A Love Letter to English

Looking For A Language To Mess Up

My faithful blog-readers…Yo.

This week, I asked my bloggin’ buddy Stephen Watkins to write me up a guest post on my weekly topic. He graciously complied and has composed a piece which I present to you today…

A Love Letter to English
By Stephen Watkins

So, English.  That mixed-up Germanic tongue brought to the British isles by Angle invaders from Northwest Germany, modified by Saxon invaders, and further modified by Norman invaders. That lingua franca of the modern business and international world.  The language that has borrowed and diced up and modified and grown with every interaction of the British Empire and its former colonies with cultures and languages from across the world.

In what other language would a phrase such as “The kung-fu ninja master rapidly riposted what the loco cossack thought would be his coup de grace,” be anything but pure gibberish?  (Okay, so it borders on pure gibberish already… but don’t tell me you can’t parse that.)

In my day job I crunch numbers, but by night I fancy myself a masked linguistic crusader.  In real life I only know a few slices of a half-dozen languages – not enough to express a complete thought in any of those tongues.  And in that way, I’m a quintessential English speaker.  Only this English speaker prowls the nights wearing a mask and using language jiujitsu to paralyze evil-doers and improper diction.  Oh, who am I kidding.  I’m a writer.

And I love languages.  I love my mother tongue.  I won’t argue and say it’s better than any other language.  It has its quirks, its peculiariaties of orthography and morphology.  Have you ever stopped to wonder why a letter in one place in a word can be pronounced one way, but you put it somewhere else, and it’s pronounced another way entirely?  You see the non-word “ghoti,” and you think, rightly, that you might pronounce it similarly to “goatee”.  But Irish satirist George Bernard Shaw suggested that the pronunciation of our language was so mixed up, he playfully argued it be pronounced “fish.”  Don’t see it?  You’d laugh at the nation with such a silly word that could be spelled that way.

But there’s a reason these things came to be, buried in the history of how English evolved – from the first clash of the Gallic and Angle peoples and through each subsequent invasion and each new age of speaker.  And the language has continued to change over time.  English evolved on an island that was constantly invaded by speakers of other languages.  And then the people of that island established an empire that stretched across the globe and interacted with speakers of languages that were radically removed from their own.

Those interactions have strengthened and enriched the English language.  And sure, that makes our language quirky.  But it also makes it so varied and manicolored that you have to admit: it’s a beautiful language.  It has a wonderful, lyrical quality, if we let ourselves speak it.  There’s a music to it, in its cadence and tones.  English: I think I love you. ♥

Stephen Watkins currently refers to himself as the “Undiscovered Author,” and blogs about his journey into the world of published authors on his weblog under the same name. He also runs a professional blog called Stephen Watkins, Writer.


11 thoughts on “A Love Letter to English

    • Thanks! And I’m grateful to J.P. for asking me to write it. It gave me a chance to reflect on some of the ideosyncrocies and the history of this language… A topic I definitely enjoy!

      • NP Stephen…the appreciation runs both ways!

        And our language is one of the great living contradictions. Even the way its spelled doesn’t make sense. (It should be Inglish!)

  1. I love English too. It’s a mongrel of a language, isn’t it? With impure bloodlines. Deliciously difficult to understand and master. Unpredictable.
    It has my undying loyalty and support.
    Great post btw.

  2. Pingback: The Week Ahead « The Undiscovered Author

  3. Loved this article. I’ve always found it fascinating how history blends in with usage to inform the words we use. Language is ‘alive’ too and it’s still changing, moving, growing as time passes.

    • That’s why I’ve gotten less prescriptive about language as I’ve gotten older: when I was younger, I was all about precisenss and correctness of definition and grammar. Over time, though, I’ve come to realize that my language is, in fact, a living language, and that the preciseness of use is counter-productive. My “author’s voice”, as it were, is still grounded in good grammar, but I’m learning where to push those limits, where to be more “real” in the way I use language.

      • I know! When it comes to rules about “Not to capitalize that letter after the ellipses!” or to “Not start your sentence with And!” I’m kinda out the window. I feel that I have a strong writing voice. Part of that voice breaks rules…And your point is? (If you didn’t pick up on it, I just broke both rules…)

      • A strict adherence to the rules (and keeping up to date with them) is important in non-fiction writing, but when it comes to fiction it’s not always constructive. It’s an odd contradiction. If everyone followed the rules, there would be no such thing as the author’s voice, it would all sound the same.

  4. “Have you ever stopped to wonder why a letter in one place in a word can be pronounced one way, but you put it somewhere else, and it’s pronounced another way entirely?”
    as a non-native speaker, I’ve come to the conclusion that English pronounciation is totally arbitrary! 😀
    BUT I love English anyway, and prefer it to my mother tongue (Italian) and the other language I’m fluent in (French)… 😉

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