English is a crazy language essays

English is a crazy language essays

Feb 16,  · english is a crazy language essay richard lederer In , separate exams in ap english language and composition and ap for sample multiple-choice questions, refer to the course description below are free-response questions from past english literature and composition exams. English Is A Crazy Language Let's face it -- here is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren't invented in England or French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren't sweet, are meat. We take English for granted. Jul 13,  · ENGLISH IS A CRAZY LANGUAGE RICHARD LEDERER Concord, New HaITIpshire The English language is the ITIost widely spoken in the history of our planet. The English language has acquired the largest vocabulary and the noblest literature in the history of the hUITIan race. Nonetheless, English is a crazy language. Richard Lederer's essay, "The Strange Case of the English Language," has opened our minds to the fact that English is such a crazy language, after all.. Despite the fact that it is the one of the most contradicting languages in the history of linguistics, English has still been the most widely spoken language on our planet for years. English is a Crazy Language. This piece by Richard Lederer is very famous. Let's face it -- English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren't invented in England or French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren't sweet, are meat.

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Death and the word; William conquers Harold and the English language. Photo courtesy British Library. John McWhorter. Brought to you by Curio , an Aeon partner. English speakers know that their language is odd. So do people saddled with learning it non-natively.

English is not normal

The oddity that we all perceive most readily is its spelling, which is indeed a nightmare. For a normal language, spelling at least pretends a basic correspondence to the way people pronounce the words.

But English is not normal. Spelling is a matter of writing, of course, whereas language is fundamentally about speaking. Yet even in its spoken form, English is weird.

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There is no other language, for example, that is close enough to English that we can get about half of what people are saying without training and the rest with only modest effort. But that sentence is a cooked one, and overall, we tend to find that Frisian seems more like German, which it is.

More weirdness? And try naming another language where you have to slip do into sentences to negate or question something. Do you find that difficult? Unless you happen to be from Wales, Ireland or the north of France, probably.

Why is our language so eccentric? E nglish started out as, essentially, a kind of German. Old English is so unlike the modern version that it feels like a stretch to think of them as the same language at all. Icelanders can still read similar stories written in the Old Norse ancestor of their language 1, years ago, and yet, to the untrained eye, Beowulf might as well be in Turkish.

The first thing that got us from there to here was the fact that, when the Angles, Saxons and Jutes and also Frisians brought their language to England, the island was already inhabited by people who spoke very different tongues.

The Celts were subjugated but survived, and since there were only about , Germanic invaders — roughly the population of a modest burg such as Jersey City — very quickly most of the people speaking Old English were Celts.

english is a crazy language essay richard lederer

Crucially, their languages were quite unlike English. For one thing, the verb came first came first the verb. But also, they had an odd construction with the verb do : they used it to form a question, to make a sentence negative, and even just as a kind of seasoning before any verb.

Do you walk? I do not walk.

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I do walk. That looks familiar now because the Celts started doing it in their rendition of English. But before that, such sentences would have seemed bizarre to an English speaker — as they would today in just about any language other than our own and the surviving Celtic ones.

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  • Notice how even to dwell upon this queer usage of do is to realise something odd in oneself, like being made aware that there is always a tongue in your mouth. At this date there is no documented language on earth beyond Celtic and English that uses do in just this way.

    Well, you are — in Celtic numbers, chewed up over time but recognisably descended from the ones rural Britishers used when counting animals and playing games.

    The second thing that happened was that yet more Germanic-speakers came across the sea meaning business.

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  • This wave began in the ninth century, and this time the invaders were speaking another Germanic offshoot, Old Norse. Instead, they married local women and switched to English. There was no such thing as school, and no media. Learning a new language meant listening hard and trying your best.

    We can only imagine what kind of German most of us would speak if this was how we had to learn it, never seeing it written down, and with a great deal more on our plates butchering animals, people and so on than just working on our accents.

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  • As long as the invaders got their meaning across, that was fine. So the Scandinavians did pretty much what we would expect: they spoke bad Old English. Their kids heard as much of that as they did real Old English. Life went on, and pretty soon their bad Old English was real English, and here we are today: the Scandies made English easier. I should make a qualification here. Likewise, some languages plainly jangle with more bells and whistles than others. If someone were told he had a year to get as good at either Russian or Hebrew as possible, and would lose a fingernail for every mistake he made during a three-minute test of his competence, only the masochist would choose Russian — unless he already happened to speak a language related to it.

    Here and in other ways, they smoothed out the hard stuff. They also followed the lead of the Celts, rendering the language in whatever way seemed most natural to them. But the words were just the beginning. They also left their mark on English grammar. Blissfully, it is becoming rare to be taught that it is wrong to say Which town do you come from? Every now and then a language turns out to allow this: one indigenous one in Mexico, another one in Liberia.

    We can display all these bizarre Norse influences in a single sentence. All that strangeness is because of what Scandinavian Vikings did to good old English back in the day. After the Norse came the French. The Normans — descended from the same Vikings, as it happens — conquered England, ruled for several centuries and, before long, English had picked up 10, new words.

    Then, starting in the 16th century, educated Anglophones developed a sense of English as a vehicle of sophisticated writing, and so it became fashionable to cherry-pick words from Latin to lend the language a more elevated tone. Think of how French pedants today turn up their noses at the flood of English words into their language.

    But language tends not to do what we want it to.

    English is a crazy language essays

    The die was cast: English had thousands of new words competing with native English words for the same things. One result was triplets allowing us to express ideas with varying degrees of formality.

    Help is English, aid is French, assist is Latin. Or, kingly is English, royal is French, regal is Latin — note how one imagines posture improving with each level: kingly sounds almost mocking, regal is straight-backed like a throne, royal is somewhere in the middle, a worthy but fallible monarch. Especially noteworthy here are the culinary transformations: we kill a cow or a pig English to yield beef or pork French.

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    Well, generally in Norman England, English-speaking labourers did the slaughtering for moneyed French speakers at table. Caveat lector , though: traditional accounts of English tend to oversell what these imported levels of formality in our vocabulary really mean. It is sometimes said that they alone make the vocabulary of English uniquely rich, which is what Robert McCrum, William Cran and Robert MacNeil claim in the classic The Story of English : that the first load of Latin words actually lent Old English speakers the ability to express abstract thought.

    But no one has ever quantified richness or abstractness in that sense who are the people of any level of development who evidence no abstract thought, or even no ability to express it? Languages, like human cognition, are too nuanced, even messy, to be so elementary. Even unwritten languages have formal registers.

    Even in English, native roots do more than we always recognise. N evertheless, the Latinate invasion did leave genuine peculiarities in our language. The English notion that big words are fancier is due to the fact that French and especially Latin words tend to be longer than Old English ones — end versus conclusion , walk versus ambulate.

    English is a crazy language essays

    The multiple influxes of foreign vocabulary also partly explain the striking fact that English words can trace to so many different sources — often several within the same sentence. The very idea of etymology being a polyglot smorgasbord, each word a fascinating story of migration and exchange, seems everyday to us. But the roots of a great many languages are much duller. The typical word comes from, well, an earlier version of that same word and there it is. The study of etymology holds little interest for, say, Arabic speakers.

    According to a fashion that reached its zenith in the 19th century, scientific things had to be given Greek names. But this muttly vocabulary is one of the things that puts such a distance between English and its nearest linguistic neighbours. And finally, because of this firehose spray, we English speakers also have to contend with two different ways of accenting words.

    Crazy English

    Clip on a suffix to the word wonder , and you get wonderful. Thus the story of English, from when it hit British shores 1, years ago to today, is that of a language becoming delightfully odd. Much more has happened to it in that time than to any of its relatives, or to most languages on Earth.