Monday, January 4, 2010

english bad

How did the arguably greatest country in the world end up with one of the arguably worst languages in the world? And how did that terrible language end up as the de facto language of international business?

Why does English have so many silent letters? Why are there so many ways to pronounce every letter? The rules in Spanish are more complicated than some languages, but definitely more intelligible than English. You can always tell how to say a word based on how it is spelled. The imperfection with Spanish comes into play where there are multiple ways of spelling a word based on how it is pronounced.

Even if we could get pronunciation down, English is still missing more advanced features of other languages. What happened to the second person (as if that were advanced)? Why are we stuck with forming new words like y'all to reduce the confusion of having no difference between singular and plural you (as if that were advanced)?

If you really want advanced, take a look at Guaraní, the native language of Paraguay, which enjoys co-official language status along with Spanish. It is enjoying a resurgence and is actually taught in schools again after the efforts of some to hide their native tongue. Even this little-known language has something most languages don't: clusivity. A language like Guaraní with clusivity gives the speaker an 'inclusive we' and an 'exclusive we' so the listener knows whether or not he or she is included.
Jim: We're going to the store.
Tom: Great, I'll get my coat.
Jim: No, I mean Amber and I are going to the store. You're not invited, Tom.

Awkward, I know. Not in Guaraní. If Jim had said ñandé instead of we, Tom would know he was invited to go with Jim and Amber. In the above case, however, Jim would have used oré to signal to Tom up front that 'Amber and I' are going to the store.

Perhaps the language reform question will become moot as texting and Twitter have their way with us, but in the mean time, there ought to be something we can do to fix our language. I'm not suggesting we go as far as the nooalf guy, but the first reform I have adopted has to do with quotation marks. If a sentence ends with a word or words in quotation marks, I put the final punctuation outside the quotation marks. I just like it better that way, even though it's "wrong". It's at least a place for ñandé to start.


Nathan Toone said...

As an example:

Andy Bowen said...

I agree that the ├▒ande/ore distinction in Guarani is a very useful one. But I don't think that silly spelling rules are, in themselves, sufficient to make English a "terrible" language!

robmba said...

It's not just weird spelling rules. There are weird pronunciation rules. There are weird conjugation rules. It's inefficient, compared to other languages, requiring you to include a subject even where the subject is implied by the context.

Spend some time around a first or second grader just learning to read and write, and you'll know what I'm talking about.