March 4, 2009

Happy Grammar Day

Today is National Grammar Day. Celebrate by reading John McIntyre's Grammarnoir serial.

English is an earthy, messy, sloppy language, but we love it anyway. Here's a snippet that helps explain just why our beloved tongue is such a mess:

"By natural processes of spoken-language change, Latin 'debita' and 'dubitare' had turned into French 'dette' and 'douter,' with complete elimination of 'b.' The French words had passed into English in the forms of 'det' or 'dette' and 'dout' or 'doute.' Now scholars, both in France and England, suddenly became aware of the Latin source of their modern words. Since the parent language, Latin, which they venerated, had 'b' in both words, ought not the 'b' to be restored in their modern descendants, at least in writing? So both French and English began respelling their words as 'debte' and 'doubte' ('doubter' in the case of French). In English, most of these silent, etymological letters stuck. In French, they were partly eliminated at a later period. The result is that today English has 'debt' and 'doubt,' with a 'b' that was never pronounced save in Latin, while French has gone back to the more phonetic spellings 'dette' and 'douter.'" — Mario Pei, "English Spelling," in Language Today: A Survey of Current Linguistic Thought (1967).

Unlike some countries, we have no "academy" to settle spelling disputes or issue edicts about whether "aunt" rhymes with "ant" or "taunt."

And we like it that way.

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