First Question: Who’s responsible for English?

They slept in their dank halls sitting up, in full grimy, grease-spotted armor, with their swords at the ready. They owed their allegiance to their lord, a sociopathic gang leader in modern terms, who would, out of a sense of duty, share out the spoils gained that day in the robbing, pillaging and raping. They were called thanes. They had names like Hrothgar and Hygelac and Ingeld the Heatho-Bard. The best way to describe them is as Hell’s Angels on horseback. If one killed somebody, there was a price he could pay—a man price—that would absolve him of any guilt, free him from the threat of retribution from any aggrieved relatives mourning their poor lost son or raped and slaughtered daughter. Of course, if he killed a peasant, nothing happened because, after all, that’s what peasants were for: skewering peasants was a nice way to pass the time. Another thing: personal hygiene was not high on their list. They had more to do with Conan than anything else. Their closest living linguistic and perhaps genetic relatives are the Frisians, who live in a corner of the Netherlands, are said to have bad teeth, big ears and freckles, and are the object of local jokes:

Q: Why is a Friesian bride the last in the procession?

A: Because that way the flies won’t get in any of the guests’ faces.

And yet these smelly, bad-toothed, big-eared barbarians were in fact the forebears of the English language. If you searched far and wide for a less likely source of a world language, these brutes would be a safe bet to be on your list. But there you go. Bad luck all around.

And so it was that long ago, at the side of a bog, a group of Geats (je-ats, thank you) sat around in the mead hall after a hard day of raping and pillaging. One of their number stood up before the others and announced:

“Brethren! I have seen a vision. English is going to be a world language one day. Yes, it’s going to be the language of global communication. There’s going to be international commerce, Internet, the whole she-bang. Our language is going to be the means by which the world in the twenty-first century will communicate—the means to global understanding. This is our chance. Let’s say we muck things up a bit, just to confuse ‘em in a thousand years.”

Those gathered cheer this wonderful idea with hearty grunts and a general waving of semi-barbequed animal parts. There were shouts from the floor: “Give ‘em phrasal verbs!” “Countable and uncountable!” “Articles!” “Prepositions!” “Hell, everybody has preposition issues.” “So let’s leave some out!” “Great idea!”

And thus the gathered savages began their evil, thousand-year conspiracy to confuse the hell out of the rest of the world in general and Czechs in particular.

Well, o.k. So it really didn’t happen that way. But if you are ever going to get a feel for the English language, you must never forget its barbarian heart. Short words, practical, not very imaginative—all conveniently packaged together with sounds intelligible over the roar of burning villages and screaming victims. The perfect language for a perfect brute. And that brute still lurks in the language, there at its heart, still primitive, still pretty stupid.

In subsequent articles I will prove to you that you ignore this barbarian at your own risk.

Všechna práva vyhrazena. Autorem obsahu je Darren Crown.

Publikováno: 8.3.2015

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