Ibang. “Nobody will tell him he should change to the male language. … When he starts speaking the men language, you know the maturity is coming into him.” Boys who do not make the switch by a certain age are considered abnormal.
According to Chief Ibang, the Ubang’s unique language(s) are from heaven. “God created Adam and Eve and they were Ubang people…” God had initially wanted every group to have two languages, but after giving the to the Ubang, God did the math and realized there were not enough languages for every group to get two. “So he stopped. That’s why Ubang has the benefit of two languages — we are different from other people in the world.”
Around the world today, there are roughly 440 living languages which are descended from Indo-European. More than 300 belong to the Indo-Iraninan branch which includes Urdu, Bengali, and Romani. That diversity is a hint of where the mother tongue came from: probably closer to India than to Europe. Although the area between India and Europe is large, so that’s not too definitive.
Aborigines whose language in the Yolŋu Matha linguistic family, in Australia, often practiced exogamy, marrying outside their group. This meant mothers and fathers would speak different languages of Yolŋu Matha – deliberately – so the child would grow up speaking at least two languages.
This was actually a good thing, because there are about six languages in the Yolŋu Matha family, some mutually intelligible, divided into about thirty clan varieties and perhaps twelve different dialects, each with its own Yolŋu name. Having groups where members could speak multiple languages presumably helped groups communicate, and survive.