Peculiarities of the English LanguageExpand
The English language was created in England. Throughout history, this language has spread to many parts of the world. It is used as a link language for International business and diplomacy.
According to Madhukar N. Gate, it has taken thousands of words from other languages such as French, Latin, German, Greek and so on. We can even find Sanskrit words in English. For example: Guru and Pundit are two Sanskrit words used in English.
English grammar is quite simple, in many languages nouns have grammatical gender which makes some verbs and adjectives change. This doesn’t happen in English.
The adjective “big” is used with all nouns such as man, woman, child, book etc, as well as applying to both singular and plural nouns.
Counting large numbers in English is very simple. For example, twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three, etc forms a series. The next one is thirty-one, thirty-two, twenty-three etc. In other languages, numbers are unrelated and have to be memorized.
English has changed some words, which hurt some peoples feelings. For example the word “Christian name” when many Hindus and Muslims started using English, as it became awkward. So the word Christian was changed to First name. The word Negro caused some offense and was changed to Black person.
About two hundred years ago, Americas leaders changed some spelling. For example British spelling c-o-l-o-u-r was changed to American spelling c-o-l-o-r and a student writing the word (sell) as s-e-l would loose marks in his/her exams.
There are certain characteristics of English that cause problems to non native English speakers. These are some of the most common examples that I found during my research, written by Curtis R. Brautigam:
The verb-adverb combination is peculiar to English such as “turn on”, “turn off” or “mark down”. In other languages, single specific verbs are used in place of the English verb-adverb combination. A combination like “turn off” is problematic because in English it has several meanings. You can turn off a light, or you can use the word “turn off” when talking about something repulsive.
Another peculiarity is the verb “to do” .In many languages the verb “to do” and “to make” have the same meaning. In English they are different, which means that sometimes phrases like “Do you speak English?” can cause problems to non native English speakers.
I also found very curious that when it comes to translating English into other languages, sometimes the size of the text increases when we translate from English to certain Western European languages, and other times decreases when we translate from English to Hebrew for example. I find this fact very fascinating.
I also wanted to include this piece of article that I found during my research written by Bill Bryson where he mentions that some people think that in English it is not correct to end a phrase with a preposition. He spoke about Winston Churchill who was editing a proof of one of his books, when he noticed that an editor had rearranged one of his sentences, so it wouldn’t end with a preposition, so he scribbled in the margin “This is the sort of English up with which I will not put”.
Another example that I personally thought was amusing is this dialogue occurred in a place called Hahvahd:
“Excuse me, where is the library at?”
“Here at Havhavd we never finish a sentence with a preposition”
“O.K. Excuse me, where is the library at, a**hole?”
In conclusion, what I find so remarkable is how being a native English speaker we articulate in such different dialects and how the English language has such different grammar rules compared to other languages.
Peculiarities of the English LanguageExpand
Several languages are spoken around the world. Yet, one language, in spite of its many peculiarities and absurdities has, through a series of fortuitous circumstances, emerged the true “lingua franca” of the modern age.
England is the birthplace of the English Language. However, the English Language itself is a ‘borrowed’ language. It contains several words of the Anglo-Saxon dialect and has absorbed many words from other languages such as French, Latin, German, Greek.
English’s role as “lingua franca” is truly fascinating because people use it as a “link” language within their own countries. It is the most sought after and widely used link language for International business and diplomacy.
In Spite of its many good points, English is one of the most exasperating languages to learn because of its many peculiarities – some of which we shall soon see.
1. Spelling and Pronunciation:
English spelling and pronunciation are totally unmatched. See a few examples below:
- If the plural of box is boxes, why can’t the plural of ox be oxes?
- If the plural of mouse is mice why can’t the plural of house be hice?
- If the plural of hoof is hooves why can’t the plural of roof be rooves?
- We speak of brother and also of brethren, but though we say mother, we never say methren.
- If ‘i’ comes before an ‘e’ except after a ‘c’ – how do you account for words like ‘seize’?
- The symbol (a) is pronounced differently in words like (a-l-s-o); (a-r-m); (a-l-o-n-e); (a-l-i-e-n); (a-l-p-i-n-e).
- Then again, for a common pronunciation, there are two different spellings eg; (c-e-l-l) and (s-e-l-l). Moreover, these words carry a redundant extra symbol ‘l’.
- Words with silent letters serve no apparent purpose. Consider words like - (d-e-b-t); (h-o-n-o-u-r); (i-s-l-a-n-d).
- Don’t we get the same sound in words like:- ‘tea’, ‘feel’, ‘believe’, ‘receive’?
- What’s the difference between words like intention and television?
- Have you considered how difficult it is for the language learner to figure out why “GHOTI” cannot be pronounced “FISH” if..
gh .. represents - f - as in ‘paragraph’
o .. represents – i – as in ‘women’
ti .. represents – sh – as in ‘dictation’ ….. ??
There are words with different meanings that are:-
pronounced the same but spelled differently –
Eg:- (“there”, “their”); (“whole”, “hole”)
spelled the same but pronounced differently.
- The row started because the prisoners stood in a row.
- Why does he refuse to throw the refuse?
Groups of the same letters in the same order are pronounced inmany different ways. Take the oddity (o-u-g-h) in:-
(c-o-u-g-h); (d-o-u-g-h); (t-h-r-o-u-g-h); (b-o-u-g-h).
George Bernard Shaw, the Irish playwright, highlighted this peculiarity in a famous poem.
2. Different forms of the Future Tense:
EFL teachers have spent sleepless nights wondering how to teach the “going to” form to students and explain how different it is from the “present continuous” and “will” future forms.
3. Phrasal Verbs:
In theory Phrasal Verbs are generally considered to be idiomatic combinations of a verb and an adverbial particle. However, scholars are still debating on whether the later is an adverb, prepositional adverb, postpositional prefix, special part of speech etc.,
English phrasal verbs can be highly idiomatic, their meanings beingunpredictable from the sum of their constituents’ meanings (eg. take in[to deceive, to consume..] lay down [to build, to consolidate?] );
Phrasal Verbs render different shades of meaning in different uses.
Take the above example “check this out” and “check out”.
Then there is confusion with the “separated” and “non-separated” phrasal verb (like the one above):
You can say she “switched off the light” and also she “switched the light off”, but you cannot do the same with “she told him off”? (shetold off him!!!)
Obviously such semantic peculiarities of English phrasal verbs must influence the process of their translation into other languages.
Would a learner understand the difference between:
To drive on a parkway …. and ….
Park on a driveway?
that “A fat chance” and a “slim chance” .. mean the same?
that you “fill-out” a Form by “filling it in?”
5. Figures of Speech:
How can a language learner learn the depth of an ‘oxymoron’? Would a ‘silent noise’ make sense to him or for that matter the “walking dead”? How about explaining the sense of going about with “your eyes wide shut?”
Let me conclude with a remark from a sworn enemy of anglicisms:
“To speak English is a necessity; to speak French is a privilege”.
Peculiarities of the English LanguageExpand
English is a peculiarly inflection-less language - neither verbs nor adjectives change form according to gender, and rarely according to number, which serves to make it easier for speakers of other languages to learn it. The actual peculiarities that trouble most learners of English occur largely in spelling and pronunciation:
I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough?
Others may stumble but not you
On hiccough, thorough, laugh and through…
(“Hints on Pronunciation for Foreigners”, attributed to G. B. Shaw)
It’s an established truism that in English there are more exceptions than rules. Most of the peculiarities, or reasons for lack of a coherent system of rules governing the entire language, can be traced back to the diverse influences on, and multi-lingual origins of, English. The vocabulary continues to be open to words from other languages, and the grammar was only standardized after centuries of influx of various linguistic groups into the territory from which the language gets its name. The small but busy island knew a long history of colonization: from Roman occupation in the early ADs, through Anglo-Saxon conquests (West-Germanic language group), Viking incursions (Norse influences- North-Germanic), to the Norman Conquest (Old French dialect Anglo-Norman, where Norman stood for a Germanic origin group of “Norsemen”), and a continuing relationship with European language groups.
It is not as if rules don’t exist; it is just that words borrowed from other languages still change form according to the rules that operate in the original context. Therefore, for example, we have plurals like oxen and brethren, clearly deriving from Old English or Middle English practices. (The fact that rules do exist is borne out by the practice of giving out the language of origin of a word at Spelling Bees to help the contestants spell it.)
Pronunciation - Indo-Germanic language group origins, but so many pervasive influences, from Celtic to Norse to Latinate Romance languages. Approximately three hundred years of French as the court language (from the Norman Conquest in 1066 to 1366, when English replaced French as the language of law) meant many French words were added to the vocabulary - bringing in the infamously impossible French pronunciation - “the French don’t care what they do, actually, as long as they pronounce it properly.” (“Why Can’t the English” from the movie My Fair Lady, 1963). The Romance language French meant the further indirect influence of Latin, which came earlier with the Romans and then with the advent of Christianity c. 700 AD. Shakespeare played very consciously upon the fact that Latinate language was used by verbose scholarly types, and French influenced English by accomplished courtiers.
Through various phases of standardization, Middle English turned into modern English somewhere around the fifteenth century: from phonetic spelling in early English texts, no lexicon of grammar, there came the Great Vowel Shift between middle and modern English. The introduction of printing in 1476 (by William Caxton) meant the standardization to some extent of both spelling and grammar, but since most publishing houses were based in London, the language that came into print was the London dialect.
English includes words from languages as diverse as Finnish (sauna), Japanese (tycoon, kamikaze), and Celtic (coombe). The impact of the Empire was also felt on the language - the vocabulary increased to include words from colonized languages (bazaar, pasha etc). American English is a whole other kettle of fish: ‘There even are places where English completely disappears. ‘Why, in America they haven’t used it for years!’ (My Fair Lady, 1963)
The choice of English as a global language can only partially be explained by the fact that the English empire once encompassed one-third of the world. The ease with which English has become the language of commerce, science and politics may have something to do with its easily adaptable character: the vocabulary expands constantly to accommodate ever expanding horizons of human knowledge. Even as we speak, words like blog and friendly-fire have become common parlance, though my dictionary may refuse to recognize them. It remains a fluid, developing language; from ‘leef’ in Middle English to ‘life’ and further shortening syllables - the great Vowel Shift continues.
- Wikipedia: History of England and History of the English Language.
- Merriam-Webster Online: Origins of English.
- The History of the English Language.
Puneet Kaur Hundal
Check out ITTT's Blog Posts
- 1The application process is free and does not commit you in any way.
- 2Anyone fluent in English and aged 18+ is eligible for our courses.
- 3No previous experience or qualifications are required.
- 4Apply today and receive a free e-guide covering the basics of TEFL/TESOL.
- 5Sign up for your course before 25 September, 2019 and receive an additional course free of charge. *