Saturday, July 31, 2010

Lingo 1

In spite of the way I deliberately misuse language in this blog (incomplete phrases a so on - see here:) I do have a reasonable proficiency in English.

After 30 years' immersion in French, I can manage OK, but it is still instantly obvious to everybody that I am a foreigner.

At various times, I have attempted to learn a bit of Latin, German, Italian, Japanese, Esperanto and, most recently, Alsatian.
In none of those have I achieved more than about 5% competence.

Every time I study a language, I am struck by two things:
1. The way every language is weighed down by its own pointless complications & irregularities.
2. The surprising absence, from each language, of some elements which other languages seem to consider essential.

A quick example of both is plural forms.
English, like most other languages, has a plural form of most nouns.
Sometimes simple (cat/cats), sometimes less simple (potato/potatoes, lady/ladies, half/halves, oasis/oases) but often irregular (child/children, man/men, foot/feet, mouse/mice…).
It would be a lot easier if at least they were all regular.
Yet Japanese manages perfectly well without plural forms at all.
And so does English, when it wants to (sheep/sheep, fish/fish etc).
Did you ever have the slightest problem in transmitting or receiving any information about any quantity of fish or sheep, from none to millions?
Nor me!
Plural forms are a waste of everybody's time & effort.
Easily enough absorbed in early childhood, they are persistent stumbling blocks for adult learners.

Then there is Gender & Agreement.
The only way I managed to start actually talking in French at all was to deliberately ignore gender & put up with the mockery.
Otherwise I would have needed to stop & check every other word in a dictionary before using it.
And French
only has 2 genders, where German & Alsatian have three...
Only by a lifetime's immersion could I possibly master the table of German genders & agreements well enough to use it
faultlessly at talking speed.
You need to consider 16 possibilities every time:
Masculine/Feminine/Neutral/Plural x Nominative/Accusative/Dative/Genitive.
And to think it is pretty much pointless…
English manages OK without genders & agreement at all.

Another little example is pronouns which, even in English, mostly adopt accusative forms:
I/he/she/we/you/they hit me/him/her/you/them.
Having "you" as both nominative & accusative never caused anybody a problem, so why complicate all the others?

Fundamentally, languages are being used for two, often conflicting, missions.
1. Transmitting historical, cultural & regional values & information.
2. Communicating as widely as possible.

The cultural part requires that all the peculiarities, of as many local languages & dialects as possible, should be maintained & learned by local youngsters.
The communicating part would be better handled by a single, universal, language.

Seen from here & now, that seems most likely to be English.
Seen from elsewhere, it could well be Spanish or Chinese.
If any existing language becomes "universal", it will cause significant & justified jealousy & resentment among native-speakers of all the other languages, who will be at a disadvantage.
Indeed, the jealousy & resentment are more than likely to prevent any existing language ever becoming universal.

Which is where Esperanto comes in.
Where all other languages evolved & accumulated.
Without irregularities.
It has to be hundreds of times faster to learn than any other language.
A wonderful effort.
But it has not developed any significant usage yet & seems unlikely to do so now.
Why not?
1. Came too early, before there was globalization to make it necessary & internet to make it popular?
2. Still unnecessarily complicated?
3. Just not promoted well enough?

I think there is room for a radically simpler language.
Which would aim to become a universal second language due to its utter simplicity.
One where anybody could learn absolutely all the grammar, with absolutely no irregularities, in half a day.
Leaving half a day to learn some basic vocabulary.
So in one day, we could all communicate…

Further details in part 2.

Parting thot: "Language is the means of getting an idea from my brain into yours without surgery." - Mark Amidon

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