Peculiarities of English Language


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  1. Mankind uses hundreds of languages. Every language has some peculiarities. Grammar of some languages is quite complex. Some languages do not have sufficient number of words. Some languages have no script. Some languages are spoken by millions of persons. Some are spoken by just few hundred persons. We shall see here some peculiarities of the English language.
  2. We all know that England is the birthplace of English language. Due to process of history, this language has spread to many parts of the world. It is used as a link language for International business and diplomacy. It is rich in all kinds of literature, including technical books and journals. It is studied as a second language by millions of people in many non-English countries.
  3. English is a mixture of several languages. It contains several words of the Anglo-Saxon dialect spoken in ancient England. It has absorbed thousands of words from many other languages such as French, Latin, German, Greek and so on. One can find even Sanskrit words in English. For example, Sanskrit words Guru and Pundit are used frequently in English. Original pronunciation and original meaning of many words have changed in English.
  4. English grammar is fairly simple. Nouns in many other languages have grammatical gender and accordingly some verbs and adjectives undergo changes. This complexity is absent in English. Thus, the adjective "big" is common to all nouns such as man, woman, child, book, stone, dog, cat, river, idea, plan, and so on. Moreover, this adjective applies to both singular and plural nouns. English nouns and position words are written separately, without any change in nouns. For example, note these words: in India, from India, to India. All words are separate and remain unchanged. Obviously, this is a great advantage for searching words in dictionaries. In many other languages, the noun takes an oblique form to which is attached the positional word after the noun. The composite word becomes long and difficult for dictionary purposes.
  5. Counting of large numbers is cyclic and simple in English. For example, twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three, etc forms a series. Next series is thirty-one, thirty-two, thirty-three etc. In many other languages all numbers, from one to hundred are unrelated and have to be memorized.
  6. Another feature of English is its sense of equality. Pronouns you, he, she are applicable to all persons irrespective of their age and status. In many other languages, these pronouns take different forms, sometimes causing great inconvenience. English language does have terms like Your Majesty, Your Excellency, and His Lordship. These are exceptions. Basically English is a democratic language. The American President is addressed as Mr. President. English has changed some terms, which hurt sentiments of people. For example, the term Christian name became awkward when thousands of non-Christians, such as Hindus and Muslims started using English. So the term Christian name was changed to First name or Personal name. Term Negro caused offence, and it was changed to Black Person.
  7. We have seen many good points of the English language. It is rich in vocabulary, its grammar is simple, its counting system is simple, and its form is democratic. However, English has one great drawback, which brings it a bad name. English spellings are highly irregular making the language difficult to learn. Take for example the symbol (a). It is used with different pronunciation in words alone (a-l-o-n-e), art (a-r-t), and (a-n-d), all (a-l-l), age (a-g-e). For a common pronunciation, there are two different spellings (c-e-l-l) and (s-e-l-l). Moreover, these two words carry a redundant extra symbol (l). Some words carry silent letters. For example, the word (debt) is spelled as (d-e-b-t), wherein the symbol (b) is not pronounced. Combination (i-e) is used in word (believe) while reverse combination (e-i) is used in word (receive). An odd combination (o-u-g-h) is used with different pronunciations in words (though) spelled as (t-h-o-u-g-h) and (enough) spelled as (e-n-o-u-g-h). Many and many such absurdities of spellings can be quoted.
  8. If spellings are irregular, why are they not reformed? What are the difficulties? What is the way out? Let us examine this issue.
  9. A language, its script, its spellings are social institutions. Dictionaries and grammar books are prepared accordingly. Billions of books, newspapers, documents, signboards, maps etc have employed the current spellings. Teachers and Students, Suppliers and Customers, Bosses and Employees, Publishers and Readers, in fact all literate English-knowing persons are geared to the current spellings. About 200 years ago, after America's freedom, their leaders changed some spellings. For instance British spelling c-o-l-o-u-r is changed to American spelling c-o-l-o-r. They did not carry out reforms on a big scale. English language is now stuck in the mess. A student writing the word (sell) as s-e-l would lose marks in examinations. Newspaper publishers whose primary interest is to sell papers and not reform spellings will fire reporters, using non-standard spellings. Since English is now a world language, it is likely that the non-English countries may oppose spelling reforms.
  10. One solution lies in retaining and studying English with its current spellings, and also in launching a parallel language, which we may call Globish. This new language will be informal at present, and contain initially about 2000 words to initiate the public. It will follow English grammar and words, but the spellings would be simplified and logical. It will consist of small letters abcdef etc, without any capitals, and with triple dots instead of a single dot at end of a sentence. This would make the language look somewhat different from English. Full details cannot be given in this radio talk. By way of example, symbol (i) may stand for its sound as in words (it, if, ill) and then English word (busy) will be written in Globish as (b-i-z-i = bizi). All English words will be recast in Globish according to their pronunciation using these standard relations. If some words, such as names, cannot be respelled in this fashion, they may be started with a letter in capital form, to guide readers. All existing machines will serve Globish.This option deserves support of people in all countries. Let us give legacy of an easy and logical language to the posterity.

Note: Above is text of authorís talk dated 24 March 1999, on All India Radio, Pune station. Part of article & editor's inputs appeared in The Journal of Simplified Spelling Society No.2 of 2002


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Updated on : $ January 30, 2016 $
Author : Madhukar N Gogate