Language Lovers Wish List for 2015 — What Do You Want?
Let’s Start the New Year Off Right!
The language lovers author Umberto Ecco has written some great books about linguistics and language, including The Search for the Perfect Language and Serendipity. His works got us thinking about language, ideal language, and humanity’s search for the perfect language.
This is a bit tongue-in-cheek, since at the end of the day, language is inextricably linked to culture, and each culture defines what is important to its language. Still, onwards:
English Needs More __________________!
If you could redesign the English Language today, what would you change? What features from other languages, or made up features that don’t exist in “real” languages at all, would you include?
If this exercise does anything, it certainly makes you think about the limitations of our language, and what’s important to English Speakers. It’s also a subtle reminder about the importance of saving endangered languages. Language is culture to a huge extent, and when we allow languages to die, we’re effectively allowing cultures and ways of thinking to die with them.
Tom Scott has a great video over on YouTube about 4 features he wishes English included. Our favorite of these is also Gretchen McCllough’s favorite over at Slate.
It’s “clusivity” The idea that the pronoun “we” might be “inclusive” or “exclusive”
Honestly, as Tom Scott mentions in his video, once you wrap your brain around this one, you won’t be able to let it go. The idea, simply, is that in English, when we say “We’ve won the lottery!!” The person being addressed is, at the beginning of the sentence, going to be super thrilled.
By the end of the sentence, based on body language and context, that person is either going to be super-thrilled, or really, really let down.
If English had “clusivity” that situation would be cleared up and the person being addressed would know right away if
he or she they were included or not. There is a different pronoun for “we – including the person being spoken to” and “we – excluding the person being spoken to”.
All right. With two other posts alluding to this, certainly I don’t need to mention it again? Briefly, a non-clunky way to express gender neutrality would be great. For several reasons. First, because sometimes we don’t know the gender and don’t want to be awkward. Second, because sometimes the gender is not important, and again, we don’t want to be awkward and insist on it. And because there are people out there who do not define themselves by gender, and whether you like this or not, it exists. (I’ve heard the argument that we don’t need to accommodate everyone.)
We have the word “longing” and “yearning” but I don’t know — once you’ve listened to Portuguese, it makes you really wish we had some way of expressing “saudade”. It expresses a longing or yearning for something that doesn’t exist. It is similar to the Japanese “natsukashii” and this Tumblr does a great job of describing the two. Another blogger has tried to translate it as “pining” but I would say that the difference is the positivity in the Portuguese and Japanese words. Okay…positivity may not be the right word, either…but when someone “pines” for something, or longs, or yearns…there’s a feeling in English that the person should “get over it”. Homesickness, too, doesn’t quite cut the mustard in English for what exists in both Japanese and Portuguese.
Hard to believe I want more time in English, as it’s a pretty good language as far as time expression goes. It’s got that great “progressive” tense in English which gives great context to ongoing activities. We’ve got lots of unreal time expressions, too, which makes English deep and rich. But wouldn’t it be awesome if we could use this expression in standard English:
I was sat at my desk all day long.
It’s apparently part of some forms of British English, and there’s a rich and fun discussion on this topic of at the Grammar Geeks Group on LinkedIn. I can’t help but wish that standard English would include this tense formation. In any case, the more the better, as far as I am concerned.
Chinese doesn’t need any time reference in its verbs. It’s all described in context. And other languages are like this, too. For me, though, I like my time baked right in. How about you? Would your perfect language include many tenses or none at all?
More Ways to Exist
In Spanish and Japanese, the verb “to be” has more than one form. In Spanish, the distinction is between states of being. In Japanese, the distinction is between animate and inanimate objects. I think it would be wonderful to expand our sensibilities and include more within that simple verb: to be. It says a lot about our existence and how we view the world, doesn’t it? If we view things that are alive differently from those which are not alive, as in Japanese, or if we have to consider the state we are in when we say I am a girl versus I am in the kitchen. Wow. Mind blown.
Other Ways for Language Lovers to Express Ourselves?
What are some other ways English could be modified to better represent us? What would you include if you could? Do you think having gendered nouns would be a good thing, for example? Would you add in certain words that seem to not exist in our language?
Let us know how you would change English for the better in 2015, if you could. And language is always changing, so perhaps this is the year you make those changes and they stick! Wouldn’t it be the accomplishment of the year to have your new word in the dictionary next year? Or, perhaps, your new verb tense?
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