Tuesday, December 15, 2015

This crazy language called English

by Rick Blechta

I ran across an absolutely fascinating article a couple of weeks ago. It deals with (in a preliminary way) why English is such a bizarre language. It’s started off endless discussions between my wife and myself about how someone who doesn’t speak English could possibly learn all the ins and outs of not only how it’s spoken but how things like spelling are absolutely ridiculous — when viewed from “the outside”. Frankly, I don’t know how anyone can cope learning English. Its vagaries would drive me nuts.

Okay. So you need to read the article first. Here’s the link: https://aeon.co/essays/why-is-english-so-weirdly-different-from-other-languages.

Pretty fascinating, no? (I do take exception to the author referring to Scandinavians as “Scandies”, though. It seems entirely unnecessary in what is otherwise a scholarly article.)

It certainly answers a number of questions and provides some fascinating clarifications on the origins of things that I’d always considered nonsense, like “hickory, dickory, dock”. Never thought about that much, did you? I certainly didn’t. But now that its meaning has become clear, the context of the nursery rhyme really makes a lot more sense.

Which brings me to the actual topic of this post: the more we know about something and understand context, the more fascinating it becomes.

In my novels, I decided when I began writing that I could use my musical background to make my books more interesting. To many, the music world (in all its permutations) is fascinating. If you happen to be a musician, that background is very relate-able. To those who don’t know much about music, it can be instructive, too, even exotic. (The real trick is to not overuse it or risk having the musical stuff distract readers from the plot of the novel.)

Anyway, to a writer, an article like the one I shared with you today can be very instructive because we deal with English in our work. Every word we write has to be analyzed, every clause must prove its worth and each sentence needs to help tell our story in a graceful and transparent way, or be discarded.

Knowing more about the origins of our language can only help with those things.

Getting back to “hickory, dickory, dock”, I wonder why I never even considered that it might mean something more than nonsense.

Time to become more curious!


Sybil Johnson said...

What an interesting article! Thanks.

Rick Blechta said...

You are most welcome.

Anonymous said...

As I suscribe to Aeon, I read that article and found it fascinating, especially since I struggle with Welsh - and live in Wales. I even saved it as it could be useful for a Viking counterfactual I'm working on.

Rick Blechta said...

I'm so glad I stumbled across it, then copied the URL and then actually got around to reading it. It's also sent me down several other language rabbit holes.

I am not good with accents, but for some reason my Welsh accent (for my limited vocab), so I've been told, is excellent. I must have been Welsh in a previous life or something. It is one language I also find fascinating. You're fortunate to live where you do, sir!

Perhaps it's time I took out a subscription, too.