Comical Musings

Tag: English

Shenanigan: The English Language

by on Oct.20, 2010, under Shenanigan

So a friend of mine (one who also majored in English in college) was recently bemoaning the sorry state of our language. “Why on Earth,” she asked, “do vowels sound different in different words? How is it that e, i, and y can all make the same sound? Why can’t our vowels just make sense, like in Japanese, Spanish, or German? Even umlauts make sense, after a while. One letter should equal one sound. Period.” After a moment’s thought, she added, “And while we’re at it, let’s get rid of the letter C. It’s redundant.”

Those of you who remember back when I was churning out reviews once a week will recall that spelling is something dear to my heart; it’s one of the things that I will invariably pick on in a comic. Frankly, I’m a bit of a snob about it, since I was one of those insufferable spelling-bee champions back in junior high school. So I might as well make my social loss your gain, right?

While I can’t personally offer any suggestions for how to fix English’s predicament, I can at least offer perspective on how it got there. My college studies included a few overviews of the history of English, and . . . to make a long story short, English is not a purebred language. It was born when Old Germanic and Latin had a one-century stand on some backwater island north of France. Their illegitimate child was a mutt to the core, displaying spelling and grammar traits of both languages. The parent cultures couldn’t stand the look of the child, so they left it to die, alone, on the island.

Then French took a shine to the poor young thing when William the Conqueror arrived. It was a sad and horrifying tryst, considering the relative ages of the language, and English would never fully rid itself of the taint from that relationship. A certain je ne sais quoi remains to this day.

Perhaps as a result of this abuse so early in its life, English has displayed a voracious appetite for conjugal relations with other languages. Every time the English language encounters a new culture, it takes that language for all it’s worth. The pederast French, on the other hand, pooh-poohed the entire affair and set up a sanctimonious Academy in order to deny the effects of any further dalliances.

In short, English is so messed-up because it is a dissolute whore. But don’t lay the blame at its feet—the poor language is a victim of circumstance.

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