Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
I appreciate Roger Pulvers’ exposition of irregularity in English spelling and grammar (CounterPoint, December 19th). But I am a bit tired of repeatedly hearing people - educated native English speakers and foreign English teachers working in Japan especially - talk about the difficulties of absorbing and overcoming the irregularity in our own language compared to what is found in some other languages. I know that English has very irregular idiosyncrasies. I also know why it has, and knowing why mitigates and modifies the difficulty of the irregularities. It ought to for others, as well, especially university graduates who should know better. English is an eclectic language patched together from Anglo-Saxon and Latin, Celtic, Greek and German, French, old Norse and others, plus a little native inspiration. It is constantly inventing new words, plus it constantly absorbs loanwords from outside sources. Because of its suspicious pedigree as a bottom-up language it is very malleable by design. It’s not that difficult. Even children can learn it! There are several worthy reasons to explain why English has become the new global language, many of which have to do with the success of the English speaking peoples - with British Imperialism and American economic domination. But I think not the least of them is that it is easy to speak English badly and still communicate well (because it’s a bottom-up language). If students want to understand our odd spellings and grammatical constructions their first task is to consider the history of invasion and occupation of the British Isles, then it all becomes clear. Or, clearer. I have always said that if one doesn’t know history then one really doesn’t know anything at all. But I could be wrong.
Published on Sunday, December 26, 2010 as “To speak badly and still connect.”
Printed with minimal editing, the opening of my last sentence was changed from “I have always said ...” to “Besides ...” I think the way I wrote it sounds better. Although I said that knowing the history of invasion and occupation of the British isles makes the English language’s irregularity “clear” or “clearer” what I have always said in face-to-face conversations with people is that the irregularity “makes sense” when one knows the history of it. That is a more straightforward way of putting it, but in the course of writing the letter I changed the words of the argument a little to make it sound a bit more elegant.