Re: Linguist's Of The Apocalypse, unite!

Lee Daniel Crocker (
Tue, 28 Jan 1997 13:43:09 -0800 (PST)

> English is the greatest language the planet has ever seen because it's not
> efficent! English constantly evolves a such a rapid pace that if you time
> traveled 100 years from now, you wouldn't understand a word of it and
> though it is one of the hardest languages to learn, it allows for the most
> flexibility and creativity. Fuck the rules! I say... Forget Ebonics. :)
> Hail English!

(1) The sample set of human languages is so small, and the evaluation
period so short, that I don't think one can draw any conclusions from
its present dominance. It just happened to be the language that was
used my the world's major imperial power, and later by the world's
leader in technology. To evaluate language as a technology itself, I
think it makes more sense to look at earlier cultures where it had more
obvious influence. Chinese comes out the winner there, and for some
good reasons, especially the writing system. It is far more efficient
than alphabetic systems: more words per page, fewer penstrokes per word,
faster to read and comprehend.

(2) Evolution of the language has been rapid, but is clearly slowing.
Today's students may have difficulty with Shakespeare and downright
consternation with Chaucer, but in 2030--even 2130--a 1930 recording of
a Rudee Valee tune will sound as ordinary as it does today. Spelling
and vocabulary stabilized shortly after the printing press; phonology
is stabilizing now, after the advent of sound recording, radio, and
television. Sure, there will always be some growth, but not as rapid.

(3) The vast, detailed, expressive vocabulary of English is indeed a
good thing, and works well for expressing fine distinctions that would
be difficult in other languages (only French and German come close),
but it also encourages ambiguity: words created or borrowed to express
some narrow, specific idea are often diluted into more general meanings.
"Replica", for example, once meant "a reproduction of an artifact by
the original artisan". Now it swims in the same soup as "copy" and
"duplicate"--it has even migrated into the territory of "model".

English has served us adequately, but we can do much better. In
particular, we can try to fix the well-known identifiable problems
like sexism, unintentional ambiguity, poor adaptability to new
concepts, cultural dependencies, and others. Whatever we create
will no doubt evolve other problems--but we'll never find our way
out of the maze until we free ourselves from the straitjacket first.