Saturday, July 2, 2011

I can speak english, lord, as well as you;

While I've been reading John Updike's novel, Rabbit, Run, I also read The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way, a wonderful book by Bill Bryson.  Once again, Bryson takes what could be a rather boring topic, and makes it interesting. I suppose it isn't that the topic is necessarily boring, but that people write about it in such boring fashion. Bryson uses language, research, and wit, to make a for a great, informative read.

The Mother TongueI went to French immersion school growing up, and am now fluent (more or less!) in the language.  Of course I always groaned about how difficult it was, but looking back, I feel it must have been a breeze compared to someone trying to learn English as a second language.  There are simply too many things which are unexplainable, too many nuances that don't make sense.  Why are 'five' and 'good' pronounced differently than 'give' and 'food'? Why do Britons say 'lift' but Americans say 'elevator'? Why do we pronounce 'colonel' with an 'arr' sound? And where does the word 'fuck' come from, and why does it have so many meanings?

Why does English have so many words, and why do so many words mean the same thing?  I had never thought about it before, but other languages do not have a thesaurus; this is unique to English.  Of course, most languages only have a fraction of the words English does, so a thesaurus is unnecessary.  But in English, there are so many words, with so many synonyms and so many homonyms, a thesaurus is a necessary tool.

I leave you with the words 'set' and 'what'.  Both common words we all use everyday.  The word 'set', all of three letters long, takes five pages, and 15,000 words for its' 43 meaning to be explained in the Oxford English Dictionary.  The word 'what' is even more common, usually used every couple of sentences when we speak.  I defy anybody to explain what it means.

It looks to be a glorious Canada Day weekend, which I'll celebrate by reading on the patio.  Rabbit, Run is almost finished and there are nine other books from The List currently sitting on my mantle, just waiting to be read.

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