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I am one of those weird people fascinated by the intricacies of language. While others shudder at the thought of learning the roots of words, the history of their language, about cognates, or about how language has been used, I love learning about these things. To me, language seems such an important part of the world. Language is argued over in legal battles, language causes rifts between states, language fosters communication, language defines what we believe.

Furthermore, language is complex, evolving, and as alive as any biological organism. Languages must adapt to new ideas and circumstances, or else speakers won’t bother speaking it, and their language will die. One of the many good things about the English language is its willingness to adapt to change. As people use English in new and creative ways, English changes to accommodate them. We add words to the dictionary like we’re trying to justify the printer’s time! Whenever another language has a word English speakers want to use, it’s promptly swiped; as a speaker of the English language, it’s virtually guaranteed that you’ll find the words to express yourself. This characteristic, and this willingness to change, will ensure our language’s survival for centuries, if not millennia, to come. English will never die; it will evolve into something new, something probably as bizarre and wonderful as the language that preceded it.

That’s what annoys me about occupations which take it upon themselves to keep their language “pure”. Given my comparison to biology before, it should not surprise you that I believe keeping language pure is impossible. No species can resist evolution, much as Christian fundamentalists try. No language can resist it, either. Imagine if a new English Preservation Centre established itself, deciding to keep the English language pure. We wouldn’t be able to submit a résumé, nor a CV. We could no longer speak of illegitimate régimes. We’d go back to writing “to-day”; our recent omission of the hyphen was clearly a sign of laziness. In International Studies, my statement that China desires a xiaokang society would be punished: why use the Chinese word when the English expression “moderately prosperous” would be perfectly sufficient? And of course, why ask for a chicken parmigiana when we could just say we wanted a crumbed piece of chicken topped with tomato and cheese then grilled? Duhhh!

Language evolves or language dies; it’s as simple as that. Speakers of many languages — French, Italian, Chinese — have warned of the perils of accepting English loanwords. If even one unnecessary word is borrowed from English, it’ll mean THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT! …or so they’d have you believe, at any rate. This is stupid. Words are borrowed from English because they’re useful, not for fun. If an Italian refers to “il weekend” rather than “fine settimana”, they’re not bad Italians! They’ve borrowed a word which is useful to them, having found “fine settimana” awkward and clunky. Do Italians want an awkward, clunky language? Similarly, if a Chinese person resorts to English words to explain something technical, it’s not because they can’t appreciate their beautiful mother tongue. It’s because the Chinese explanations would be long, or would be liable to be misunderstood, or just extremely difficult to form. Where languages already have the words to express things with sufficient haste, speakers aren’t going to look towards English. They do it when English offers some improvement.

Remember, the primary purpose of language is, and always should be, communication. In my opinion, anything that assists in this purpose is a positive development, regardless of what that may be.

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One Comment

  1. Done well, anglicised words in the Chinese language can actually have more meaning than the same words in English. Taking “Coca-Cola” for an example, the words mean nothing in English. It’s simply a brand name.

    In Chinese however, it’s translated as 口可口乐, (kou ke kou le), which basically means “happy taste in mouth”. πŸ˜€


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