Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Why is English the language of the world?

Old NFO has a hilarious post about the idiosyncrasies of the English language:
You think English is easy??

I think a retired English teacher was bored…THIS IS GREAT!
Read all the way to the end, this took a lot of work to put together!

1) The bandage was wound around the wound.
2) The farm was used to produce produce.

3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse
He has a lot more, basically demonstrating that English makes no sense.  I even added my own poor comment on how English is illogical and self-contradictory.  But the question is brought to the fore: why was it English that has become the World's Language?  Because that's precisely what it has become:

This series, The Story Of English, is one of the best things I've seen on TV.  It's hosted (fabulously) by the great Robin MacNeil, and makes the point that answers the question: while there's a "correct" form of English* it's seen as more than a little bit stuffy - even quite simple "pigeon" English is easily understood by large numbers of people.

In short, the language is adaptable to a fault.  You might say that as we adapt the language to maximize it's adaptability because we worship adaptation.  Verb, object, noun - all in a single word.  That sound you just heard is heads exploding at l'Académie française.

I once went to a company training session.  One of the other students was from Belgium, and told me that while there were three official languages recognized as Belgian by the Belgian government (French, Dutch, and German), Belgians only learned two: their native tongue and English.  You see, they could converse with fellow native tongue speakers in that language, but they could communicate with all Belgians in English.  You might call it a lingua franca.  Again, the noise is Académie française heads exploding.

In particular English is the language to learn in the emerging world.  The reason is that it opens doors to the upwardly mobile, and so is a language of status.  This is a long, long way from the Old English of Anglo-Saxon days, as recounted by J. R. R. Tolkien (scholar of Anglo-Saxon literature).  This is a little dated (California dynamism?) but covers the dynamism of the language.

This is highly, highly recommended - as is the book that went with the series (no, you can't have mine, but you should be able to find it for small money on Amazon).  If you are remotely interested in why a backwater language from the Dark Ages European Periphery became the international language of air travel and business, you can do a lot worse than a few hours on Youtube with this.

* Well, what incorrect people consider to be "correct".

1 comment:

Sherm said...

The book, while good, just doesn't cut it. For the most part the program concerned spoken English and its derivatives. Hearing English spoken on some island off the USA coast and hearing, again, that same accented English in some village in England cannot be captured well on a printed page. It becomes even more a problem during the episodes with pidgin English and similar constructs where there is no standardized spelling or even structure.

The show itself, however, marvelous; It is one of my all time favorite public tv shows.