Listen Up Silly People

by , posted on Monday, June 15th, 2009 at 6:41 pm

It appears that we are not done yet with the “English Only” silliness, so I feel compelled to note a few things.

1. Sorry, it does smack of racism and

2. It’s ridiculously unecessary – rather like getting worried about defending the Borg because they wandered into the same sector of space as a dozen random humans.

And this is where I whip out my little-used English degree to point out that English is the Borg of human tongues: all will be assimilated.

As evidence I’ll offer the following: English, born on a tiny island off the coast of Europe, is spoken as a dominent language in at least one country on every continent on Earth. True, Mandarin is spoken by more individuals, but almost all of those individuals live in a single country in Asia – and it’s not all that easy to find a Mandarin translator – say if you are stuck without local language skills in France or Italy or for that matter Casablanca or Indonesia.

On the other hand, in any of these places, indeed in most places on the globe, you can barely throw a rock without hitting someone who speaks at least some English. English is a monstrously invasive language, working it’s way like a weed through most cultures.

Most people would guess it’s the Hollywood effect, or the English history of conquest and colonization, that make it so and those all undoubtedly had an impact on its spread. But any student of the tongue will tell you that even with those factors the language would not have spread so far so fast – from that tiny island off the coast of Europe – had it not been for the intrinsic habit of the language to borrow from other tongues. 70% – at least, some estimates are higher than 80% – of English words are derived from other languages, because when English-speakers are in close habitation with speakers of other tongues they immediately and shamelessly start interweaving their words into our language: we assimilate other languages into English. Constantly.

Or to put it another way: George Carlin’s “Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television” began with the sentence “There are seven hundred thousand words in the English language and there are seven of them you can’t say on television.” He wrote that, what, forty-fifty years ago? Well the latest estimate is over a million words in the language. Sure, we invent a lot (h/t to Colbert for “truthiness”) but mostly we steal them.

So as someone who truly, deeply, passionately loves the tongue of Shakespeare (he invented 1,700 words, including bloody, critic, hurry, lonely, road – better stop, the list goes on forever) please, all you silly people, stop trying to deny English the opportunity to live side-by-side with other languages so that we may easily steal all their best words for our future use.

Now I must go – it’s either tapas or tacos for dinner, but I think definitely tiramisu for dessert.


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