English is not normal, says John McWhorter

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  • #36
pinball1970
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All land is stolen. The only question is how long ago it happened. The neanderthals and peking man want reparations.
Yes and I am consulting legal advice regarding Roman invasion, Norse then all those French and Germanic people. I am looking at my language and in see that you invaded.

I think we gained some stuff (what did the Romans ever do for us)
Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch?

I've been there.

https://www.llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.co.uk/
And as a Brit? At that time? I would have been ORDERED in as a soldier.

Change the name, it makes no sense. Why Don't you just use our language?

NO, NEVER, NEVER!.

OK, why not just..

NO, We will tell our kids to HATE you.
 
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  • #37
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The English steal from every language as has been pointed out and I was confident that of all the languages we would not have been able to get anything from the Welsh.
"cwm" (pronounced "koom", to rhyme with "boom")
I can remember English teachers in grade school listing the vowels in English as a, e, i, o, and u, and sometimes y. One or two teachers also added "and sometimes w." When I asked for an example, one that they gave was the word "awe." A lame example that I didn't buy.

The perfect example is the Welsh word "cwm," which is now a part of English, as evident by the Mt. Everest location called the Western Cwm.

I can't think of any other words in English that truly qualify as examples where 'w' appears as a vowel. If there are, I have no doubt that they are Welsh words that have crept into the language.
 
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  • #38
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I just came across this interesting thread on a topic of permanent interest to me (and anyone who often spends time in other nations and, or has frequent verbal and written exchanges across the borders of countries and continents, as these days is usually the case with scientists, engineers and many other types of workers).
I am interested in this subject as someone whose native tongue is not English, but uses it daily and often also thinks in it -- and has done so for years now.
I appreciate the excellent article linked at the beginning of this thread on why English is "so weird."
Well, I agree with much in the article, but I am not convinced that English is specially weird. Or weirder than, let's say German, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Japanese, Greek or Italian. Or Chinese. In fact, of the several languages spoken in the British Isles, I would say that we are fortunate that were the English that predominated in the 16th -19th centuries British conquest of much of the non-European world. Because I seriously doubt millions of us would be better off if we had to learn Welsh instead of English to get on in any of the relevant and, or interesting world-wide businesses of our Age. Not that we couldn't do it: after all the Welsh do just that (as long as they can find people abroad to correspond with, or talk to in this language about some matter of importance to them). But is the essential simplicity of English grammar that I believe makes it hands-down the better choice, among European official national languages at least.

One and only one thing has been a source of difficulty for those of us who are native speakers of phonetic languages written using some straightforward variant of the Roman alphabet. (A combination that made it possible for me, not at all gifted in this regard, to read children books and to write a few short stories at age five, just a few weeks after graduating from drawing squiggles on gridded paper to loosen my hand enough to write words using the letters of the alphabet, once I learned to pronounce them in their (in my written language) unique and unvarying ways. Not being myself at all unique in this respect among my classmates at a local kindergarten run by both severe and immensely helpful Catholic nouns).

And that one thing that was for me an impediment to switch languages to English? It's exuberantly and vaguely, almost rule-free spelling and pronunciation of written words and the self-indulging use of diphthongs and triphthongs, those continuous slides through series of sometimes partially unwritten vowels used for no particular reason, often at the ends of words. Slides that come naturally to English speakers, who consequently mispronounce, to mention a simple, common example, the "o" ending in Italian and Spanish words as "ou" and not as "oh." That to some speakers of those languages can be aggravating, because it seems to be done on purpose to annoy them.

Take for example phonetic languages, such as German (or my native one, Spanish). I can pick up any text written in German and pronounce it clearly and intelligibly enough to be well-understood by native German speakers ... even without having the slightest idea of what is that I am reading. Of course, once I learn the words, I could do both with no problems whatsoever. Now writing complex sentences using correctly the complex German grammar on top of that, well ... that is a different story.

Therefore, all things considered, having studied closely both languages for very immediate and practical reasons that had to do with getting on with my life in places where they are spoken, I am very glad that English, with its simplified grammar, not German, with its old and complex one, for example, is the most used language today, by many living in most countries, world-wide. That is our own Age true Lingua Franca, the one that has let me speak with, write to, befriend and love people that were born and grew up in places where other languages I did not know and probably will never learn, are their own native tongues.
 
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  • #39
PeroK
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The perfect example is the Welsh word "cwm," which is now a part of English.
It doesn't work the other way as the Welsh are so precious about their language that they always change the spelling of foreign words they import. Hence caffi, tacsi, siop and bws. A Welsh IT manual must be fun.
 
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... one of my favourites is "dim parcio", which you see everywhere in North Wales. There is no letter "k" in Welsh.
 
  • #41
geordief
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Le chat. Male. A cat in French is male? Really?
Great thread.So much to learn.
btw "la chatte"? ...you don't want to know really:smile:
 
  • #42
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added "and sometimes w." When I asked for an example, one that they gave was the word "awe." A lame example that I didn't buy.
What defines a vowel, exactly?

I definitely agree that English is improved by having a logical understanding of how gender works.
 
  • #44
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I definitely agree that English is improved by having a logical understanding of how gender works.
More important, IMO, is understanding of how pronouns are used as subjects or objects (direct or indirect) in English. This is something that many native speakers of English don't understand very well and have difficulty with, especially those who have never studied languages in which the nouns and pronouns are inflected; i.e., have different forms depending on where they appear in a sentence.

Some examples of incorrect use:
  • Me and her went out on a date last night.
Corrected: She and I went out on a date last night. "I and she" would be syntactically correct, but wouldn't normally be phrased that way.

  • The card was addressed to him and I.
Corrected: The card was addressed to him and me.
 
  • #45
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Can we address the gender question? English is not normal YET assignment of gender to inanimate things is reasonable in other languages?
Normal. Reasonable. In my 67 years here on Earth I have learned that there is no relation between the two.
 
  • #46
geordief
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We have gender assignment to inanimate objects in English.
The ship is always feminine and there must surely be other examples. (the car?)

We even say "careful as she goes " about any object we are manhandling ,don't we?
 
  • #47
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Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch
Wales. It had to be Wales.
 
  • #48
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We have gender assignment to inanimate objects in English.
The ship is always feminine and there must surely be other examples. (the car?)

We even say "careful as she goes " about any object we are manhandling ,don't we?

From Paint Your Wagon, some examples of gender applied to the children of Mother Nature:

Away out here we got a name for rain and wind and fire.
The rain is Tess, the fire is Joe and they call the wind Mariah
...

https://genius.com/Sam-cooke-they-call-the-wind-mariah-lyrics

Despite what the online lyrics say I suspect that fire is named Jo and not Joe so that all of Mother Natures children are female. Father Time is either the father or grandfather of Mother Nature's kids.


 
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  • #49
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Well we have a few 'double u' words.
Vacuum and continuum.
But those come from Latin, I think.
I can't think of any other words in English that truly qualify as examples where 'w' appears as a vowel. If there are, I have no doubt that they are Welsh words that have crept into the language.
And I think McWhorter was just trolling with his comments about Fries. The DUTCH can't understand their Friesland countrymen, so no, Fries is not the closest thing English has to a sister language. Dutch is far closer. Once you get over the changes in how vowel sounds are written (oe is English oo, and oo is English long o, for example) you really start to see where English words come from. We have 'night' in English and 'nacht' in Dutch--but in Dutch you HEAR those silent English letters. You also begin to see where we ALL borrowed. In English we have 'way'; The Dutch have 'weg', I suspect from German roots. In English we have 'manner' and in Dutch 'manier' -- both by way of French from the Latin.

Dutch retained the 'continental' object-subject-verb construction like French in proper speech, though; whereas English jettisoned THAT.
English: I gave it to him
Dutch: Ik heb het naar hem gegeven (I have it to him given)
French: Je la lui a donne (I it to him gave)

Love or hate the guys who created the first English dictionaries, they made spellings reflect word origins. That gives us a LOT of spelling rules that other languages who didn't do that, or didn't borrow so extensively, don't have.

Most of his McWhorter's article is sensible enough. But Fries? no. Scots (and yes, that is real and distinct from Scottish English) or Dutch. Frieslanders speak a language like back-haller West Virginian or outport Newfinese. If you didn't grow up there, you can't understand it.
 
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  • #50
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But Fries? no. Scots (and yes, that is real and distinct from Scottish English) or Dutch. Frieslanders speak a language like back-haller West Virginian or outport Newfinese. If you didn't grow up there, you can't understand it.
https://encounternewfoundland.com/newfinese-101-words-and-phrases-youre-likely-to-hear-on-the-rock/
The island of Newfoundland has a language all its own. Born from the interaction of early English, Irish, and French settlers, and preserved by isolation, the uncommon speech of the province is a dialect of English that has been deemed one of the most distinct in the world, and it can vary from one community to the next, as well as from region to region. Though you should be able to understand the accent fairly easily, the odd grammar and alien words and phrases in common use on the island may leave you shaking your head or staring in blank incomprehension at the speaker.
The language looks like slang.

I've traced some of distant relatives through Newfoundland/Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario to various part of Canada and US, and other groups of relatives through Pennsylvania and Virginia to places throughout the US, with several clusters in the Western Virginia and Eastern Kentucky. Probably mostly Scottish/Welsh (who were miners, farmers, fishermen), some who went through Ireland, as well as Irish, and some English.
 
  • #51
pinball1970
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We have gender assignment to inanimate objects in English.
The ship is always feminine and there must surely be other examples. (the car?)

We even say "careful as she goes " about any object we are manhandling ,don't we?
Yes. Besides ships and the earth though? Also it does not change an adjective or article describing them.

The earth, the cruel earth, gods green earth (GFRR) a beautiful ship, a ship, the ship, shipping?
 
  • #52
geordief
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Yes. Besides ships and the earth though? Also it does not change an adjective or article describing them.

The earth, the cruel earth, gods green earth (GFRR) a beautiful ship, a ship, the ship, shipping?
No ,I can't think of others really although you can of course refer to lots of inanimate objects as "she" or "he" if the mood takes you.

And no ,I can't think of a single adjective that is declined according to gender.(unless "alma mater " counts :smile: )

@Astronuc , what about Norwegian?I spoke a smattering (btw that word is derived from Norwegian,I'd say) of both Dutch and Norsk and found Norwegian to be like putting on an old slipper with all the common words (to English) and the simple way the grammar was used

So I definitely rated Norwegian as easier to learn than Dutch (which I didn't do too well with actually)
 
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  • #53
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@Astronuc , what about Norwegian?I spoke a smattering (btw that word is derived from Norwegian,I'd say) of both Dutch and Norsk and found Norwegian to be like putting on an old slipper with all the common words (to English) and the simple way the grammar was used

So I definitely rated Norwegian as easier to learn than Dutch (which I didn't do too well with actually)
I'm not familiar with Nordic grammar. I've studied Spanish and German, and from German, I've understood some Dutch, at least as far as reading. I'd have to study Norwegian vs Danish/Swedish to understand better the grammar. I did have a German teacher, about 50 years ago, who spoke Norwegian/Danish/Swedish, and he did give us some lessons comparing Norwegian/Danish/Swedish. He encouraged us to learn many other languages, and he was of the opinion that learning German was a good step to learning Nordic and Dutch languages. He was a very rare person.
 
  • #54
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So I definitely rated Norwegian as easier to learn than Dutch (which I didn't do too well with actually)
The Nordics are where English got subject-verb-object grammar from, which Dutch does not have--and so the Nordic languages may indeed be easier to pick up than Dutch. And the Dutch have kept the German 'megaword' habit. 'Cellular telephone factory parking lot' could very well be a single word in Dutch--and that fries English-speaking brains. The longest work in English is 'antidisestablishmentarianism', but that is just a wee thing compared to hundreds of Dutch words (and while American dictionaries may not have that long word in them, yes it is a thing. Look up Bishop Strachan and Upper Canadian history from the 1830's) So the Nordic languages might be easier--but all those symbols above the letters!

But Fries.
Sample size of one, but still. My dad is from North Holland, came to Canada in 1953 and speaks very good English. His friends came from Friesland in 1962 and also speak very good English. And when they speak Fries, dad doesn't understand them at all. If Fries were so close to English, then knowing English and Dutch should make picking up Fries easier.
It doesn't.

And Newfinese. I work with Newfoundlanders. Have for 20 years. We had an outporter work here once. The lad from St. John's couldn't understand him most of the time. I never understood a word he said. One of the lads from a bunch farther north than St. John's could make him out and translate, because otherwise, forget it.
 
  • #55
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he was of the opinion that learning German was a good step to learning Nordic and Dutch languages
I also dabbled in learning languages.I learned a bit of Spanish from a book and quite soon after I went to Portugal where I worked on a Cooperativa ,a collective farm established when the Socialists came to power after the military government was booted out a little while after Franco in Spain.

Anyway I picked up quite a bit in those few months and ,when I left it took me about a week to travel back to the North of Europe through Spain

Annoyingly the proficiency I had acquired in Portuguese had the side effect of setting me back in the Spanish I had learned previously (because the languages were so similar)


It probably damaged my Portuguese too but I haven't had the opportunity to use it at all since then and find out
 
  • #56
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I can't think of any other words in English that truly qualify as examples where 'w' appears as a vowel.
It does appear as a diphong. The w in "crowd" is no more and no less a vowel than the u in "cloud".

Further categorization at your own risk.
 
  • #57
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It does appear as a diphong. The w in "crowd" is no more and no less a vowel as the u in "cloud".
OK, I give that example more credence than I do "awe" as an example.
 
  • #58
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own
I see what you did.

Now shown clown frown

drown brown cow sow

owl, bowl, trowel, towel (sometimes misspelled as towl), fowl

draw, raw, claw

newt, screw, jewel

Probably a Doctor Seuss story in there.

Vowel combinations, (vowel digraphs, r-controlled vowels, dipthongs), can be either a combination of two vowels as in 'oa', 'ea' or 'ai', or a combination of a vowel plus a consonant where the consonant does not make a distinct sound as in 'aw', 'oy' or 'ow'. It is important to recognize these combinations because they can not be sounded out from the composite letters.
https://bogglesworldesl.com/vowel_combinations.htm
 
  • #59
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I wouldn't necessary include "jewel". "Toward" is also questionable - parts of the world do pronounce it as "tord".

The other pair I thought of is "foul" and "fowl".. That might be even better.
 
  • #60
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And if you like...
1669861955854.png

and
1669861926913.png
 
  • #61
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We have gender assignment to inanimate objects in English.
The ship is always feminine and there must surely be other examples. (the car?)

We even say "careful as she goes " about any object we are manhandling ,don't we?
True. But we still call a ship a ship or the ship, and there's no modifiers placed on ship to make it gendered. The only truly gendered words (in a grammatical sense) are typically related to things that actually have to do with gender, like father vs mother, male vs female, boy vs girl, etc.

But we do have gendered words in the sense that words like fireman or businessman or policeman (and their -woman counterparts for some) exists and are still a fairly common way of talking about people of those professions. Most examples of gendered nouns or pronouns also have a gender neutral form. For the above they are firefighter, business person, and police officer.

For more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_in_English
 
  • #62
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Written Dutch is sometimes understandable to an English speaker, as for instance in "ik ben een goede wandelaar en spreker" (I am a good walker and speaker). Similarly with Norwegian.
 
  • #63
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Written Schweizerdeutsch is intelligible to a ":German German" speaker. Spoken? Not always.
 
  • #65
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I think @vanadium50 was showing just a garbled (greta garbo-ed :-) ) way of speaking the name "Casablanca" as cat-sa-blanca (cats scratching white) and the guy who says "Round up the usual suspects."
 
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I think @vanadium50 was showing just a garbled (greta garbo-ed :-) ) way of speaking the name "Casablanca" as cat-sa-blanca (cats scratching white) and the guy who says "Round up the usual suspects."
Close, with the reference to the Casablanca police chief, but no cigar...

I need to know what this means.
Cats Claws and the French guy from Casablanca?
First picture -- "clawed". Second picture -- "Claude Rains" of Casablanca fame.
 
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  • #67
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I need to know what this means.
Cats Claws and the French guy from Casablanca?
Clawed.
Claude.
 
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  • #68
pinball1970
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Clawed.
Claude.
I did not get that. Ok.
When you hear a French person say "Claude," it is very different to how an English person says it. All sorts of intonation and sounds happens with the French.
English IS normal in some respects. I know some of the spelling is tricky and I'm not say our way right now is the best way.

I don't have a conclusion but the Lingua franca must have kicked in for a reason?
 
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  • #69
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There was a comedian online who said her parents pronounced her name as Arielle but her friends pronounced it as Ariel and when they moved to Kentucky folks pronounced it as Earl.

I guess I read too deeply into the joke. Oh well Ian.
 
  • #70
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I didn't get it either,although I did look up the cast of Casablanca for clues.

Not so much "round up" as giving me the "runaround" :wink:
 

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