The other day I came across this quote on the back of one of my books. (I’m trying to decide which books come with me to OSU and which stay home.)
It “is not true, as most other nations believe, that English is ‘an illogical, chaotic language, unsuited for clear thinking,’ it is undeniable that English is less structured grammatically than French, Spanish, Italian or German and therefore prone to slipshod usage and ambiguity. On the other hand, no other European language ‘admits of such poetic exquisiteness’ or offers so many opportunities for individuality, development and growth.”
— blurb on the back cover of The Reader Over Your Shoulder: A Handbook for Writers of English Prose by Robert Graves and Alan Hodge (2nd ed, rev and abridged by the authors).
I guess by “less structured,” they must mean its over-dependence on word order for meaning and its prone-to-be-unclear pronoun references. I know French and Spanish and Italian are better at the pronoun-accuracy thing, but aren’t those languages dependent on word order just as English is??
Ooh, but I like the point about English offering more “opportunities for individuality, development and growth.” The more loosey-goosey (??) the language, the more syntactically flexible, the more ABLE to be ambiguous, the more “play” there is in the language for poets, the more the writer can impressed her individuality onto it, and the more the writer can grow and change, the more situations English can master (for lack of a better word). So, yeah, English is an especially fertile ground for art and thought.
Hmmm, but why is it so fertile? Simply, because of its impure background, come to think of it. Yay, let’s hear it for impurity! Let’s hear it for diversity! Norman French blending with Anglo-Saxon, then the new “English” later mixing with Greek and Latin.
Okay, so it’s cool how we end up with an especially playful, flexible, and fertile language, and the basic cause is its “impurity” and diversity.
Might there be a lesson there??