The Crazy Savage English World
English language, like women, can be amazing, bemusing, and intimidating because of its continuous transformation. As M.A.K. Halliday (a famous British-Australian Linguist), said, “language is evolving, developing, and unfolding”. This fact can be good news for some but bad news for those who are already struggling with English. But whether they like it or not, language is indeed vital to all of us.
It is so essential that decoding its mystery can make our lives a lot more interesting. For instance, the word supercalifragilisticexpialidocious originally means nothing. But now, this big word means wonderful. Amazing, right?
As a matter of fact, English is the most widely used language among the 7,117 languages all over the world (Ethnologue, 2020), and it is considered to be the "universal language" because of its simplicity, versatility, and sophistication.
However, you may contradict and say English isn't simple. It is complex because pronunciation requires circumspection, spelling can be puzzling, grammar is perplexed, and word usage can be a can of worms. However, for some people, English is pretty manageable despite its seemingly complex nature.
It is apparent that there is a never-ending battle between easy and hard perceptions on English language use. This English language discord may emanate from three major reasons: the rich English language history, the person’s brain structure, and the indomitable language phenomena.
First off, English language has its opulent history.
The English language we are using now is a combination of several different languages. As stated in Qreshat’s (2019) study, “English Language has loan words from languages across the world” (p.185). This could be another reason why English is considered to be the Universal language.
Note: This figure was taken from Qreshat's (2019) study.
As seen in the figure, English language is a product of loanwords from 14 different languages*.
This is the root cause of the vexatious inconsistencies in the pronunciations. For example, chocolate, psychology, and yacht have ch in their spellings but with disparate pronunciations.
This is because these three words originated from Mexico, Greece, and Germany, respectively.
If that is not enough reason to answer why English is complicated (at the same time interesting), let me break down history into three major sections:
The Invasions. Historians claimed that English language first originated in Great Britain during the Roman invasion, leaving many Latin words behind. This was followed by the occupations of the Germanic tribes (Angles, Saxons, and Jutes) during the 5th century. Some words like Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday came from them.
The Vikings (9th century), Normans (10th century), and French (10th-15th century) also assailed England. Words such as ransack, happy, husband, adultery, bacon, occupy, allowance, bachelor, and façade originated from the said invasions.
Then came the Great English Empire that conquered more than 10 million square miles and 40 million people who gave a new variety of English worldwide.
In every invasion, borrowings or changes happened in the pronunciation, spelling, terminologies, pragmatics, and more. The best example for these is the differences between British English and American English.
The Inventions. The English language consists of words and phrases invented by the Great William Shakespeare, metaphors from the King James Bible, scientific terms from the scientists, and contemporary words from the Internet English and Global English. From English words exclusive among the elite to the World Englishes by Kachru (1988), many rules, divisions, and classifications transpired.
The Alterations. English keeps changing. It is alive. It evolves from the Great Vowel Shift, to the first ever dictionary by Dr. Johnson, and to the Webster and Oxford dictionaries that we are all familiar with. Among the alterations, the most troublesome is the pronunciation as shown in the table below.
While you're reading the above words, you're probably giggling or astounded because of the peculiarities.
Undeniably, English language history is abundant. Hence, the metamorphoses may confuse or liberate English language users like you.
You're probably a student or a non-native speaker who is bewildered with the versatility of the language.
Thereby, the second reason you can consider English language a nemesis is when you cannot rephrase other people’s ideas. This is possibly because of your brain synapses.
Your brain structure, similar to your fingerprint, is special and unique. A differentiating factor between the two is that your fingerprint will never change, but your brain keeps changing. Two-thirds of your brain changes due to neuroplasticity and neurogenesis. Strong neuroplasticity results in high language proficiency, while unconnected neurons or synapses may result in language inabilities (language communication irritants) or disabilities.
Some language disabilities are aphasia (struggle to talk), agraphia (struggle to write), anomia (struggle to name things), and dyslexia (struggle to read). These disabilities are the result of brain damage or degeneration.
Yes! Your brain is greatly responsible for your language comprehension, formation, and execution.
Scientifically speaking, our brain has a labyrinth of neurons, gyri, and axons that work in a convoluted manner. However, I will only discuss the three major brain regions responsible for emitting and transferring the language needed in a given communication, namely Wernicke’s, Broca’s, and motor cortex.
To simplify the complex brain process, it goes something like this:
Any information you heard will be transferred to your Wernicke's area (the one responsible for comprehension).
Through the arcuate fasciculus (the white matter bundle of axons), these pieces of information will be transmitted to your Broca’s area (for speech formation).
Then the motor cortex (jaws, tongue, lips, etc.) will move and coordinate with each other according to what was delivered by Broca.
Therefore, your failure to understand the message may lead to the inability to formulate ideas, leading to the inability to express yourself (verbally or non-verbally).
Now, you might want to ask, “what should I do then to be good in English?”.
According to Dr. Daniel Amen (a clinical researcher who studied 83,000 brains), your food intake, hours of sleep, negative thoughts, mental trauma, physical trauma, and activities such as your training, exercise, sports, interests, and exposure all affect your brain structure. Among these factors, proper communication training and exposure are the most taken for granted.
That’s why, sometimes, it is a challenge for you to convey your ideas when you are hungry, sleepy, angry, or scared. Similarly, any abuse, injuries, toxicities, or infections may cause language delay or language disorder because your brain endures the effect.
So you have to keep yourself healthy because even though you know what to say and how to say it, communication errors may happen if your brain is compromised.
Further, the indomitable language phenomena are the third major factor for the English language to be intricate.
Humans inscribe, prescribe, and describe the language. We make the language. We dictate the rules. We can recount the changes that occur. The best example for this is the homophone (different spelling, different meaning but almost the same pronunciation).
For these four words, unraveling the differences and using them correctly can be a piece of cake among the native speakers. Yet, the differences can be atrocious for some non-native speakers. All the more, the unfathomably increasing and spreading of the English language shifts by the Millennials. They revolutionize the English language in five different categories:
Before, acronymizing was only applied in online chat messages. Now, netizens are fond of utilizing them in almost all social media platforms as their photo captions, shout outs, or comments. Some examples are:
Seeing or hearing any "shortcut" words got English teachers and grammar police dander up. However, abbreviating is wonted nowadays among the Millennials and professionals alike. For example, during an interview with Dr. Daniel Amen, he says pubs to refer to his research publications. Indeed, an enormous evolution is also happening in abbreviations.
Another language phenomenon is blending. If Lewis Caroll has his slithy (slimy + lithe) and mimsy (miserable + flimsy), portmanteaus are also Millennials’ faves. Hence, Millennials can be considered as the modern-day Shakespeare or Lewis Caroll. They can indisputably invent words that are proven to be conversational and economized. To make communication efficient, they combine words and make a striking statement.
The Millennials also lit and flex their words by redefining them. Salty, spicy, quiche, and tea used to be lexicons commonly found in the kitchen; however, these words are now in cazh conversations to mean being bitter or jealous, rude or sassy, hotter than hot or not, and hot gossip, respectively.
The word sick which we commonly associate as being ill is now also referred to being cool, delicious, amazing, or great. Dead doesn’t just refer to someone who passed away. Millennials redefined dead as a hype - as in to be euphorically happy!
These changes of definitions can defo shookt the non-native speakers! But they gotta be woke, if they wanna be dope!
Another brain-racking word formation is, an advanced type of morphology, totesing. This is when words with bad and good connotations are not just combined but jumbled up to create a positive interjection. For example, freaking out and fantastic become funfrickintastic!
Also, totesing is an avant-garde oxymoron when two contradicting ideas are combined to form a single word. As seen in the example above, unf'ck and f'ck with / f'ck able become unf'ckwithable. When you say “I’m unf'ckwithable!”, you’re indestructible.
Again, these language phenomena may appear cool and inviting; however, non-native speakers can be completely flummoxed by this.
Indeed, new words emerge every day, which makes the English language fascinatingly confusing, complicated, and crazy. If you get to crack the code, you can find the English language simple, versatile, and sophisticated.
These are just three of the many possible reasons how English can be totally cray cray.
What is your crazy or cool experience while using the English language?
Share it with us!
*The figure is a conservative presentation; hence, Qreshat emphasized that this result must not be generalized as the counting happened in a certain period in English history (Durkin's 2014 study).
Bilyeu, T. (2019, January 10). 11 risk factors that destroy your brain. Dr. Daniel Amen on healthy theory [Video]. Youtube.
Ethnologue Languages of the World. (2020). How many languages are there in the world?.
Qreshat, J. Y. (2019). The history of loan words in English and its impact on the English lexicon. Journal of Critical Reviews, 66(6), 185-193.
The LitCharts Blog. (2017). The 422 words that Shakespeare invented.
The University of British Columbia. (2010, August 25). Michael Halliday – Language evolving: Some systemic functional reflections on the history of meaning [Video]. Youtube.
World Englishes: An Introduction. (2020). Purdue University.