From: Michael Everson <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask] 
Sent: Friday, June 15, 2012 4:54:12 AM
Subject: Re: Ot: Language Envy and Language Pride

On 15 Jun 2012, at 01:46, Andrew Jarrette wrote:

>> I am a native speaker of English.  I often wish I was a native speaker of another language.  I am ashamed of English and envious of other languages.

>You could always learn Trollish.

>> I am ashamed of English because primarily of its extreme reliance on borrowed words to make up its vocabulary.

>And that is shameful... why?

Because the English part of English is so weak.  We've had to rely on foreign donors to strengthen our vocabulary, primarily because of loss of native vocabulary.  Originally English didn't rely so heavily on foreign borrowings.

>> It has lost most of its original native Germanic vocabulary,


This is VERY true, as anyone who's studied Old English can attest to.  I've studied Old English and I have an Old English dictionary, and I'd say about 90% of Old English has died out.

>> and has borrowed so thoroughly from Latin and French and other languages, that now less than 20% of its vocabulary is native, and 60% is Romance.

>I am sure these statistics are flawed. Of the 2,000 most common words, most are English. Yes, when you get to scientific terminology, Romance and Hellenic roots rise in number.

They're based on entries in the Oxford English Dictionary, not frequency of use.

>> How can we continue to call it "English" if it is now mostly French and Latin?


Not nonsense at all, just open any dictionary and you will see that most of the words are from Latin and French.

>> I envy the other Germanic languages, who have kept far more of their native vocabulary, and have relied on native roots much more to build new vocabulary.

>Danish borrows quite happily. As does German. And Dutch. And Swedish and Norwegian. Icelandic doesn't. And Icelandic is admirable and well worth learning. 

But they don't borrow anywhere near the extent to which English does.  They all preserve far more of their native vocabulary, and form new words based on native vocabulary far more than English does.

>> I also envy, among European languages, the Slavic languages for their purity as well.

>Except that huge amounts of Slavic vocabulary is post-medieval loan-translation from German or Latin. E-ditio, Aus-gabe, Iz-danie. That "purity" isn't there. 

You have a point.

>> The Romance languages have borrowed heavily from Latin, which is their ancestral language, so they are a different case, but nevertheless their vocabulary is by far mostly within the Romance family, including ancestral Latin.

>So? Go learn Navajo or Greenlandic then.

>> I am also ashamed of English because of its abysmal spelling and pronunciation system.

Oh, not that tired canard again. 

> >It is so extremely inconsistent and unpredictable,

>No, it isn't. It's quite regular.

Compared to the spelling of other languages, it is.

 >It could stand some further regularization. Axel Wijk's "Regularized English" lays out the best and most sensible plan with the highest retention of links with the historic orthography.

> >I would say probably the world's worst.

You haven't studied Tibetan or Burmese, it seems. 

No.  I admit I'm not familiar with the spelling of languages that don't use the Roman, Cyrillic, or Greek Alphabet.  I'll amend my statement: the world's worst spelling of languages that use the Roman Alphabet.

>> This is something that could be fixed if we wanted to.

>English spelling reform might come from outside the English-speaking countries. A bloc of countries could say "We have to learn English, but we'd like to promote a reformed spelling." And if they did it, and stuck to it, it would produce text in that orthography which eventually native speakers would have to read (and if it were Wijk's system, they could do so easily). That might eventually tip the scales in favour of reform. 

Some people (e.g. some Japanese) have already said this.

>> I envy other languages that have more phonetic and more regular spelling systems, which are practically every other language on Earth.  

>Your own spelling is competent. Methinks thou dost protest for show. 

>> But especially regular and near-phonetic are Finnish, the Slavic languages, Italian, and Spanish.  English should aspire to be like them.

>Languages don't "aspire". 

Alright, we should aspire to make English more like them.  But you knew what I meant.

>> The only things about English that I am proud of are: a) that it is almost alone in having preserved ancestral Indo-European /w/ in initial position -- Dari (Afghan Persian) as far as I know is the only other Indo-European language that preserves this sound in its standard dialect (and even here it may actually be the bilabial approximant, I'm not sure); b) that it generally preserves the Germanic sounds /θ/ and /ð/, a feature which it shares with Icelandic, but Icelandic preserves a far greater number of words with these phonemes than does English; c) that it has no grammatical gender, which I believe is a completely needless feature of many languages which only makes them unnecessarily more difficult to learn (kind of like English spelling) -- Finnish and Hungarian as far as I know are the only other European languages without grammatical gender; d) that it is so widely spoken as a second language.

>That is certainly a peculiar collection of features to admire. 

>> My shame about English has led me to create a hypothetical English that could have evolved if it had retained its Germanic vocabulary and used it to form new words.  

>I still do not see how "shame" figures here. 

>> Of course, its spelling is phonetic, and like modern English, it has lost grammatical gender.  It's my fantasy of what I wish modern English had been.  I'm working on a dictionary of this language, I've got 687 pages so far, still a long way to go.

>Cleanspeech! It appears now and again. "Royal Air Force" becomes "Kingly Wolken Might". 

>> How about speakers of other languages?  Are you mostly proud of your native languages?  Why?  Are there any things about your native languages that you are ashamed of or at least discontent about?

>I'm a native speaker of English who has learned lots of languages. Some of them pretty well. All have richnesses of their own. 

Michael Everson *