Our Mutt Language, English

Our Mutt Language, English May 23, 2012

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  • Blake

    Come on, we’re a lot more indebted to German than that’s recognizing.

  • Blake,

    isn’t Old English a Germanic language (Old English = Anglo-Saxon)? If so, the German influence is amply represented there in the pink.

    I’m far from an expert in linguistics. Is what I suggested accurate? Does anybody out there know?

  • Larry Barber

    English is not a “mutt”, it is simply open and inclusive, welcoming of the other. Of all the languages it is the most politically correct.

  • Joe Canner

    Steve, that was my understanding as well, and a brief web search confirmed it. Old English (Anglo-Saxon) is a West Germanic language used in England between the 5th and 11th centuries. French was introduced into the language after the Norman invasion of 1066, which is why that is the 2nd most common influence.

  • Joe Canner

    Larry, I don’t think “mutt” is meant to be a pejorative, nor is it mutually exclusive with “open” and “welcoming”. In dog-breeding, mutt just means mixed breed, which certainly characterizes the English language. Only pure-breeds (or their owners) look down on mutts, so in this case I wouldn’t consider it an insult for a fellow-English speaker to refer to our language as a “mutt”.

    All that said, being a language with such a mixed pedigree does make it a difficult language to learn (even for native speakers) because of all the irregularities. We are very fortunate that most of the world has chosen to learn it anyway.

  • “English doesn’t borrow from other languages. It follows them down dark allies, knocks them over, and goes through their pockets for loose grammar.” – Anonymous

  • Johnny

    The greatest benefit of all this borrowing is precision. My understanding is that you are more apt to find just the right word for a particular situation in English than in most other languages. I think the current push to simplify our everyday speech is horrible for just this reason. I really want to have the shades of meaning available to me. And have others still know what they mean. If we ever devolve into Orwellian “good, ungood, and double-plus-ungood,” just shoot me.

  • E.G.

    And, if you want to use English with force, it can be good to stick to (mainly) old English-derived words.

    I’ve been told that the following portion of a speech by Churchill is mainly old English (particularly in the “we shall” portion) with a very few non-OE words thrown in (e.g. surrender), which adds to the effect. I think that you’ll recognize this oration:

    “The British Empire and the French Republic, linked together in their cause and in their need, will defend to the death their native soil, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their strength. Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be.

    We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”

  • Home On The Range

    Ray #6 – LOL – great line!!

    I think our language is perfect for our country….we’re a mutt country…a mix of the whole world. When I was living in Germany, I was often asked what my heritage was and I always replied that, like most Americans, I was a mutt (a mix of several kinds of nationalities). That line always got a chuckle but I think it is true of most of us.

  • Yes, this makes it extremely difficult to learn for someone whose native tongue is a highly regular and consistently pronounced language (like my wife’s native Spanish).

  • Joe Canner

    E.G., As I understand it, the Old-English words retained in our language tended to be used by commoners and the Old-French words tended to be used by the upper class (i.e., the Norman invaders). This probably explains, at least in part, why the OE words sound more forceful. Not to mention that German just sounds more forceful than French.

  • Larry Barber

    Joe (#5), “mutt” is a shortened form of “muttonhead”, so, at the very least there are pejorative overtones.

    E.G. (#8) Someone else who strongly favored the OE words was J.R.R. Tolkien, who definitely avoided the Latin/French derived words in his work.

  • Joe Canner

    Larry, I did not know the origin of “mutt”, thanks. It indeed was pejorative originally, but is not necessarily so any more and I doubt Scot meant it that way.

    Incidentally, mutton comes from the French mouton (sheep), which makes “mutt” an interesting counterexample to the earlier posts about the usage of Germanic and French origin words.

  • Alastair

    7. Johnny, agreed! English specificity is great.

  • tdsutter

    Doesn’t English syntax follow German syntax rather than French or Latin?

  • E.G.

    Ach, du lieber Strohsack!