Sunday, September 20, 2009

The language of freedom

I am currently reading The Mother Tongue: English and how it got that way, by Bill Bryson, a book which explores the English language.

It's a fun, interesting read.

Bryson not only looks at the history and evolution of English, but also highlights some of its quirks.

For instance, English has a large number of negative words for which there is no positive counterpart: inept, disheveled, incorrigible, ruthless, unkempt.

When was the last time praised you somebody for being ept or kempt?

One other interesting point Bryson makes is that there is no national academy or official state agency regulating or governing the language.

English simply evolved in its own way.

There was a movement in the 18th century in both the United Kingdom and the United States to create some sort of language regulatory body similar France’s Acadamie Francaise, but it never took off.

And this is for the best.

As Bryson notes the Acadmie Francaise often regulates French with almost “ayatollah-like conservatism” stultifying the language's growth and development.

English, on the other hand, develops freely.

One scholar noted French was similar to the severe and formal gardens of Louis XIV, whereas English was “laid out seemingly without any definite plan, and in which you were allowed to walk everywhere according to your own fancy without having to fear a stern keeper enforcing rigorous regulations.”

Consequently this is why English has one of the richest vocabularies and is the most adaptable language in the world.

It’s too bad we don’t apply this lesson to other aspects of our society.

A lot less regulating and a lot more freedom in both our economic and political spheres would make Canada a richer place in more ways than one.


Kadam said...

But at least we have a strong example of the concept in the English language. In case anyone says that it never works, we can point to the language as an example.

Free and open, and yet instead of chaos, we generally understand each other. Which I believe is the purpose of a language, to allow us to generally understand each other.

Anonymous said...

It's my understanding that “inept” is the antonym of “apt”, however the sands of time have worn them into difference shapes.