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Languages on Coins


jlueke
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Has every living language appeared on a coin? Have any dead ones? I bet it would be easy to collect 100 different languages how about 200?

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Interesting question. I would assume that in ancient times only the languages of the predominent powers such as Persia or Rome would appear on the majority of coinage. BUT I'd love to hear from folks who really know about this type of thing. Terrific thread!!!

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There are six thousand living languages, though the number is declining. So the answer to your first question is clearly no. It's a little easier to put multiple languages on paper money but even there, I am sure the answer is no. There are plenty of Native American languages, just for instance, that have never made it onto money, much less a coin. (In fact I don't think ANY Native American language spoken only in the US or Mexico has made it onto a coin; Canada might have done something with Inuit.) Other places with lots of languages that never made it would be Australia, New Guinea, Siberia... you get the picture.

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(In fact I don't think ANY Native American language spoken only in the US or Mexico has made it onto a coin; Canada might have done something with Inuit.)

 

re: Inuit - see designer's signature on Canadian April 1999 type 25c

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I have read somewhere that there are currently over 800 distinct languages spoken in India alone. I have to imagine there are more than a few of them that have never been on coins because the areas were controlled by other powers that spoke their own language.

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Hi Steve, I didn't know there were that many even if one gets into dialects versus new language. I guess I was thinking 200 countries with just a few extra languages. So maybe a more interesting question would be what are all the languages not put on coinage and does that say anything about the society?

 

As for ancient languages, there's obviously Greek and Latin. I know of Aramaic, Hebrew, Nabatean (potentially a dialect of Aramaic), Punic - Carthaginian and Lebanese, Kushan (I think they used two languages with Greek letters), Pahlavi (Middle Persian, I don't know about archaic Persian). There's obviously some Chinese as well, I don't know about Indian. The Celts as far as I can recall didn't use a language on their coins.

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In many cases those languages are spoken by small tribal groups that may very well only use money when the occasional outsider comes in. I am thinking of places like the Amazon valley, the interior of New Guinea, etc. I know the Phillipines has a surprising number of languages too.

 

Papua New Guinea boasts 820 languages but only three are official (English, Tok Pisin (which is a pidgin; English speakers can generally read it and get the drift) and Hiri Motu.) From what little I can find out about the currency, it's in English.

 

There are also quite a number of languages spoken by Native Americans that like most of the languages of PNG never developed any kind of writing on their own; the languages are written down only by linguists studying them. Of course at the other end of the spectrum is Cherokee.

 

The Russians, in moving across the easternmost parts of Europe and Siberia, encountered a lot of indigenous peoples, many of whom were wiped out but many others survive today and have their own republics within the Russian Federation, with varying degrees of autonomy. (I don't know enough to judge that relative to US Indian reservations.) Many of these ethnic groups have hundreds of thousands or even a couple of million people in them... yet they use Russian rubles. (Anything from Yakut (familiar to Risk players, but now it's called Sakha), to Mari, to Tatarstan...) Back in the days of the USSR the paper money had as many 15 or 16 languages on it in small print, one for each of the old Soviet Socialist Republics (SSRs), which today are independent countries. (The 16th SSR, Karelia, was re-absorbed into the Russian SFSR back in Stalin's day, so it didn't eventually become independent in 1991-92.)

 

Presently, one of the many Russians on this board will come along and correct all the mistakes I made in the previous paragraph and I will gladly stand corrected. Even so the point remains, that a lot of languages survive in areas conquered by another power, but don't make it onto currency.

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