Re: Evolving language or laziness?

Subject: Re: Evolving language or laziness?
From: John Russell <johnr -at- BRS -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 14 Mar 1996 12:15:58 EST

Hi Folks. I'm forwarding this response for a friend of mine...Trey the evil
linguist who started this discussion. (tjones -at- dataware -dot- com)

*************************************************************


<FLAME>

Tim Alton pulled her head out of her butt long enough to write:
> >
> > At 01:38 PM 3/14/96 +1100, [Colleen] wrote:
> > >I don't consider myself an angry feminist, nor a particularly ardent one.

Well.. Colleen may just change her mind.. at least about the angry part.
[the rest of the calm discussion of "he" and sexless pronouns snipped]

> > Sorry, Colleen, but I'm always suspicious of a proposed change to a
> > language's basic structure that's endured since at least the days of William
> > the Conquerer and quite probably as far back as the birth of Christ.

Exqueeze me? Hellooooo? Is there anybody in there!? Let me guess.. her
favorite quote is

"If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it's good enough for me."
(attributed to David Edwards, Ma Ferguson, and others)

She simply cannot be referring to English. Nothing of note has remained the
same in the structure of English over the last 1000 years.. and it didn't
exist 2000 years ago.. perhaps she's heard of Old English - about 1000 years
ago "English" looked like this:

Hwaet! We Gardena in geardagum,
theodcyninga, thrym gefrunon,
hu tha aethelingas ellen fremedon.
Oft Scyld Scefing sceathena threatum,
monegum maegthum, meodosetla ofteah,
egsode eorlas. Sythan aerest wearth
feasceaft funden, he thaes frofre gebad,
weox under wolcnum, weorthmyndum thah,
oththaet him aeghwylc thara ymbsittendra
ofer hronrade hyran scolde,
gomban gyldan. thaet waes god cyning!

We've lost all sorts of cool things, like case inflections and free word
order. We also lost some neuter pronouns: (Make sure your mail reader uses a
non-proportional font!)
(taken from the "Learning Old English" web pages.. contents at:
http://www.to.icl.fi/~aj/learn-as/contents.html
noun stuff
http://www.to.icl.fi/~aj/learn-as/nouns.html
Check it out!)

The personal pronouns:
Singular
1st Person 2nd Person 3rd Person
Masc. Fem. Neuter
-----------------------------------------------------
Nom. ic thu he heo hit
Acc. me the hine hi hit
Gen. min thin his hire his
Dat. me the him hire him

The origin of "he, him, his" is obvious here, as is the origin of "it". Part
or all of the female paradigm ("she, her, hers") we have today was
originally borrowed from the Vikings and/or other Scandanavians.. as were
most words that begin with "sh" in English, as well as "they", "them", and,
oddly, "egg".

Clearly, if we held on to our time honored traditions, English would look
like the quote from Beowulf above (and if you can't figure out how to read
it out loud, find someone who can read it to you - Anglo Saxon poetry is the
best.. none of that whimpy rhyming stuff.. alliteration and rhythm is the
good stuff!)

Shall we go back another 1000 years - to the time of Christ - to Gothic?


> > It's
> > not because I'm male and feel superior. It's because I don't trust studied,
> > deliberate attempts to change the way a language has developed of expressing
> > a thought. It smacks of revisionism. Language evolves, and if English
> > speakers eventually drop the indeterminate pronoun "he" or the indeterminate
> > possessive "his" then so be it.

yes! Yes! YES! I love it! I win! I win! I win! This bozo has just shot
herself in the foot! Ha! Let me explain:
Many English speakers have *already* dropped the indeterminate pronouns
"he" and "his" in favor of "they" and "their". (Which is exactly why someone
(Colleen, for example) would suggest it - they don't just make it up, they
get it from their native dialect. As you can tell from that last sentence,
I'm one of those people.)
Now, by suggesting we ignore this useful innovation in English, Tim is
making a studied, deliberate attempt to change the way a language has
developed of expressing a thought. I don't trust it. It smacks of
revisionism. After all, language evolves.

> > But such a change will take decades, or even
> > centuries, to complete, and it won't happen because women are displeased
> > with it or find it hard to read around. I'm frankly surprised that it's hard
> > to read around, since that's the way we're all taught to read from our very
> > earliest days in letters.

So, if I had taught Tim to stick a pencil up her nose every time she had to
read, from her earliest days in letters, then she'd be comfortable with it?
Perhaps she will find the choice of pronouns in this message somewhat
jarring and see the point!

> > Besides, our more poetic constructions wouldn't
> > flow very well if we changed the pronoun structure. "He who would be wise,
> > would do well to listen to the sounds of the earth," would sound silly with
> > some unisex substitute.

Consider: "Those who would be wise, would do well to listen to the sounds of
the earth." Sounds horribly silly, doesn't it. Pluralization is a standard
genderless technique.. and it often works as well as the original. Shall we
ask Tim what she thinks?

> >
> > It's not that I'm advocating rough-shod neglect of your feelings, but
> > whether the stone hits the pitcher, or the pitcher hits the stone, it's
> > going to be bad for the pitcher.

Same for the bug and the windshield.. and it is looking like Tim has the
most metaphorical legs in this equation.

> > We'll not change the face of language in
> > the near future. It's best to ignore what bothers us. I hate certain current
> > usages, too, such as "insure" to mean "ensure." I grit my teeth as I type
> > it. But I don't complain about it. Much.

Perhaps this is merely a spelling mistake? In many dialects, "e" and "i" are
pronounced the same before "n", so "insure" and "ensure" are homonyms..

> >
> > We've talked about this sort of minority-by-minority language flushing on
> > the list before. "Being in a black mood" would surely not appeal to
> > Afro-Americans, and "Sitting at the right hand of God" may well be

I don't think a "black mood" should bother African-Amnericans.. I think it
is "Black", since most of them have skin that is actually a nice shade of
brown. I, on the other hand, shouldn't be "White", but "Pink" - I really
need to get more sun...

> > irritating for lefties. Still, would you excise those too? The government
> > has already made itself look ridiculous by banning real estate ad language
> > that discriminates against imagined hurts, such as "Great view" supposedly
> > irritating prospective blind buyers. To avoid this, would you advocate an
> > ad that says "House. For Sale. Come See"?
> >
> > As to "breaking" into a field...how did our industry become overwhelmingly
> > female if the very language we're using makes that so difficult? The "field"
> > I used in my original message referred to a computer interface field, not a
> > field of endeavor.
> >
> > Tim Altom
> > Vice President
> > Simply Written, Inc.
> > 317.899.5882 (voice)
> > 317.899.5987 (fax)
> > http://www.iquest.net/simply/simplywritten
> >

> </FLAME>

> ahh... feels good..
> Tell Tim that if he wants to go another round, I'm ready and willing..

> -Trey
> Evil Linguist at Large
> Speaker for None!


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