Why English is Crazy!

July 31st, 2010

Why is English the international language?

Linguistically, why has English become the international language?  Why has French been eclipsed?  Why did Esperanto never really catch on?  Why not Chinese?

Of course there are many contributing reasons for this.  You could say it is because Britain and then America were the dominant superpowers for a long time, so it was natural.  You could say it is because for many years America was the leader in technology and business innovation, so it became the language of tech and business, but then why no German or Japanese?

I mean really, why English?

It’s a completely crazy language.

It is a completely crazy language with more irregular than regular grammar, more irregular than regular spelling (or so it seems to the learner), and so many ways to pronounce each letter of the alphabet that we can’t even write them all down. Plus, English has a much larger active vocabulary than probably any other language in modern usage.

How anyone can ever expect to master this seems ridiculous.  And why they would try seems even more ridiculous.  And yet, it is the most widely studied foreign language in the world, and millions and millions of people do in fact master it.

As a native English speaker who is a teacher of English at the Lake Tahoe Institute of English, I am constantly having to try to explain and find rules for what comes naturally to me.  We get all kinds of English learners here at the Lake Tahoe Institute of English, and we design very personalized programs for each one of them.  We create programs that address various needs, professions and learning styles.

Sometimes I have clients who love structure.  They want a syllabus and a plan for what they are going to accomplish each day.  Some of them really want to know and clearly understand the framework and rules for English grammar, pronunciation and spelling.

To be perfectly honest, when I have a client like this, I have to spend considerable time reviewing the so-called rules and the many, many exceptions to the rules.  And even then, I find it difficult to explain!

English grammar doesn’t make sense!

There is a pretty simple explanation for this:  English grammar doesn’t make sense.

English is an extremely versatile and flexible language.  It is an ancient language that has been contributed to and molded by many, many very diverse languages over the centuries.  It is not largely Latin-based, or Greek-based.  It is Anglo-Saxon based with huge influences from Celtic, from German, Swedish, French, Latin, etc.  It is a polyglot of languages.

But in the 17th century linguists greatly admired Latin, supposedly the purest of languages, and decided that the rules of Latin grammar should be imposed on English, a decidedly non-Latin based language.

According to my language hero, Bill Bryson, in The Mother Tongue, “this is like trying to play baseball in iceskates.  The two simply don’t match.”

Well, no wonder then…..

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