General Question

flyawayxxballoon's avatar

Is the English language a whole bunch of made-up words, definitions, and grammar, or does it actually make sense?

Asked by flyawayxxballoon (1352points) July 23rd, 2008

I’ve often pondered over this, as well as the existence of mathematics and sciences. Were they created or discovered?

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38 Answers

poofandmook's avatar

I make sense of the English language on a daily basis! :)

xxporkxsodaxx's avatar

It is derived from older languages which did make sense, but then again all words must have been made up at some point.

susanc's avatar

It was created and continues to be created. It’s alive!!!

You could also say it evolved and continues to evolve.

We create this evolution by using it and adding to it.

flyawayxxballoon's avatar

I agree with you all. However, though it is derived from other languages, where did those languages come from? Who made them up and why is each word what it is?

You see where I’m going with this?

susanc's avatar

You’re studying linguistics without knowing the name of it.
Look for books by Stephen Pinker. They’re the very most readable ones on this subject to date. You’ll love them!

flyawayxxballoon's avatar

@susanc ; I’ll look into that! Thank you. =)

loser's avatar

it makes sense as much as anything else does. Does anything really make sense?

Did that make sense?

marinelife's avatar

English is a beautiful language. It has some contradictions and complexities, but not enough to take away from its core beauty.

For math, you may find this thread interesting.

flyawayxxballoon's avatar

@Marina ; Thanks, I did find that interesting.

nikipedia's avatar

You are asking several different questions here. For language, I second @susanc’s recommendation of Pinker. Also I found my old friend Ludwig W. very insightful on the topic. If you want to talk about science, start a new thread.

susanc's avatar

thanks niki for suggesting Ludwig for flyaway so that
I too can enjoy him.

flyawayxxballoon's avatar

@nikipedia ; Thank you for that recommendation. I plan to look into that as well. =)
As for math and science, those were just side comments to connect to it, not really part of the question, but I appreciate the advice.

scamp's avatar

When I was researching my family tree, I found out that one of my ancestors played a part in what is now the english language. It was after the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

flyawayxxballoon's avatar

@scamp ; Wow…that’s pretty amazing!!

scamp's avatar

Thanks! William the Conqueror is the most famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) in my background. I found it fascinating when I was digging up the old family secrets.

ninjaxmarc's avatar

sorry I don’t comprehend I speak my own language. I’m still trying to figure this language English out.

syz's avatar

“Mother Tongue” by Bill Bryson is an exhaustively researched and truly funny look at how the english language developed.

flyawayxxballoon's avatar

@syz ; Thanks for the recommendation! I have to check all of these out… =)

marinelife's avatar

@syz Bill Bryson on anything=wonderful.

Trance24's avatar

English is just like any other language it was developed over time in order for a group of human beings to communicate. Before language we learned to communicate through sounds or gestures. Later we were just able to evolve enough to where sounds became more like words and sentences. English was created through older languages, and then perfected into a way of communicating. It makes sense because we made it that way. We all understand it those who speak it, just as people who speak Spanish understand each other. Its communication that we made.

chaosrob's avatar

“English doesn’t borrow from other languages. English follows other languages down dark alleys, knocks them down and goes through their pockets for loose syntax.”

pathfinder's avatar

For my translation from english to czech so some words has lots of meanings ,than if I speak in english I have to watch out for that where the word has been used.What I mean is that If the word is on the end of the phrase or on the begining It change completly meaning of that word.You have asked if english is bunch made up of words.My focus on it is if you use up,on,of,in,and another of those upones tie on words that you can actualy get meaning of one phrase in to two words like.English language is wide in makeing of phrases but not much on words perhaps.

Knotmyday's avatar

Excellent @chaosrob. Whose quote?

chaosrob's avatar

Honestly, I can’t recall at the moment. Joseph Conrad, maybe?

morphail's avatar

There are several theories on the origins of language. We can’t say with certainty whether language was “created” or “evolved”. I second susanc’s recommendation of Stephen Pinker.

La_chica_gomela's avatar

The quote is from James D. Nicoll, a Canadian science fiction writer.
It’s actually, “The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.”

The funny part is that this is not just true of English, but all languages.

Strauss's avatar

@pathfinder I know what you mean.

I used to hear some Eastern European (Slovene, Croat, Pole) immigrants in the Chicago area say things like ”...turn the corner around…”

dea_ex_machina's avatar

What I love about the English language is that it is so varied and complex – but that is because it has so many different roots.
There are, within other languages, certain rules which can always be applied. a simple example is the French hard or soft G – if a G is followed by a, o or u, it is pronounced g, as in gap, but if it is followed by e or i, it is pronounced j or zh – look at the word ‘garage’ – it has both hard and soft g’s in it. Now, that rule also applies in other languages – but when it comes to English, the rule only applies to words which are of a romance root – or a Latin root. Words which derive from teutonic origins, or from the germanic languages, like Anglo Saxon, do not follow this rule – eg, get.
So, it seems as if English flouts rules, but the reality is that the rules govern the root word!
Think of all the languages which have influenced English – from all the invaders, or all the countries which were colonised. There are words whose origins lie as far north as Scandanavia, right down to India (pyjamas, bungalow, etc ) And yet, all these words have been subsumed into one language.
But, changes in the language remove the obvious link to the antecedents of English. Young Noah Webster thought he was rationalising words by changing spellings – eg plough became plow. However, in doing so, he has hidden the origin of the word – pflügen (German). That g in the German word often mutated into a gh in English , but by removing it, the word plow now has no history, or visible link, and becomes a bunch of made up letters.
There are points of grammar too, which are changing, as English evolves. ‘I would have’ has in recent years become ‘I would of’ Now, phonetically, that sounds almost the same, but when you look at the sentences written down, ‘I would of eaten cheese’ does not really make sense, and again, in modern usage, that sentence just becomes a conglomeration of words.
And then we get words which change their meaning – the most obvious of these is ‘gay’ – which has had a radical change of meaning in the latter years of the 20th century. But another example is “counselling”. The origin of “counsel” or “council” is to offer advice, and yet counselling these days seems to involve listening rather than advising. So the word is undergoing a volte face.
Sometimes it takes a look into the history of a word or a structure to understand how it came to mean what it currently means.

morphail's avatar

@dea_ex_machina German pflügen is not the origin of English plough. Both words are derived from Proto-Germanic.

Strauss's avatar

How does that explain the four different pronunciations of words ending in “ough” in my sentence below?

“The smoke was thick as dough and made him cough, but he went on, determined to plough right through it.”

morphail's avatar

@Yetanotheruser The “ough” spelling comes from a few different sources. For instance “dough” is from Old English “dāh”, and “through” is from Old English ”þurh”. I’m sure in some cases dialectical variation was involved. You’d have to look at the etymology of each word for the details.

btw “plough” might have been borrowed from another Germanic language, like Frisian “plōch, plōg” or Middle Dutch “ploech”, or it might have evolved from the same Germanic source as those words.

dea_ex_machina's avatar

@morphail – of course, you are right.. i was just trying to keep it slightly simple by looking at an obvious link rather than an origin – just used the wrong word – but hey, i am new here

morphail's avatar

@dea_ex_machina no worries. I liked your answer. Actually, “gay” has had a long and varied history. It has meant, at one time or another, ”(Of women) leading an immoral, or a harlot’s, life”, “Slightly intoxicated”, “Impudent, impertinent, presumptious”.

dea_ex_machina's avatar

@morphail I remember my aunt taking me to a clothes shop in the 70s – it was, as she thought, THE place to buy the most elegant and chic clothing… but was called “Gay Girls” (I think it has closed down now LOL)

PattyAtHome's avatar

@dea_ex_machinal and @morphail – you should go check out this website It explains a lot more about how gay was just one word among many and not even the most common used in reference to homosexuality. What caused it’s dramatic change to become the politically correct term it is today. And why it wasn’t a very good choice in the first place. I never liked the word too much in the first place cause always thought it even sounds like people are calling me cheerful or something just because of who I like. The website made a good point as far as I’m concerned.

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PhiNotPi's avatar

Language is just a way to transmit thoughts between people. It makes sense, as long as you know how to interpret it.

jessifer1212's avatar

It’s a bunch of made up words and grammar that were over time accepted to make sense!

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