Selected Letters - 2008
What keeps a language standard? What about Medieval Latin? It's not classical Latin but there was some
sort of mechanism that kept it pretty standardized. And what about high and low German, which exist at the same time. How does one effect the other?
Attached is a "Wired" article How English Is Evolving Into a Language We May Not Even Understand" citing Chinese variations on English (China has more students of English than does North America). I don't see Chinglish as becoming dominant, since they control a much smaller fraction of the world's economy than they do of the world's
population. What to look into is where there has been simplification of
grammar in certain first-language English users (black English, for
example) and also how Afrikaans simplifies Dutch. (English has I, me, my,
and mine, while Afrikaans has only two.)
Reading a bunch of conference papers in second-language English, the
biggest problem is with the use of articles (a, an, the), but there are
lots of other problems too. I don't know what systematic studies have been
We have a lot of dumb things in English that non-native speakers try to regularize from the pattern of their language. This is among the reasons that so many have attempted suggest simplifications. But are we to establish a governmental body to establish standards? The French take international words from the new American dominated fields of computer and internet and "create" a Gallic version that writers must use. How stupid.
We need certain simplifications that the article makes mention of
there are others. Why must we relocate the "s" to maintain agreement between subject and verb on making the slightest wording change. Irregular
verbs are too often unconscionable. In transcribing Basic English works, written in
1930's British, I routinely change the past tense "-t" to "-ed" (burnt, burned) as a contribution to the world. All conditions where a teacher has to explain an irregularity should be regularized. The problem is that the uneducated and immigrants often follow the regular rules where there are irregularities in proper English which are grating on native ears. Thus knowledge of the irregularities is a mark of education and standing. To regularized English will make the transition forms seem illiterate. To do ==> do, doed, will do.
After a lifetime of learning good English to suddenly use "doed"? Difficult task.
Our tour guide in Holland insisted on referring to flocks of sheeps.
This gave much merriment among the educated Americans. Yet he is the one most logical.
Private and NGO's have attempted some things, most notably the Chicago Tribune and they gave up after 40 years of perseverance, 1934-1975. One of the education societies did, too.
Thru, til, and nite are semi-acceptable, but iland, kof, and ruf did not catch on.
Much is made that English spelling and pronunciation differ. How valuable if sight and sound agreed? I suspect, a lot. But, formal phonetic language has 60 sounds and special symbols. Many have no discernible difference; regional accents far exceed the range of exactitude of the formal phonetic alphabet and therefore make it a mockery out of teaching English to non-natives.
On this subject, the beloved webmaster of the Basic English Institute applied simplifications using principles Ogden would approve of and created an alphabet from sounds that takes our existing
31 letter alphabet and establishes a Basic phonetic pronunciation with only 44 sounds that, in common usage, requires only the 23 letters of the existing alphabet. [Every student learns "a" and "long ō" that has a bar
over it, yet is displayed everyday as simply "a".]
As example, the middle vowel is represented in spelling by every
possible vowel or combination of vowels when it is actually the position of the voice when in transition between other more significant sounds. [ "America" has two such of this sound, beginning and ending.]
In the trade, this middle vowel is expressed as the Latin letter "schwa" ,"ə ", that looks sort’a like an "italic a" . Good grief, simplification principle says use an "italic a" in pronunciation guides, don't add a new letter to the alphabet or keyboard. Creation of a "schwa convention" of simply "a" will alone generate great simplification and ease of teaching English. ( more)
Children learn whatever they are taught; they can read new English at school and online and still read their parent's books in old 20th Century English with no more difficulty that shoppe, programme, and plough.
Those of us who enjoy debate can argue the pros and cons of the issues. Then switch and equally well argue the opposite side. More on this topic : Reform
Possibly useful tidbit. (I've heard, but not visited.) The differences between dialects of Mandarin are more extreme than the differences between the Nordic tongues. Whereas Norse, Swede and Dane are
considered separate languages, people lump all Chinese as one to make it appear an overwhelmingly populous language.
The example the "Wired" author, Michael Erard, uses to suggest Chinlish will become the norm are commonplace in other situations -- I was raised near Pennsylvania Dutch country and lived in the Czech city of Cedar Rapids.
Amusing, even pleasing, phrasing pacing, and tone do not become the norm as taught and used by the literary and academic leadership, no matter how many Valley Girls end their sentences with an upswing, as if a question. That will be passé in the next generation. Also, we live with tone words today: The boy with the bōw and arrow and made a bŏw to the Queen. The ship's bow had a red bow on it.
I quote from Harry Shaw's ""Dictionary Of Probkem Words And
Expressions" (Revised Edition), 1987, McGraw-Hill.
"-ize" This suffix has aided in the creation of hundreds of standard
words such as "pasteurize", "dramatize", "sterilize", and "hospitalize".
Unforutnately, many weird improprieties have also resulted, such as
"powerize", "concertize", and "headlineize". Most verbs and adjectives
in the language _can_ be treated with "-ize", but it would be well not
to "finalize" or "permanentize" or "concretixe" or "definitize" an
attachment to them until such coinages are widely accepted.
(End of quotation) -- Peter
For decades many BrE users wrongly imagine '-ize ' is AmE despite the fact OED1 said explicitly in 19C that -ise was a Frenchified latecomer with no serious justification and all --- Brits included --- did better with -ize. Most (60..80%?) of British houses (like firms, civil service/HMSO, newspapers) harbour this error. "-- IPH
Ah. And I suppose that Brit ending "-our" somehow arises from the
Latin ending "-or", with no stop on the way past the French "-eur"?
"Harbour", indeed! It is to laugh.
Of course, we might reasonably espouse the use of "z" instead of
"s" to form the plurals of English nouns whose singulars end in
voiced consonants or in vowels. After all, those plurals are all
proNOUNCED as "z". Let's retain "s" in plurals only of the nouns
whose singulars end in voiceless consonants. -- Peter
Why is "ize" better? Well, apart from being truer to the Greek which had the
same force that this suffix has now, it separates all such formations
clearly from truly French words that are not related to the Greek
suffix process such as comprise, surprise, demise, and so on, all of
which are from past participle forms of French verbs such as mettre
To me this is semantically useful in preserving where the words we use
have come from, and thus what they really mean. If you don't
appreciate the value of that, well there it is; I can't make you do
so. I always use -ize and recommend it everywhere. -- IPH
It seems to me that -ize is older English and -ise is modern English
and as we are not still in the 18th century we should use the more
modern version of spelling. There are many other words that we have
updated and I don't see any difference with the -ise words. Trying
to retain the older spelling is just a bit fanatically odd. I don't
see that anyone can say that Brits do better with -ize. How does
'doing better' work with spelling?
Personally I much prefer -ise. It's neater and less harsh. And I
think that's why most people assume that -ize is American because
it's louder and in your face which is the way Brits think of Americans.
Thanks for enlarging on your predilection, Ann; you may be right that many Brits share your perception. But the fad for the Frenchification was early 19th century, in the time after the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo during which having a Parisian chef became fashionable in London, and as far as I am concerned (as fluent French speaker, nevertheless, remember) is equally fatuous. "-ize" is not just "old"; it is as the OED says in its article at -ize truer to the classical origin of the suffix in ancient Greek -Î¹Î¶ÎµÎ¹Î½ with the little-Englander anti-American prejudice making it even more small-minded.
Why better? Well, apart from being truer to the Greek which had the same force that this suffix has now, it separates all such formations clearly from truly French words that are not related to the Greek suffix process such as comprise, surprise, demise, and so on, all of which are from past participle forms of French verbs such as mettre and prendre.
To me this is semantically useful in preserving where the words we use have come from, and thus what they really mean. If you don't appreciate the value of that, well there it is; I can't make you do so. I always use -ize and recommend it everywhere. -- IPH
It is strange, though, Ann. Why, do you suppose, does "-ize" "look" as though it ought to be spoken more loudly
than "-ise" ought? I agree with you about it, but whence "comes" the extra loudness? -- Peter
I suppose it's because the z is angular and therefore brash looking
while the s is round and soft.
Daft but we do make judgements on daft things. In just the same way,
Angie, we know that not all Americans are loud but we are influenced
by stereotypical thinking. -- Ann
Languages evolve. Some people don't want them to and will do all
they can to keep them static. That's not me. It's interesting to
know where words and spelling came from but I don't see any merit in
keeping old spellings. I've looked up the -ise -ize thing before and
am quite happy if the British use the former while the Americans use
the latter. Differences add interest and give us something to talk about...
I suppose I love anomalies. I like that the plural of mouse is mice
but the plural of a computer mouse is mouses. There's no rhyme nor
reason to it, it's just happened. You can see people using both
plurals but one will win in the end. A lot of new words are computer
based as it's an evolving industry. I like it that the word disk was
spelt with a k when it was short for floppy diskette but is now spelt
with a c when talking about a hard disc. I like it that when
replacing a component of a computer you don't just swap them or swap
them over, you swap out the components. That may just be American, I
don't know, but I've never heard it here before in anything but
computer language and it will be interesting to see if people start
using it in other contexts.
I embrace language change, and to actually be a part of it and see it
happening is fun, but it would be a shame if we all, that is all
nations, took on the same changes and it all merged into one. But
then we'll always have pronunciation differences which can be just as
fun. I've said it before but I still can't get over the way that
Americans say the word 'capillary'. -- Ann
But hard on teachers and learners.
Whilst debating the spelling choice of "ise" and "ize", are we assuming the same pronunciation for both. It seems to me that if both are normally pronounced "eyes", then the "ise" spelling is ambiguous since it can be pronounced as "eyes"and as "ice". -- PRK