Anglish: English without the imported stuff

Originally published at: Anglish: English without the imported stuff | Boing Boing


'Fess up, this was written by @Flossaluzitarin 's Grandpa, wasn’t it?


… turns out English without the imported stuff sounds a lot like Dutch


Knew this was going to reference Uncleftish Beholding before I clicked.

I’m not sure any language has made it to the modern age without picking up a loanword or two, though. Even French, which struggles in earnest against this, likes to get a mcdo dans le weekend.


Shared with mostly all human languages (apart maybe the ones of very isolated groups).
Between loan and cognate words, purity is unachievable, and I find this mixing and matching fascinating and beautiful, as when when in Swedish I see “trottoar” or “miljö” or even “wall” in English.


English is different from most languages – and I’ll bet this includes Swedish – in the degree to which this borrowing happens. Evidence of this is that the spelling bee is almost purely an English-language phenomenon. In other languages, the relationship between a word’s spelling and pronunciation are straightforward, but in English it depends on where the word was copied from. This is how we can have gags about the English language like the idea that “fish” can be spelled “ghoti” – “gh” as in “tough”, “o” as in “women”, and “ti” as in “nation”.


…if you ignore the fact that English phonetics are position dependent…


Came looking for James Nicoll. Guess I will have to add it myself:

“The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse (prostitute). We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.”
― James D. Nicoll

James Nicoll - Wikipedia(born%20March,the%20Science%20Fiction%20Book%20Club.


This entire exercise seems odd to me. If English bucked natural entropy and eschewed outside influence, it still wouldn’t read like this as it would still evolve internally to include new concepts.


It’s enjoyable as a sort of extended puzzle, and kina atmospheric, but the narrator is such a bitter arsehole that without the language you probably might as well read a Martin Amis novel. I feel like it may have been inspired by that Stewart Lee bit about the Daily Mail reader raging at the Bell Beaker Folk coming over here.


The same phenomenon exists in Russian, and I vaguely remember reading a Russian text composed just of Russian words with no imported words whatsoever; it sounded kinda like the Uncleftish Beholding text, in fact. Russian borrowed heavily from French and to a lesser extent from other European and Asian languages during its development; not as much as English, but still enough to make it pretty much impossible to avoid loanwords.


I’ve been listening to a podcast called The History of the English language (truly amazing production by a man who’s lifetime passion is apparently the history of the English language. He’s a lawyer, not even a linguist.)

He says that English’s extremely large penchant for gathering means that English simply has more words than most other languages on earth, which I suppose is why word games are so popular here.

(Link for podcast, although I get it through my regular podcast app:


Thought surely someone would include RobWords in this discussion!


Jorge Luis Borges made a case that the layers of loanwords are a good feature of English:


“Ghoti” doesn’t work positionally, true. But position dependent does not imply any consistency in a given position.
Cough, rough, bough, and through are a classic example set. All of which are orthographically not needed, since cawf(f), ruff (an onomatopoetic word itself!), bow (also a word!), and thru (ditto! abbv. for the same meaning!) work just fine. We have so many homonyms, homophones, and heteronyms. We have differences in spelling rules that tend to vary largely vary by formality register.

It also doesn’t help that English orthography and spelling were first formalized and standardized by non-English-speaking printers.

As a native speaker I’ll sometimes makeup words on the spot and the people I’m talking too will tend to agree intuitively on both their meaning and spelling, without any of us being quite able to explain why, even when those intuitive senses differ significantly from the basic and most common spelling and affix rules.


I was about to say, “isn’t that just Old English?” but it’s modern grammar and spelling… I dunno, feels like the taint of the Continental languages might be there in the modern forms. [/side-eyes these words for being too Norman]


Regardless of spelling convention, it’s the Latin alphabet. But inventing a new one to better accommodate older pronunciations would be a major tradeoff against making the point to a wider audience.



Among others, I would love to see these come back.


Ash was just useless and is well left behind.


At 3.11:
outrageous comes from French (and the French outrage from Latin, in Italian it’s the same “oltraggio”).
I remembered this video because the slip irked me.

EtA: this and other words make me think that the “-ous” suffix to make a noun into an adjective comes straight from Latin (-osus). I wonder whether there non Latin originated adjective with that structure.

Might have used something like upshaking, (taken from Swedish upprörande).

Disclaimer: lest someone thinks I speak Swedish, let me inform you that (after 15 years) my commandeering of the language is barely enough to pretend I know it on a BBS.
But I know Italian (native) and French, also Latin (as in the Scientific High School curriculum we had 5 years of Latin…).
And, you be the judge, English.


Internet is for þorn!
That one and ð (ETh) still survive in Icelandic and some other Nordic language, with, more or less, the sound you would expect.

When I was helping to plan a ~3 weeks trip in Iceland with CAI, I had added them to my keyboard layout to be able to correctly spell many places and names.

Icelandic in particular is a language that tries to keep foreign influences at a distance, even more than French.
Computer is tölva - a bag word composed by number “tala” and prophetess “völva” - pure genius.
The Swedish “dator” and French “ordinateur” pale in comparison.