English is what happens if you leave French and Dutch alone in a room together.


7 thoughts on “English

  1. Have to say that I feel incredibly lucky to have been born into an era when my native tongue holds sway over the world, at least in the sense of formal international relations and communications.
    I also consider myself lucky that I learned this mongrel language when I was young and didn’t know any better. Having worked with people from all over the world for whom English is a second or third language, I often wonder why people bother learning it. It is a complete mess and yet, I guess, that is what makes it so rich and vital.

    • Languages seem to fall on a rules-exceptions scale, from lots of rules but few exceptions (Latin) to few rules but lots of exceptions (English).

      • Does it follow then that Rome was a pretty homogeneous society? At last at the time the language developed? (cf. Finland?)

      • Actually, historically speaking, the uniformity of Finnish isn’t entirely true. Local tribes (& their dialects) were the most prominent identities for Finnish-speaking people(s) for centuries. Finnish was first written down in the 1540s for a bible translation, but it was based on the south east dialect (Turku and environs), so even if you could read, what you read wasn’t necessarily readily understandable because it wasn’t in your native dialect. There is a clear divide between eastern and western dialects in Finland that remains to this day, even if it isn’t quite as sharp as before. For instance, the south west dialect shares some grammatical features with Estonian (one of the closest relatives of Finnish) that aren’t familiar to the rest of the country.

        Only in the 1800s did this start changing – indeed, it was changed deliberately. Reading was becoming more common, but the wave of romanticism and nationalism sweeping Europe was what spurred Finns into creating a unified identity as Finns out of the separate tribes & dialects during the latter half of the century. We had been under Swedish rule from 1200s and from 1809 part of Russia; there’s a famous slogan from the time that translates roughly as “Swedes we are not, Russians we will not become, let us, therefore, be Finns.”

        So, at the time, as part of forming this new, national identity, the modern normative written Finnish was deliberately mashed together (both grammar and vocabulary) out of elements from both dialect areas. What looks to us now like unified Finnish is a conscious construction that’s barely 100-150 years old, and as I said, that only applies to the normative use. Everyday Finnish is drastically different, which makes another challenge for language learners.

        There is a potential parallel here, though. Since Rome basically is the coming together of smaller villages in the area, what we know as classical Latin may have been codified and “frozen” in a similar manner into one normative form to facilitate more effective administration – as we know, Romans were big on effectiveness and systems thinking. I haven’t a clue whether this is what actually happened – haven’t read up on the formation of Latin – but it would fit what I know of language formation in general and the Roman mentality in particular.

      • I don’t know the very early history of Latin well enough to compare, but the early history of Rome was a coming together of separate but closely connected villages and cities. It’s reflected in the mythology of Romulus and Remus, the Sabine women, and so on.

  2. Languages are more like Frankenstein than anything else- piecing together different parts of a whole from different languages, hoping that the thing will obey them after the lightning hits.

  3. You know, for as many things as English does have that seem messed up, at least you don’t have to remember whether any given object is male, female, or neutral… that one bugs me in so many other languages.
    That said, we do have a lot of odd rules.

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