During the last three years I’ve fallen deeply in love with the Enlisc language, also known as English. I used to struggle with it for a long time, trying to understand the confusion underlying its words, grammar and pronunciation. Now I’m finding the beauty of the language assisted by my blogger friends Richard and Linda. Both of them are writers and masters in weaving words, if you know what I mean.
English is a Western Germanic language spoken originally in England, and is now the most widely used language in the world. It is spoken as a first language by a majority of the inhabitants of several nations, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, and a number of Caribbean nations. It is the third most common native language in the world, after Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. It is widely learned as a second language and is an official language of the European Union, many Commonwealth countries and the United Nations, as well as in many world organizations.
During the last month, I’m removing the layers of the language in an effort to understand how it started and how it expanded to rule most of the world, together with Mandarin and Spanish. Richard suggested a book to help me in my linguistic quest. The name of the book is dubbed, The Adventure of English by Melvyn Bragg. It’s one of those books you don’t want to keep your eyes off the printed text or let it down for a while to take a pause. You want to read it from beginning to end in one day.
Below is an excerpt from the aforementioned book. Here we go.
“The American influence on English has been and continues to be crucially important and one of the lucky turns in the adventure is that it was English and not, as it just might have been, French or Spanish or German which adopted or was adopted by that new-found land—that engine of the new and modern world. America has brought much treasure to the word-hoard but also, like the British Empire it succeeded, its English has caused casualties, and in both empires they are part of this story.
There had been luck but also cunning and the beginning of what was to become English’s most subtle and ruthless characteristic of all: its capacity to absorb others. Two brief examples of the linguistic osmosis are:
- Frisian: Laam (lamb), goes (goose), bûter (butter), brea (bread), see (sea), stoarm (storm), boat (boat), rein (rain), and snie (snow). Indoors, there’s miel (meal) and sliepe (sleep).
- Latin: Planta (plant), win (wine), catte (cat), candel (candle), ancor (anchor), cest (chest), forca (fork), weall (wall), straet (street), mortere (mortar), spitula (letter), and rosa (rose).
The way in which a few tribal and local Germanic dialects spoken by a hundred and fifty thousand people grew into the English language spoken and understood by about one and a half billion people has all the characteristics of a tremendous adventure.
English like a living organism was seeded in England a little over fifteen hundred years ago. England became its first home. From the beginning it was exposed to rivalries, angers and threats: there was an escape from extinction, the survival of an attempt at suffocation; and there are casualties. It has often been a fierce war over words—whose language rules?—but also there were and are treasures: literatures, unified governance, and today the possibility of a world conversation, in English
Only writing preserves a language. Writing gives posterity the keys it needs. It can cross al boundaries. A written language brings precision, forces ideas into steady shapes, secures against loss. Once the words are on the page they are to be challenged and embellished by those who come across them later. Writing begins as the secondary arm but soon, for many, becomes the primary source, the guardian, the authority, the soul of language.
But who found the first words? Who finds new words today? We know that Shakespeare put into print at least two thousand new words, but the majority of words come out of the crowd. An American frontiers-man like Davy Crockett can be as good a word spinner as a master of Trinity College, Cambridge. Early words came from those who worked the land, those whose centuries of nose to the earth made them acquainted with the minutiae of nature and most likely it was they who, often out of necessity, had to name what they saw: basic things, and creatures which might endanger or nourish them. The giving of names could be called the most democratic communal effort in our history. Language is the finest achievement of culture—and in my view, the English language is the most remarkable of the many contributions these islands have made to the world.”
If English is your second language, I encourage you to keep hanging in there making new discoveries and soon you will unwrap the beauty of the language. I can’t emphasize enough how much I enjoy reading and learning abut this Lingua Franca of our times. Good Day.