In Defense of English

14 December 2010 at 10:54 am 3 comments

| Peter Klein |

Co-bloggers Nicolai and Lasse probably speak better English than I do, despite the handicap of Scandinavian birth, but I sure like it. So does Rishidev Chaudhuri:

To me, the most striking thing about English is its diversity of vowels, something I only noticed after many years of speaking the language. English, in many dialects, has about 15 vowels (not counting diphtongs). Listen to the vowels through these words: a, kit, dress, trap, lot, strut, foot, bath, nurse, fleece, thought, goose, goat, north. There are languages that have more (Germanic ones tend to be vowel rich), but there aren’t many of them, and none that I know well enough to frame a sentence in. And compare this vowel list to the relative paucity of vowels in so many other languages. Hindi really has only about 9 or 10 vowels; Bengali, which has lost several long-short distinctions has slightly fewer (though lots of diphtongs). Some languages (including these two) do include extra vowels formed by nasalizing existing ones; these nasalized vowels often sound lovely, but feel very similar to their base vowels. It’s more a flourish than a genuinely new creation. Japanese and Spanish have about 4 or 5 apiece, and I’m told that Mandarin and Arabic have about 6.

English, then, is capable of exceptionally rich assonance and exuberant plays on vowel sound.

I mean, savor the delights of “methodological individualism” or “apodictic certainty” or “heteroskedasticity consistent standard errors” and tell me it isn’t sheer poetry!

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Cultural Conservatism, Ephemera. Tags: .

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Justin  |  15 December 2010 at 1:07 am

    I didn’t know anyone was attacking English. It’s a nice language, but then again….so are the rest of them. And if you can only speak one, that’s a shame.

  • 2. Pietro M.  |  15 December 2010 at 7:52 am

    Italian has 7 vowels (a, closed and open e, i, closed and open o, u), but most words contain so many of them that it sounds very smooth. Dialects use different pronounciations for the same vowel (closed/open), because what matters is how the word is written…

  • 3. Peter Klein  |  15 December 2010 at 9:54 am

    @Justin: Yes, “defense” was perhaps not quite the right word.

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