Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Enjoying English

There could be no more satisfying way to read The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language than listening to it as an audiobook -- and that's what we did while driving across a good bit of the U.S. west on our recent vacation roadtrip.

Melvin Bragg loves our language in all its variety. He delightedly chronicles its evolution. Though English does not boast the largest number of native speakers in the world (that would be Mandarin Chinese), it is far and away the essential second language of the most people -- and hence the essential world medium of much communication. It has thrived by incorporating words from all the cultures it encountered -- and now many of those cultures, for example the Indian sub-continent, are evolving their own variants.

Somewhat surprisingly for a Brit, Bragg celebrates the creativity and informality of the U.S. variant. He thinks our contributions are enjoyable, not some corruption visited on the pure mother tongue.

And he has a great sense of English's considerable absurdity. Here's what is apparently a British school room ditty that captures the mess that is our spelling.

We'll begin with a box and the plural is boxes.
But the plural of ox should be oxen not oxes.
Then one fowl is goose, but two are called geese.
Yet the plural of mouse should never be meese.
You may find a lone mouse or a whole lot of mice.
But the plural of house is houses not hice.
If the plural of man is always called men,
Why shouldn't the plural of pan be called pen?
The cow in a plural may be cows or kine,
But the plural of vow is vows and not vine.
And I speak of foot and you show me your feet,
But I give you a boot. . . would a pair be called beet? . . .


1 comment:

Darlene said...

Aha !! So that's where that clever list of plurals came from. I have seen it numerous times in my e-mail in box.

English is a most confusing language and I am glad that I learned it the easy way.

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