Tribute to the English Language

I’ve been exposed to many languages, enough to have simple conversations in French, Arabic, Spanish, and American Sign Language (ASL).  Beautiful languages, all.  I hope to become fully fluent in ASL someday.

However, I’ll have to plead guilty to loving my mother tongue, American English, best of all.

People claim that “their our know rules” to English, but in fact there are many rules–and nearly as many exceptions.  It’s a hard language to learn, but it can be so rewarding once you do know it.

English is the mutt of European languages.  It steals grammar and word roots from every other language, then stitches all the pieces together into something resembling a reasonable structure.  It’s eclectic.  (Eclectic, I just discovered, is a word that comes from two Greek roots.)

Because its words come from so many different sources, it isn’t a language designed for rhyming, as the generations of poets who failed to find a rhyme for the word “orange” will attest, but is is a language for poetry–free verse, haiku, whatever.  Our metaphors, similes, overstatements, understatements, alliteration, assonance, and all other forms of turning a phrase and activating every sense make words magical in the hands of a master wordsmith.  This is a close cousin to Shakespeare’s English.  It still has Shakespeare’s power.  With some imagination, you hardly need profanity to insult or threaten someone–“No power under the stars will find the shredded remnants of your corpse” is just so much more intimidating.

It’s a precise language.  There are shades of meaning between “frustration” and “anger” and “rage” and many other words so that what the speaker means and what the listeners hear are almost identical.  And when we don’t have a word to say what we mean, we create one, such as “retroactive continuity” or “visual-spatial” or “fanfiction,” though that last one isn’t being recognized as a word by spell check, yet.

Then you have sarcasm, the fascinating art of saying one thing and meaning something else.

Every English has these, of course.  What’s so special about American English?

I love all the other Englishes too, but here are some things that make American English extra special:

The slightly nasal sound, not enough to be annoying, of the way people pronounce their As.

The fact that we spell words like “accessorize” with a Z instead of an S.

How “Louisiana” is pronounced differently in different parts of the country, and the vast number of towns in Utah with pronunciations that apparently have nothing to do with the way they are spelled.

Everyone’s arguments about whether carbonated sugary beverages are “soda” or “pop” or “cola” or something even stranger.

The pitter-patter rhythm of many conversations happening in the same room at the same time.

The way some people have of taking the T out of “mountain” and inserting it into “across.”

Words like “ain’t” and “y’all” that are actually recognized as words.  (Ain’t they?)

I love that.  I love the way English both facilitates and interferes with clear communications between human beings.  I love that American English captures the flavor of American culture in the way every language ought to catch the taste of its culture.  I love its stubborn originality.  I love that even within the specific language group of American English, we still have so many subcultures with their own slang.  I love how English constantly changes as we develop new technologies and ways of communicating.

I really love English.


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