English Flexibility

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English is my favorite language. I think it might be the best language. And I’m not saying that “jingoistically” or “patriotically”, and I’m not saying that only because it’s my native language and the only one I use fluently.

I say this because of its structure and history, and because of the flexibility, vitality, and unboundedness. Because—what is English?

At its root, English is a mash-up of French and German; it’s the language that resulted from the French Norman invasion of Germanic-speaking Anglo-Saxon-Land. The common folk spoke Germanic Anglo-Saxon; the Court spoke French. And the two came together and made English.

In fact, one can see this, to a lesser extent, in another language that evolved—this one in between French and German areas—Dutch. Dutch (i.e., “Deutsch”) is Germanic, and the Netherlands exist wedged between Germany and France and French-speaking parts of Belgium/Luxembourg. As such, to my native-English ear, hearing German and Dutch, Dutch sounds like it falls somewhere between German and English. And that makes sense to me. If the Dutch live between German and French areas, and French influence seeped in—if they lived on the outer edge of these two linguistic weather fronts, then Britain sat right beneath the frontal boundary; where the mixing was much, much greater.

But there are consequences to this cross-breeding. One such consequence—English absorbed romance structure—Greek and Latinate influences—from French, while also retaining the Germanic structure and vocabulary. Pronunciation evolved to include the sound palette from both influences (losing, primarily, only the KH/CH “Chanukah” or “Jorge” sound). This means, also, that English vocabulary draws on three linguistic sources instead of just one or two. (English’s confusing and often seemingly contradictory rules and spelling—which make learning the language difficult—results directly from this, too.)

But the most important aspect, in my view, is that this mixing makes the language, and the linguistic mind-set, open to continued outside influence. Anything can be made into English. Heck, half the American food-nouns come from outside English proper, and many from outside Europe (tomato, potato, maize…) English users don’t avoid “foreign” words—we embrace them—we assimilate them, and without a second thought.

And that—more than anything else—is why I love this language.

About Scott Epstein

I've consumed science fiction for as long as I can remember. I've written it since age 8. I founded and edited Proteus Continuum, a Science Fiction magazine, at Tufts University from 1990-1992. Professionally, I've worked in professional publishing for more than 17 years, in both editorial and marketing functions.
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