So What's Wrong With English?

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John H. McCloskey:
So What's Wrong With English?

27 December 2004

Among the disadvantages of English, for example, are the comparatively inflexible word order, the use of "s" both for the genitive case and for the plural and a general excess of sibilance, the inability to distinguish the singular and plural of the second person, and the awkwardness of having to use "it" for what the French distinguish as il and ce .

A Sassenach chauvinist could easily rebut each of the man's particular objections to her own complete satisfaction, no doubt, and perhaps the whole list could be assailed en masse as only a matter of wishing that English were more like such-and-such exotic and barbarian tongue that only a ruthless elitist or a stuttering immigrant would know anything about. Possibly the "general excess of sibilance" could be demonstrated objectively, however, or at least scientistically?
with all its faults, "it is" does help decrease the rigidity of word order.

But best knows God! Happy days.
JHM


Two or three hundred years back, properly educated people took it for granted that English is intinsically inferior because, let's face it!, one cannot hope to do anything very much like Aeschylus or Pindar in it.
Oddly enough, now that nobody whatever cares about reaching any such bizarre linguistic destination as that, we may actually be making some progress towards it. Also towards making our vernacular a "philosophical language" in the sense Heidegger used that expression of German and Greek. We Anglophones can now perpetrate compound noun expressions almost quant. suff. , which seems to be what was most seriously lacking to make us truly rhapsodical and sophistical.

(That last paragraph is not strictly relevant, I admit, but I was tempted to it by noticing that Mr. Jenkyns is identified as "professor of the classical tradition at the University of Oxford." What a whole world of Change and Decay that moniker implies!)


C'est about time somebody followed up Structural Continuity in Poetry
>,

n'est-ce pas ?
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John Dean:
[nq:1]So What's Wrong With English? 27 December 2004 Among the disadvantages of English, for example, are the comparatively inflexible word ... awkwardness of having to use "it" for what the French distinguish as il and ce . [/nq]
He assets that these are disadvantages without saying why. For example, as John Lawler has illustrated here on several occasions, languages like Latin can enjoy great flexibility in word order because of rigid agreement between eg nouns and adjectives and because there is no ambiguity about subjects and objects of verbs. Since English doesn't insist on agreement between nouns and adjectives, word order matters. I don't see that as a disadvantage. A disadvantage would, for me, be a complicated system of cases. Though Jenkyns doesn't seem to attempt to say for whom this and the other issues might be a disadvantage. Native speakers? Teachers? EFL students. Those speaking English as a second or third language? Lexicographers?
[nq:1]with all its faults, "it is" does help decrease the rigidity of word order.[/nq]
Why is it awkward? It works fine. And if you don't like starting clause after clause with "it is ..." why would you be cheerful about starting clause after clause with "c'est ..." alternating with "il / elle est"?
John Dean
Oxford
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Michael Nitabach:
[nq:1]So What's Wrong With English? 27 December 2004[/nq]
WFM.

Mike Nitabach
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Anonymous:
I agree there are many oddities with English, but I doubt that it'll go down the drain and be overrun by French like they did in 1066 (those bastards). In my opinion, English is the ultimate colloquial language, because it is easily understood, even in the oddest accents.
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Rolleston:
[nq:1]He assets that these are disadvantages without saying why. For example, as John Lawler has illustrated here on several occasions, ... of rigid agreement between eg nouns and adjectives and because there is no ambiguity about subjects and objects of verbs.[/nq]
The last ten words of that paragraph are not entirely quibble-proof.

( Donatus, http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/jod/texts/donatus.7.html )
10. Amphibolia est ambiguitas dictionis, quae fit aut per casumaccusativum, ut siquis dicat "audio secutorem retiarium superasse"; aut per commune verbum, ut siquis dicat "criminatur Cato", "vadatur Tullius" nec addat quem vel a quo; (... etc.)
Cheers,
R.
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Raymond S. Wise:
[nq:1]So What's Wrong With English? 27 December 2004 Among the disadvantages of English, for example, are the comparatively inflexible word ... the awkwardness of having to use "it" for what the French distinguish as il and ce .[/nq]
This makes no sense to me at all. I presume that the author is referring to the expletive use of "it," "il," and "ce," as in "It's raining," "Il pleut," "It's me," and "C'est moi." (The first sentence in each pair being translatable into the second sentence.) This expletive use of pronouns is also known as the use of the "dummy subject." By definition, an expletive subject is unnecessary to the meaning of a sentence. In all the cases mentioned, the subject could be dropped and that would affect only the grammaticality, not the meaning, of the sentence: "Pleut," "Is me," "Est moi." Esperanto, in fact, has no such expletive use of pronouns. The example sentences in Esperanto would be "Pluvas" and "Estas mi," and other languages as well do not put their pronouns to such a use.
So how can it be more helpful to use two expletive pronouns rather than one if all such pronouns could be dispensed with? Or, for that matter, substituted one for another? For example, in AAVE, "It's no God." is grammatical, meaning the same as the standard English "There is no God." (Example taken from Steven Pinker's *The Language Instinct,* who in turn took it from a work by William Labov.)
[nq:1]<<[/nq]
http://www.prospect-magazine.co.uk/article details.php?id=6608&AuthKey=36cfaf64e2ed2f2be665ed8e86af14b0&issue=496
[nq:1]("Mother Tongue," Richard Jenkyns)[/nq]
Raymond S. Wise
Minneapolis, Minnesota USA
E-mail: mplsray @ yahoo . com
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Anonymous:
[nq:2]So What's Wrong With English? 27 December 2004 Among the ... distinguish as il and ce . <<[/nq]
http://www.prospect-magazine.co.uk/article details.php?id=6608&AuthKey=36cfaf64e2ed2f2be665ed8e86af14b0&issue=496

"Awkward" is Jenkyns, not me, sir. I never said worse than "tedium."

As to "It works fine," well YES, of course it sorta seems to that it does,
this language gimmick, but on the other hand, how about the Tower of Babel
Problem? Wouldn't the language gimmick work even better if even foreigners
and barbarians all spoke Some ONE Known Tongue?
Father Zeus lifted us humble far above our monkey station by ever granting us
language in the first place, BUT . . . .
And once language was granted, then at once "Why is it awkward? It works fine.
And if you don't like ...?"
Well of course if you don't like reading the weaknesess that Jenkyns mentions,
you can deliberately try to avoid writing them. With the possible exception of
that persistent Sassenach statistical sibilance, they are all avoidable errors, after all.
One can see what lapses one's Muttersprache is prone to and then in filial piety
try not to embarrass her or anybody else by ever actually talking about it.
Yet if Jenkyns wants to talk, why not me too?
Happy days.
JHM
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John Dean:
http://www.prospect-magazine.co.uk/article details.php?id=6608&AuthKey=36cfaf64e2ed2f2be665ed8e86af14b0&issue=496
[nq:2]He assets that these are disadvantages without saying why. For ... clause with "c'est ..." alternating with "il / elle est"?[/nq]
[nq:1]"Awkward" is Jenkyns, not me, sir. I never said worse than "tedium." As to "It works fine," well YES, of ... Babel Problem? Wouldn't the language gimmick work even better if even foreigners and barbarians all spoke Some ONE Known Tongue?[/nq]
Maybe you could explain why?
[nq:1]Father Zeus lifted us humble far above our monkey station by ever granting us language in the first place, BUT ... of course if you don't like reading the weaknesess that Jenkyns mentions, you can deliberately try to avoid writing them.[/nq]
And again we have the assertion that these are 'weaknesses' without a shred of evidence or a single paragraph of respectable supporting argument. We speak of a language which is spoken around the world, which has become the language of such varied activities as diplomacy and air traffic control, which is so dominant on the internet that interest in learning it is greater than ever. If there are weaknesses, why is it so popular? Are there languages without weaknesses that could take its place?
With the possible
[nq:1]exception of that persistent Sassenach statistical sibilance, they are all avoidable errors, after all.[/nq]
Here we are again - the assertion these are "errors". How so? By whose standards? How have they endured centuries without correction if they are errors?
[nq:1]One can see what lapses one's Muttersprache is prone to and then in filial piety try not to embarrass her or anybody else by ever actually talking about it.[/nq]
Why not demonstrate they are lapses before offering to be so discreet about them?
[nq:1]Yet if Jenkyns wants to talk, why not me too?[/nq]
Of course. And if you want to talk, why not talk sense? Why not address the issue that Sassenachs are very much a minority of English speakers? Or do you think the word means something not known to the rest of us?
John Dean
Oxford
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Anonymous:
To quote Linus responding to Lucy: "Those aren't flaws; those are character traits!". See also Kitto's discussion of the virtues and deficits of the Greek language in "The Greeks".
/cms
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