Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The story of English
And its marvellous ‘Anglo-Saxon anarcho-traditionalism’ as Joshua Snyder describes
Whether English is one’s native language or second language, learning the English spelling system can be quite a daunting task.
It keeps me working at the newspaper. :)
Rothbardian “spontaneous order” arises out of the seeming chaos of English spelling.

Today Welsh, Scots, and Irish by and large learn their languages not at home from parents but at schools as a second language.
Gaelic is nearly dead in Scotland (there are some northern islands very like the gaeltacht, the Gaelic-speaking pockets in the west of Ireland — Barra remained Roman Catholic and Gaelic is their first language, or at least it was 20 years ago) and the gaeltacht is shrinking despite the Irish government’s nearly loving Gaelic to death. Joshua’s right that most Irish aren’t native speakers but some are (Niall Toibin, pronounced ‘Tobeen’, the parish priest on ‘Ballykissangel’, is one); most were forced to take it in school as Frank McCourt’s fans know.

Welsh OTOH is a living language despite Wales being less independent than Scotland and under English rule longer (since the Middle Ages). Threatened but still alive. Many don’t know that the late Richard Burton wasn’t a native English speaker!
In 1066 A.D., England was conquered by the Norman French...
The now-extinct French of the Channel Islands shows how they talked. The Normans were Northmen, Vikings, to begin with, and that’s what their French sounded like.
The French never left. Over time, they became English. The two languages fused. On top of a German base was added the French lexicon.
That produced the English we know and understand, that of Chaucer and ‘Sir Gawain’, unlike the unintelligible Old English of Beowulf.
Latin retained its place of as the language of religion and education, but French became the language of social prestige.
As the word prestige shows! I’m told it doesn’t mean that in French though but something more like lying to show off: it’s their short version of the Latinate word prestidigitation, sleight of hand or pulling a fast one!
English remained the common tongue. Over time, these three linguistic traditions gave English a tripartite system of expressing the same base concept with different words for different situations. The farm, restaurant, and lecture hall come to mind when we hear cow-beef-bovine and pig-pork-porcine. The words kingly, royal, and regal have different shades of meaning, nuance, and significance.
Which Paul Fussell has snobbish fun accurately describing. It’s another thing that keeps me working. There’s a difference between using a French or lecture-hall Latinate word just right like the late Bill Buckley was famous for and a cop or corporate dumba*s trying to sound important, one of Fussell’s targets. One of the joys of my job is ruthlessly rewriting this stuff replacing most of it with literally good Anglo-Saxon words.

From LRC.

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