English isn't uniquely expressive or fluid, but it is uniquely, dysfunctionally weird

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2017/06/12/tough-coughs-as-he-ploughs-dou.html


My two recent immigrant coworkers and I love to “murder the King’s good english” whilst enjoying a whiskey. You must try, it’s a wonderful game.


The amalgam of inconsistently blended Celtic, Norse, French and Latin make English a nightmare to learn, speak and spell

Spell maybe (and all the tenses are a bit complicated), but otherwise English is a wonderfully easy language to learn. You may have no idea what depths of gendered nouns, cases and conjugation horrors other tongues hold…


How can English be “weird Upload FilesMedia Library”?


Whenever I make a mistake, I just retroactively mean what I said. That’s English.


The term " English’s weirdnesses" sounds awkward even to native English speakers.

I know there was a period in English history towards the end of Middle English where scholars were trying to standardize words/grammar, and were arguing what were “real” English words, which even at that point was a pretty silly debate to have. Whatever the people in England were speaking, that was English, like it or not.


English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.

– James Nicoll


That prescriptivist arguing never stopped.

It’s why people mistakenly believe that “literally” hasn’t always meant “figuratively”, and why some still argue that “he” is a valid stand-in for “she”.

The prescriptivist are wrong, and always have been wrong.


Having taken a few distinct language classes in college I was always struck by the willingness to declare a percentage of ‘origin’ to English. The French professor declaring with utter certainty: “English is 60% derived from French”. So it was with a slightly raised eyebrow that my German instructor informed us: “English is 75% German; only with terrible grammar”. (The Russian Prof suggested no such connection, and probably considered that a virtue). Mostly I learned to appreciate English dropping the damn genders - why does a spoon need a gender!? (“Because, she sits next to him the knife so nicely”)


My latin teacher said over 90% latin.

Maybe English is 350% of a language?


English may be hard to learn correctly, but it’s a very easy language to learn badly and still be understood.


Time to post this gem again:


I’ve lived in non-English speaking places for a while. I don’t know if I’ve ever met any non-native speaker who thought English was difficult to learn. I’ve only heard native English speakers (often who don’t speak any other language) say this. English has a plug-and-play grammar that is much easier to learn than languages that are heavily conjugated. And it’s cultural presence everywhere means people are often pretty familiar with it.


No, its not. English is pretty easy, even if you need a good memory to correctly spell some words.


“The amalgam of inconsistently blended Celtic, Norse, French and Latin make English a nightmare to learn, speak and spell – which makes the language’s success in the world something of a miracle.”

I disagree.
English is

  1. Sort of modular1); i.e. you can make it work with a very limited vocabluary2). Say 400 to 500 words for basic survival (getting from A to B in one piece without starving). Yet it is the language with the largest vocabulary, not least due to all the technical and scientific terms that just keep on proliferating.
  2. Has a very robust or resilient grammar; i.e. the grammar can take a lot of abuse until it breaks down and the meaning is lost.
    Which makes English easy to learn and to use. You can start small and just build up on that.

1) I’m sure there is a technical term for that.
2) See Randall Munroe’s Thing Explainer, for example.


But what if you’re Jared Kushner - which language do you choose to get better at? I’d say Russian, go where the money is.

1 Like

indeed, and in fact the article itself contradicts the idea that English is hard:

In that sense, English is ‘easier’ than other Germanic languages, and it’s because of those Vikings.

1 Like

You sound a bit like a prescriptivist yourself.

Maybe the percentage overflow is the cause of the many problems. Like a Doctor Who thing where timelines coexisting create a big ball of wibbly-wobbly… timey-wimey… stuff.

But with words.


“Don’t listen to what I’m saying, listen to what I’m trying to say!”