Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The English language and nonsense (dumb or dum)

The English language is overly complicated, often nonsensical, frustrating to learn properly, contains too many exceptions to rules and its spelling and grammar are not even agreed upon by all English speaking and writing countries. It gets a little mind boggling when you study it and the study of English is far from the simple field most like to portray it as. Here is an amusing video to highlight some points before I rattle on.

Here are some of other differences: 

British English

American English

British English

American English

British English
Organize and Organise
Realize and Realise
Recognize and Recognise

American and Canadian English

British English

American English

Exceptions apply. Also, the list of differences between the two versions of English is far, far longer. Then you find scientific writing standards are different again, as can be the case with Canadian, Australian and other sub-versions of English.

Now factor in multi-media and the world dialogue. Books are shipped everywhere and read by everyone, we email and chat to people all over the world, we travel more than ever, we study abroad and we work on computers set to versions of English we may or may not be familiar with. This leads to people being familiar with and using a mish-mash of words generally pulled from the two main versions of English: British and American.

Each person who’s paying attention to their writing and correcting themselves will often say their way is right but when you look at their writing closely you will often find it a mixture of American and British English, neither truly one or the other. This may be because of spellcheck settings or because of the writer has been so inundated with both versions of English that it becomes impossible to stick to just one version when writing or thinking.

Don’t get me started on conversations I’ve been sucked into over who is using the right spelling of a word… I am getting to the point where frustration is even flagging, leaving me feeling only weariness.

I vote for this. If what you are writing is informal then just write one of the versions that can be said to be correctly spelt and not a version that can only be said to be a complete misspelling. If what you are writing is formal then make sure you pick a version of English and stick to it. Set that spellcheck, re-read your words and think very hard as you do because some of the differences are not at all obvious. And if even then you trip up and use a mix of the two versions, try to forgive yourself and maybe get the help of an editor. Editors are so steeped in the language they will likely be able to point out the vast majority of mistakes you’ve made, if not all. With their help you will end up with a nice, clean copy you can feel proud of.

The English language is continually changing and updating just by our using it. It is as live a creation as anything not alive can be. It needs care and tending, trimming of unwanted offshoots, guidance and yet acceptance of change. It is much like taking care of a Bonsai, a fast growing one at that. You have to pay attention, clip it back, shape it, but you also have to let it grow, nurture it, feed it, use it and above all allow it to be seen. It won’t do well if clipped harshly, it won’t grow if it is not given enough light of day, it won’t will fade and wilt if given only modest foods. It also shouldn’t be allowed to grow unchecked and unfettered limbs.

Ah, enough. You get what I mean (hopefully). Don’t smother the language and the writers with rules but do give them something solid and functional to work with, hopefully with a little room for play. Don't misuse it too much either. If we break all the rules there will be nothing left for us to communicate with. The English language would eventually erode away into nonsense if we used it incorrectly all the time.

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