English language peeves

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tubeman
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Re: English language peeves

Post by tubeman » Sun Aug 27, 2017 6:31 pm

Andrew Fryer wrote:
Sun Aug 27, 2017 6:20 pm
Chambers is the dictionary that was Frank Kermode's favourite when he was head of English at UCL.
Don't make me get my OED off the shelf.
Oh, yeah, I guess I recognize the phrase that food can "go bad"--but that's slang. More typically, people tend to say the food spoiled. Most of the other noun forms it recognizes are colloquial, not standard usage, either. I'm all for tradition!
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Rasputin
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Re: English language peeves

Post by Rasputin » Sun Aug 27, 2017 6:59 pm

[facepalm]

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pogmoor
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Re: English language peeves

Post by pogmoor » Sun Aug 27, 2017 7:20 pm

tubeman wrote:
Sun Aug 27, 2017 6:31 pm
Oh, yeah, I guess I recognize the phrase that food can "go bad"--but that's slang. More typically, people tend to say the food spoiled. Most of the other noun forms it recognizes are colloquial, not standard usage, either. I'm all for tradition!
I recognise that you must speak US English :mrgreen:
Oh, and 'go bad' seems to have been in common use at least since the 18th century, so I guess it counts as traditional. I suspect it is also much the commoner usage in the UK.
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Jeffrey Armbruster
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Re: English language peeves

Post by Jeffrey Armbruster » Mon Aug 28, 2017 12:16 am

"What I will say is that Le Petit Robert is a fabulous dictionary and if you look at it enough, you will find that French comes from Latin, Greek, English, Dutch, Spanish, Arabic, German and more. The difference between descriptive and prescriptive..."

Of course every language has a history and has imported words from around the world. I was taught that English was sort of whorish (or maybe welcoming) in that historically it accepted all sorts of imported terms and tried them out. As a result, English has a far larger vocabulary, with tons of synonyms, than French. Which means that French words are more prone to doing double or triple duty: a single signifier will often have multiple meanings in order to make up for the relatively impoverished number of terms available for expressing ideas. Everything that can be expressed in English can also be expressed in French, but the number of signifiers available in French is smaller. My theory is that French is fabulous for Symbolist and Surrealist poetry precisely because there are more immediately overdetermined signifiers available for use. Poets can play on the multiple meanings of single terms to great effect. Maybe this is why French Symbolist and Surrealist poetry tends to be more successful than English poetry in the same genre (Yeats being the exception).

I've no doubt set the ball up on a tee for Andrew and others to whack at with the above.
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Rasputin
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Re: English language peeves

Post by Rasputin » Mon Aug 28, 2017 3:56 am

Jeffrey Armbruster wrote:
Mon Aug 28, 2017 12:16 am
Of course every language has a history and has imported words from around the world. I was taught that English was sort of whorish (or maybe welcoming) in that historically it accepted all sorts of imported terms and tried them out.
I've certainly heard this claim before - it may be right, but it always seems to be presented as common knowledge and no evidence is ever provided to show that English borrows terms any more (or less) readily than other languages.

If English is a hybrid Germanic/Romance language, at least where vocabulary is concerned, I would think that is due more to what was then England having been conquered by the Normans. I'm not sure that the native population was really accepting of the Norman invasion, that or a readiness to accept the language of the conquerors would count as a property of English, which didn't really exist at the time.
English has a far larger vocabulary, with tons of synonyms, than French.
This may be true if you count the words in dictionaries, but I think it's the size of people's vocabularies that really matters. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the average educated French speaker had a significantly larger vocabulary than the average educated English speaker. I think the number of different ways we have to express the same idea depends far more on our personal abilities than the language we happen to speak.

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Re: English language peeves

Post by Jeffrey Armbruster » Mon Aug 28, 2017 4:37 am

If you compare the language of Chaucer through Shakespeare, as compared to the language of du Bellay through, oh say Corneille, it's readily apparent that English is changing radically, and uses a great number of words in Chaucer that don't make the cut by Shakespeare's time. English was importing foreign words right and left. My French is poor but I can stumble through Ronsard, probably as readily as I can Chaucer. French simply doesn't change nearly as much as English through the centuries.

In any case, my point was simply that English has a plethora of synonyms, whereas French makes do with a more limited vocabulary by making some words do double duty; their meaning is apparent in context. I'm really not talking about intelligence or people's vocabularies at all.

But I'm really just guessing here; this is just my impression from reading these different historical texts. I could be wrong. I haven't done a study of any of this. Which is why I feel shaky in this opinion.
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hpaulj
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Re: English language peeves

Post by hpaulj » Mon Aug 28, 2017 7:00 am

"My bad' has an entry in Language Log, http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/language ... 02693.html

Admittedly Geoffrey K. Pullum is a linguist, generally taking a descriptive approach to language rather than prescriptive one. Note he calls it a neologism. I would also describe it as idiomatic - the meaning of the whole is not simply the sum of the parts. It's not a phrase that I use, nor do I hear it regularly, but I still understand it.

I found a couple of uses of 'go bad' on this forum. In both cases it means "I'm sorry" or "I made a mistake"; recognizing that they made a mistake in an earlier post, but not requesting forgiveness (in a moral sense).

viewtopic.php?f=107&t=114634&p=1220183#p1220183

viewtopic.php?f=43&t=114361&p=1217478&h ... d#p1217478

and with a "sorry"

viewtopic.php?f=11&t=13304&p=1203200&hi ... s#p1203200

Rasputin
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Re: English language peeves

Post by Rasputin » Mon Aug 28, 2017 8:22 am

Jeffrey Armbruster wrote:
Mon Aug 28, 2017 4:37 am
If you compare the language of Chaucer through Shakespeare, as compared to the language of du Bellay through, oh say Corneille, it's readily apparent that English is changing radically, and uses a great number of words in Chaucer that don't make the cut by Shakespeare's time. English was importing foreign words right and left.
OK, but if imported words push existing words out, as this suggests, that doesn't fit with the argument that we have more words available because we are constantly adding imports to our existing stock - or that we end up with more synonyms because sometimes an imported word means the same thing as a domestic one.
In any case, my point was simply that English has a plethora of synonyms, whereas French makes do with a more limited vocabulary by making some words do double duty; their meaning is apparent in context. I'm really not talking about intelligence or people's vocabularies at all
Maybe I have misundersood why you think that English has a plethora of synonyms, whereas French makes do with a more limited vocabulary - but I thought this was based on the idea that French speakers have fewer words available to them, so have to use the same one for several different things. If so, that absolutely is about people's vocabularies, not about the number of words in the dictionary.

I'm not sure it's really a question of synonyms anyway - the claim seems to be that on average French words have more meanings than English words, but two words can be synonyms no matter how many other meanings they each have.

Measuring the size of vocabularies is not straightforward - if one word has three meanings is that still just one word? Surely it takes up more space than a word with one meaning. Does it take up less space than three separate words, or is the single word stored separately for each meaning anyway? Dunno.
But I'm really just guessing here; this is just my impression from reading these different historical texts. I could be wrong. I haven't done a study of any of this. Which is why I feel shaky in this opinion.
Sure, I don't know either - I'm just explaining why I am sceptical.

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Andrew Fryer
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Re: English language peeves

Post by Andrew Fryer » Mon Aug 28, 2017 10:41 am

Don't expect much more from me.

I think I'll just splurge everything I know here, then I won't need to contribute further.
I only ever learn a language in order to read its literature. I haven't left England for about 12 years. I can speed-read Proust, but I can only speak a little French, and Spanish. They talk about "menu French" as being basic French, but ironically I find whenever I order from a French menu, what the waiter brings is mostly a surprise! My second language is German to my regret, and I almost never read it. I haven't got the energy to travel on the kind of money I've got. I haven't had a passport for 11 years. After about 15 years of learning a language I feel that I'm not going to improve rapidly any more, so I switch to another language. For the last 18 years I have read nothing but Greek and Latin in parallel. I read a little general linguistics in the 80s and decided it was of no interest to me, so anyone who wants to quote Chomsky, I'll just go, mneugh. I wonder if Chomsky is like all those anthropologists out there - learn 50 words and pretend you know a language?

I am a slow learner. Others can quite easily accomplish in 3 years what takes me 15 years. I "learn" 10,000 words of vocab per year. But I calculate that each rolling year I forget 80 to 90% of everything I "learn".

I think the problem with portraying French as a "limited language" is that it is not limited compared with the percentage of it that any one person can and will use. (Another thing about Le Petit Robert, btw, is that under every word it lists all its homophones, which is fun). I've never read English formally, so don't expect me to know much about the history of the language. In fact, I've read so much other than English, that I've never had the time to read much English.

Languages, rather than gradually absorb from other languages, seem to me to go through periods of formal rearrangement and mass adoption. In England we had the 12th century renaissance, which my German Classics professor had never heard of. German (in addition to a biggie in the 9th century - the amount of Latin in German is very high. In fact the West and the East Germanic languages went through great changes then, even in their grammar - West Germanic employed Jerome's Latin New Testament to restructure their grammar, and East germanic - Gothic - employed the Greek New Testament to restructure their grammar!) went through one of these in the 18th century for some reason. I suppose it was the Enlightenment - the old words for uncle and aunt went out (Oheim, Muhme. Eme is an archaic English word from Oheim. I don't know what the female equivalent is) and the French ones came in (Onkel, Tante), among a lot of other stuff you'll have to ask a German specialist about.

When Chaucer was alive, the Renaissance (originally, technically, intended as a rebirth of ancient Roman culture) led to a boom in vernacular Italian writing that Chaucer picked up on. That's all I know. Shakespeare caught the tail end of that. I guess there was a big formal development between the two.

It is said that there was a retrenchment of German in the Nazi era, but others say that's a myth. The other thing is, even if English has a lot of synonyms, it's not necessarily true that they are all in current use at the same time. Crossword compilers don't distinguish between old and new usages - it's part of the fun. Most of our words were originally Latin. Possibly someone in the Englightenment suggested Greek equivalents for educated use?

Nietzsche wrote something about Mitleid being a bad thing. Mitleid means sympathy. Sympathy and compassion are synonyms. Sympathy is Greek, compassion is Latin. So, are sympathy and compassion bad things? Thing is, our compound words are opaque. German compound words are transparent. Mit ('with'), Leid ('suffering' - passio is Latin, pathos is Greek for any experience, but often suffering, especially in later Christian usage). I suspect the main thing to take from Nietzsche is the word-play, which is untranslateable. You can help others in their suffering, but would you suffer with them? What would be the sense in that? As I say, I don't read German, and I've never had time for more than Zarathustra, unfortunately.

Frankly, if you ask me what the Enlightenment was, I forgot 30 years ago and I'd have to Google it. Sorry, a dozen bad nights in a row, so I'm not trying to be very helpful right now! I'm also aware that I lecture people too much. Dammit. Partly this post is to save me responding "I don't know" to any specific questions such as Jeffrey's! (I haven't got around to reading Les Symbolistes, for example. When I abandoned French, it was with a lot of stuff unread)
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kervoas
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Re: English language peeves

Post by kervoas » Mon Aug 28, 2017 1:14 pm

So, getting back to the subject, so what I'd say is, don't say so so much.
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Andrew Fryer
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Re: English language peeves

Post by Andrew Fryer » Mon Aug 28, 2017 1:20 pm

The word "so" is curious. I first noticed it in Father Ted, where it is clearly an Irish idiom (but it tends to end a sentence, and the implication is "you can work out the rest for yourself" although there may be other possibilities, e.g. "and that was my explanation"). Then it seemed to become generalised, unless it was just a coincidence in timing.

Also I wondered if it originated from TV interviews cutting the prelimary explanation and going straight to the conclusion
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Re: English language peeves

Post by Jeffrey Armbruster » Mon Aug 28, 2017 3:40 pm

thanks Andrew for your informed comments.

"I think the problem with portraying French as a "limited language..."

I'm ready to drop this; again, I just want to clarify that I never intended to portray French as a limited language. I pointed out that everything that can be expressed in English can be expressed in French.

I think a simple perusal of the language of Chaucer followed by reading a page of Shakespeare will show just how much English was changing during that period. Doing the same with Ronsard and Corneille will show the opposite. I was taught that it was that French institution whose name I've forgotten that 'policed' the French language which ended up keeping it 'pure' and so restricted new imports to the vocabulary.

The end.
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Evocacion
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Re: English language peeves

Post by Evocacion » Mon Aug 28, 2017 4:13 pm

"The Good, the Bad and the Ugly".

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Andrew Fryer
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Re: English language peeves

Post by Andrew Fryer » Mon Aug 28, 2017 4:51 pm

Evocacion wrote:
Mon Aug 28, 2017 4:13 pm
"The Good, the Bad and the Ugly".
Yeah, that was on my mind. Many languages can turn an adjective into an implied noun. But I think there's a difference between that and "human good" as a noun. So is bad a noun in that sense? "good and evil" are nouns. "good and bad" must be. But in this sense bad and good are general, not specific instances.
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Andrew Fryer
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Re: English language peeves

Post by Andrew Fryer » Mon Aug 28, 2017 5:00 pm

Jeffrey Armbruster wrote:
Mon Aug 28, 2017 3:40 pm
I think a simple perusal of the language of Chaucer followed by reading a page of Shakespeare will show just how much English was changing during that period. Doing the same with Ronsard and Corneille will show the opposite. I was taught that it was that French institution whose name I've forgotten that 'policed' the French language which ended up keeping it 'pure' and so restricted new imports to the vocabulary.
But after the Norman invasion (and then the Renaissance) the English language couldn't but develop - whereas French history didn't have such a cataclysm in the 80-year period from Ronsard (b.1520-ish) to Corneille (b.1606). But why would we expect French to change much in that small period of time? I haven't read any Ronsard, but what about the perhaps far greater difference between Rabelais and Corneille (if you are arguing that there wasn't much change)? The académie was founded in 1635. 17th century French tragedy employed pretty recherché language, but it is possible that the académie was an effect as much as it was a cause. Don't know where this is going. Yes, perhaps academies are bad, but the French don't have a monopoly on them - I gather the Royal Society has a rather chequered past, it's just that this isn't taught in schools. Yes, the Académie and the Royal Society emerged from the 17th century boom in philosophy (Descartes) and science (Descartes and Newton and the rest), and I can suppose that the Académie merely had a wider remit than the Royal Society. Whether or not it is true that the Académie "policed" (is this francophobic?), the Royal Society laughed you out of the house, for sure, if you put a foot wrong!

(there's a rather excellent joke along these lines in Brass - a mother expects her son to spend his trust-fund on flying lessons. Instead he spends it on elocution lessons and gets a commission in the RAF)

One needs to be careful what sources one chooses - pick Jane Austen (highly artifical literary, even comic, language) and you will get the impression that English has changed a lot over the last 200 years. Read Anne Lister (natural language) and you will get the impression that it hasn't. I'm sure that Corneille's, highly literary, language was not determined by the Académie.
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