Tag Archives: language

Inventing English

My recent passion has been the psychology of language, or how it has come about. I find this so interesting and if I wasn’t pursuing history and Spanish in college, I’d probably do something on language studies, and mostly how they effect physical and social aspects of life, as well as a broad range of others. What I’m talking about is philology, or love of language. It is completely fascinating to me that a person can be born and grow up speaking a different language than a person one hundred miles away. It’s baffling to me that people can think in other languages, or even dream. The concept of language itself is mindboggling. Today, I’m focusing on a book by Seth Lerer called Inventing English, a book that covers the development of my native language from its beginnings to its ever changing ‘end’. I say ‘end’ because English is always changing. It all began in the Indo-European areas of lower Europe and east central Asia, where civilized life originated from. The influence of these languages led to Germanic cognates in central Europe. Language was very important during this time because it determined your origin, class, and level of education. Runes were used excessively in the area now known as the United Kingdom but it gave way to the basic letters we use today. An example from the book on the basic foundation of English was “Oc was heom naht parof, for hi weron al forcurs oed and forsworen and forloren” meaning, “but it mattered nothing to them, for they were all already cursed, and perjured, and lost.” What amazes me is how someone centuries ago could understand the first quote and that we could not today. Later on, the influence of the French language entered into English, giving us new words and pronunciations. The Great Vowel Shift of the 15th century was procured through the interaction of different dialects, resulting in a systematic change of an entire sound system. Later on, during the time of the Enlightenment, English became more expanded: the largest influx of new words came in 1625, with a total of at least 6000 new words being added that year to the vocabulary of millions. Language continued to be an important part of people’s lives, with dictionaries being made to clear the confusion of multiple pronunciations and spellings. Dialects and native origins also played a bigger role; when colonists came over to America, they picked up native words (for example, I live in Iowa, which is a native American word, and there is evidence of their influence everywhere, from the Wapsipinicon River to Sioux City). Dialects became a part of literature, especially that of Mark Twain, who used the dialect of Africans to enrich his novels and give them character. Margaret Mitchell did the same with her Civil War era novel, Gone With the Wind. As the years went by and technology advanced, especially with the introduction of the telephone, and most recently, texting, language has become a bit more difficult. The author brings about the point that war can change languages and pop culture or slang  has a big influence on what we say. In regards to texting, which can be fairly vague, different arguments can be brought up: one can say that sending little written messages can keep us in contact with each other, but others say that it makes us isolated and afraid of confrontation. Overall, the complexity and structure of any language is always changing: what we say today could be said differently by our grandchildren. This book was tremendously interesting and really helped fuel my passion for learning about language.

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Russia

Let’s take the time to talk about the biggest country in the world. This country covers basically half of Asia (though not much of Europe) who’s northern extremities are basically uninhabited because of how cold it is. The reason this topic relates to books is that I read one recently for an AP Environmental Science project about Chernobyl (I know it’s in Ukraine but Russia was still involved) which I find really interesting. Russia is one B.A. country. From their impossible to pronounce names to practically drinking alcoholic fire, the Russians are pretty topnotch. Regarding their tough names in literature, Doctor Zhivago has characters with names that you have to skim over and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander I. Solzhnitsky kind of explains itself. One time I tried to teach myself how to speak Russian by reading a book, which proved to be difficult because all I remember how to say is спасибо (thank you) and красивый (beautiful) but maybe I will pick it back up over the summer. It’s a symbol-based language, like Chinese and Thai, which I find more difficult to associate to words than Spanish or English. Russia also has a pretty rad history: from what I remember, Peter the Great, the leader of Russia probably before the Middle Ages, went on a great tour of Europe to see refined society and the latest trends that he could bring back to improve his country. He ended up making all the men wear billowy pants and cut off their beards. They  found the latter offensive because they believed Jesus had a beard and this made the connection to God for them closer. In more recent years, Russian relations with the United States have been rocky, with the Cold War to contain communism and nuclear missile crisis and whatnot. However, after the Berlin wall was knocked down a little over a decade ago,  Russia and the US became somewhat friendly. Lately, tensions have been yet again rising due to Russian interference with the political turmoil in Ukraine, making people wonder how this will play out in the global scene. So there you have it, a rambling post about Russia all stemming from a book about an exploding power plant in Ukraine. But if you’ve put up with me for this long, I’m sure you’re used to it by now.