Print Edition - 2017-04-06 | Oped
Apr 6, 2017-
There are an estimated 6,500 languages spoken across the world. While Mandarin Chinese has the most number of native speakers, English remains the world’s de facto lingua franca. Since English is a natural language, it is subject to various inconsistencies and exceptions which can be difficult for a learner to master. Many artificial languages such as Esperanto have been created to solve this problem, but such attempts have been poorly adopted. Even attempts by natural languages like Mandarin Chinese have been unsuccessful due to the challenges posed by their own internal discrepancies or jargon.While the success of English as a language can be attributed to the British Empire’s dominance in previous centuries, English has one major linguistic advantage over other languages: It readily assimilates foreign words into its vocabulary. Such inclusion not only expands and enriches English, but also allows various dialects to evolve. A famous dialect is Singapore English with words such as ‘wah’ and ‘shiok’ being formally added to the Oxford English Dictionary. The exclusive borrowing can be attributed to another factor as well: There is no central regulatory body for English. While some languages are conservative in borrowing terms, there is no such impedance in English.
Historical influences have played a pivotal role too. The British Isles have long been influenced by various Germanic and Norman conquests. While English is of a West-Germanic origin, its vocabulary has been extensively shaped by Saxon and Norman languages. Furthermore, after the Norman conquest, many ‘refined’ words of Anglo-Saxon origin (Germanic) were replaced by that of Norman origin. Anglo-Norman words such as ‘pork’, ‘poultry’ and ‘purchase’ are considered more refined than their Anglo-Saxon equivalents ‘pig’, ‘chicken’ and ‘buy’ respectively.
Many everyday words have been assimilated from languages stretching from Japanese (karaoke, origami) to Norwegian (ski, berserk). English has also borrowed from Nepali; the word ‘panda’ and ‘kukri’ are of Nepali origin. However, borrowing is not exclusively one-way; many languages have adopted English words like ‘laser’ and ‘battery’ into their vocabulary. It seems English will continue to develop and borrow words into its vocabulary. It is very likely that the English of the far future will bear little resemblance to the English of today. Even now, words like ‘ain’t’ have been replacing ‘to be’ and its forms in vernacular speech. While English may not be the world’s de facto lingua
franca in the future, one thing iscertain: It will continue to assimilate words, breathing into them new life and form in the days to come.
Published: 06-04-2017 08:03