So far we’ve looked at military and cultural conquest, and efficiency. But despite its global spread the English Language is notoriously inefficient. Imagine the ordeal of a foreign student learning English and bumping into bough cough through thought though rough …. Practise/practice, license/licence, prophesy/prophecy etc etc ad nauseam.
But one development in usage that helps make a language more efficient is a form of democratisation … informality.
Learning French at school I was fascinated by their two words for you … vous and tu … vous, the formal address and tu for a more intimate relationship. With a girlfriend, I pondered, was there a dramatic moment when you used tu for the first time? Would she echo it like Americans parroting I love you too or would you get a slap in the face? I was waiting for a train at one of those magical little seaside stations around Nice and I was having trouble using the ticket machine. A casually dressed young man came to my aid and called me tu.
We’re witnessing a dramatic moment in the evolution of English where, instead of a patrician formality lording it over the people, be they English or American, (all those English teachers with their lucrative fingers in the dyke of evolution) we see an insistent demotic striving upwards: a moment where Me and my husband often get take-aways can be heard on the BBC.
Although written language evolves at a slower rate than spoken, written English is coming to resemble spoken especially in fiction. This from Lee Child, a Brit in the States: ‘Somebody had climbed the ladder. Recently. Maybe within a day or two. Maybe within an hour or so. Maybe the churchwarden hanging a laundered flag. Maybe not.
Americans are leading the way again because they’re less formal than us and more impatient: baseball is impatient cricket.( But we’re doing it too – 20/20 is impatient cricket.) My Alabama penfriend Bill opens with Hi John so that I soon abandoned my Dear Bill.
Simplified spelling of English has been proposed from Ormin, a 12th century monk, through Dickens, Tennyson, Darwin, Wells, Shaw, and Mark Twain to the Duke of Edinburgh. Examples of American simplified spelling …. jail, color, anesthetic, caliber, acclimatize, defense, license, and practise as verb and noun.
For more, google How languages evolve.
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‘Life’s a tragedy to those who feel and a comedy to those that think.’
Robin Williams (1951-2014)