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Yesterday my little sister did something I thought was rather strange. She was typing a comment to someone on the internet and used the word “colour”, since she was talking about graphics. Then she mused, “No, these are Americans, I might as well simplify everything and use American English,” and deleted the U.

For a while I was dumbfounded. “What?!”

“Well, seeing as they’re all Americans, I thought I’d make everyone’s lives easier and just spell words their way.”

I spent the next ten minutes explaining that:

  1. Americans are going to understand what the word “colour” means just fine, even if they don’t spell the word that way.
  2. No, it is not even going to take them a second to “translate” the word. Do we need a second to translate the word “color”? No? Then they won’t either (unless they’re really, really sheltered I guess).
  3. It is actually MORE bother to type “colour” then go back and delete the U, than simply to leave it there. And it doesn’t save the Americans any bother either, because as points #1 and #2 state, they’re going to know what the word means.
  4. She didn’t even know the person she was typing the comment to was American. She was only guessing. For all she knew, this person came from one of the multitude of countries in which “colour” is spelt with a U, and then her efforts would have been completely counter-productive.

My sister was unimpressed and eventually retorted, “Why do you even care?!” Hmm. Good question.

I replied, “Because you’re not being very patriotic!”

…then she gigglesnorted at the idea that I would care about others’ lack of patriotism. Read More »

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This is what was written in the birthday card my Dad gave me this morning:

To our lovely Jessica,
Wishing you a very happy birthday and thanks for 16 years of your charm, humour and wonderful companionship!
Love, Mom & Dad

I didn’t want to seem ungrateful for the card, but there was one thing I felt I had to say. “…‘Mom’?

My Dad seemed confused. “Yeah? What about it?”

“Well, you wrote ‘mom’ in my card.”

“Yeah, and? Why can’t I write ‘mum’ in your card?”

“But see, you didn’t write ‘mum’. You wrote ‘mom’. Like, with an ‘O’.”

“Oh.” Dad paused, wondering what excuse he could offer me. “Well, I’ve just been on the phone for two hours with Americans!”

“Right…”

“And anyway, you know, there’s nothing wrong with writing ‘mom’! I mean, how do you spell ‘mother’? You don’t spell it with a ‘U’, do you? I mean, who spells ‘mother’ with a ‘U’? You spell ‘mother’ with an ‘O’ and so you also spell ‘mom’ with an ‘O’.”

“Dad,” I said, “you can’t complain about how I’m using Australian English.”

Dad seemed deflated. “I can try.”

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. Read More »