Sunday, January 30, 2011

English: Threat or Menace?

I had hoped to avoid the English Thread for a while--I've already partly written posts on worldlangs, literature, and so forth--but apparently it's keeping people up nights. English is everywhere, friends--upstairs, downstairs, and in milady's chamber. Probably in your undies, too. Go ahead and check; I won't watch.

Done? Good. Now take some deep breaths and consider some facts:

English is not the Antichrist. You aren't damned for speaking or learning it, though you may feel otherwise. It's just The Language right now, much as Latin was in the Middle Ages or French for a few centuries after that.

They weren't the Antichrist either.

It's not a good idea to try a frontal assault on English. There's an allegorical movie about the result of defying this principle, and you can watch several versions on YouTube. Stick with the original: it's honest. And remember that Godzilla is English, Bambi is Esperanto, and every other auxlang in the world is a flea or tick on Bambi's back. Get the picture?

The twin problems of English are its difficulty and its user base. "Difficulty" includes irregular forms and demented spelling. English was developed by people whose chief linguistic skill was illiteracy and whose chief talent was operating while intoxicated. The French and the Goidelic Celts, who had the same general characteristics, were no help at all, except in the drinking department.

"User base" refers to people who are currently advantaged by their knowledge, imperfect as it likely is, of English. They are not about to give up that advantage for the sake of the less fortunate.

But wait! There's more!

Unfortunately, several decades ago, a bunch of non-native speakers who hadn't quite learned English decided to pass on their questionable skills to the next generation, leading to native speakers of very odd forms of English: Chinglish, Hinglish, Don't-Touch-That-Thinglish--they all complicate matters further.

Depressed? Good: that's reality setting in. But there is also good news. Remember, a problem is just an opportunity that has turned bully and wants to beat you up. We'll look for the silver lining next time.

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