Thursday, May 4, 2017

Speak English, Please

By Tony Harriman


More than once in my life, on both sides of the Atlantic, I’ve heard the assertion made to visitors who speak a foreign tongue: “This is England --” or “This is America -- speak English.”  I’ve thought about that long and hard, and I’ve come to the conclusion that people who believe and say such a thing really don’t know the history of the English language -- at all.  Of all languages on the planet, English is the one that has undergone the most changes.  The earliest we know of the language gives us its roots in Celtic Germanic. But the language has never parked and festered.  English speakers have wandered in and out of communicating (mostly) in Celtic, Latin, Scandinavian (Danish and Norwegian), French, German, Anglo-Saxon (Old English), Chaucer’s English (Middle English), Shakespeare’s English (Elizabethan), until we arrive at the many dialects we hear widely spoken today.  We might not think of these languages as being English, but the inhabitants of Britain probably didn't give it much thought -- this was simply the local lingo spoken in the British Isles.

English explorers frequently wandered the globe and came back from distant lands with scores of new words -- constantly.  We’ve mixed and matched the language to suit various (and varying) needs.  Some old rules from different eras are partly the reason we have so many versions of the sound made by the letters "ough."  Rough, thought, bough and though are given their pronunciation from very different ideas -- clearly.

Consider for a moment how English speakers define food: an Anglo Saxon sheep when prepared for eating becomes the French mutton; an Anglo Saxon ox becomes the French beef; the Anglo Saxon Pig becomes the French pork.  Of course, the spelling has changed a little, but not the root.

The English language took a huge leap when French was added to its use, especially in the arts (Poetry, music, dance, etc.).  Because of its broad language, England became a land of such sought-after folk as the Venerable Bede.  English monasteries and churches became healthy places of learning, and remained so until Henry the Eighth finally shut them down.

Some foreign words used in the English language need no replacement: Ricochet, Silhouette, Hamburger, Pretzel, House, Mouse, Buffet, and Assassin.  We may not know where these words came from, but we know what they mean.  Some words may not be as obviously foreign as, say, Filet Mignon, but no matter how they sound, we have no doubt as to the intended meaning.  You might be surprised to learn that Algebra -- both the math and its name -- was given to us by the Arabs.  The lowly and ubiquitous dandelion gets it name from the French description of the shape of its leaves: dent-de-lion -- lion's tooth.

Other words we have adopted include: Pizza, Paella, Diesel, Fest, Burrito, Tortilla, Pasta, Kaput; or how about Kindergarten?  Totally German, that one.

Come across the Atlantic to the United States and we have another dilemma for the “English” speaker -- more than half the States’ names are of Native American origin, to say nothing of just about every city and town name in the Southern States.  Of course, there are English names too: New York; New Jersey; New Hampshire -- all named after the original places in England, which in turn were given their names from a language that wasn’t quite English as we know it.

Someone (not British) once asked me, “How does it feel to be pure British?”  To which I responded, “You clearly don’t know the history of Britain.”  Every British person in Britain today came from somewhere else many miles from the British Isles.  Just like the rest of the world, Britain has been overrun and ruled by many foreign monarchs.  My own personal blood contains a lot of Roman and Scandinavian, and I can claim no part of my British blood as belonging to any part of Britain from more than a couple of thousand years ago.

Now, I recognize the need for border rules in our present world; without them the many nations of the planet would still be engaged in a constant struggle for autonomy.  And I understand that there has to be a standard way of communicating, especially regarding the rules of the road, sea and sky.  And for the sharing of ideas, small and great, there has to be what’s known as the Lingua-Franca, the language of common use.  But to say that you may speak in only one language would put an immediate stop to the growth of ANY language.  

To my fellow Earthlings out there I would say this: those people whose language you don’t understand ARE speaking English; you just aren’t yet familiar with it, because right now your personal (or national) vocabulary hasn’t yet included the words.  But know this, your children WILL understand more of the words, and your grandchildren will DEFINITELY be more savvy regarding the use of MOST of those words.

From a Godly perspective I have a very difficult time with the notion of national exclusion.  “God loves you.  Now go back Home!”  is an attitude I have a hard time seeing Jesus allowing to fester in His heart.

I suppose we should be careful not to fall into the trap of making “myself” of more importance than others.  The Scripture reads: “…he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?”  1 John 4:20. 

Ah, but you say, “I love my brother, I just don’t want him here, he wants to change the way we do things.  We have our own customs, and if these foreigners come here, then they should do things our way.”

There is a Biblical concept of a thousand years in Heaven before we return to what will become a New Earth, where we’ll make our new home.  I’ve wondered if during those thousand years we won't be spending an awful lot of time UN-learning how to live, because the attitude rendered above is not one we can expect to endure throughout the ceaseless ages of eternity.  If we have any of that kind of junk on us, we’re going to have to be scoured before we can ever be rendered safe to live among the Godly inhabitants of the universe.

As a closing thought, you have to wonder what is meant by "The UNITED Nations."  United in or by what, exactly?

And that’s just my take on it ….



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