Language and Survival

Many experts believe that language was essential to the survival of early Humans. When our ancestors were in competition with Neanderthals for essential resources, the two species were pretty evenly matched in terms of size, strength and agility. Even brain size was fairly similar, despite the popular image of Neanderthals as knuckle-dragging simpletons. The key difference seems to be that the part of the brain that deals with language, called Broca’s area, was much better developed in Humans. This allowed Humans to communicate much more effectively, a vital advantage in primeval times.

The recent Ebola epidemic in West Africa involved millions of people across 3 countries where more than 90 languages were spoken.

For example, experts believe that while Neanderthals would possibly have been able to describe a place where water could be found in simple terms, for instance ‘water is here’, Humans could use tense and nuance to give a much more comprehensive set of instructions – ‘if you go there in the wet season there’ll be a river. If you go there in the dry season, dig a hole where the deepest part of the river was and you should find water’. The theory goes that the edge this gave us allowed us to out-compete the Neanderthals for resources season by season, and established humans as the dominant species.

Translators Without Borders  provided translation of more than 100 items into all relevant languages during the Ebola crisis

Today’s world is very different, but language is no less vital. The recent Ebola epidemic in West Africa involved millions of people across 3 countries where more than 90 languages were spoken. It has been described as a ‘crisis of information’ as much as a public health issue. People desperately needed to know how to stop the infection spreading, how to make their homes safe and what to do if a family member caught the disease, and often these people spoke a specific language not widely known outside the region.

Language is still vital to survive – even in today’s world

Translators Without Borders, a global non-profit organisation committed to providing translations for those who need them most, and of whom Capita TI are proud to be a Bronze Sponsor, was at the forefront of tackling this crisis. They provided not just translation of more than 100 items into all relevant languages between November 2014 and February 2015, including posters, letters and audiovisual content, but also helped to communicate this content to local communities and trained local residents as translators, using their Kenya-based community translation training.

In times of global crisis it can often be the big aid agencies that grab the headlines and the funding, but it’s worth remembering that helping people to communicate is one of the most important things of all.



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