If Finnish is Godzilla, what creature is English?

This image has been floating around the internet for a while, but I don’t think I’ve seen it on a language blog. I don’t know who created it, but a search on TinEye suggests it originated on 9gag in 2014 as a two-part visual joke comparing Swedish and German grammar, before being variously (and anonymously) modified and extended.

[click to enlarge]

Scandinavian grammar - Swedish Danish Norwegian Icelandic Finnish kitten cat tiger alien godzilla

Tweeting it led to some discussion of its accuracy (which I’m unqualified to assess) and of Finnish being anomalous, since it’s part of a different language family; I guess the set is geographical rather than strictly linguistic.

Finnish has a reputation for being forbidding, but some of those comics misrepresent it, I think: its complexity may be more a subjective thing for people attuned to Germanic-language sounds and structures.

Then there’s the whole idea of representing grammars and languages as animals and monsters. I thought of English as a magpie first, before opting for The Blob given its voracious nature and inexorable spread. Or maybe Larry Cohen’s The Stuff, which is like the Brave New World to The Blob‘s 1984.

What creature, real or not, do you think best represents English, or any other language?

25 Responses to If Finnish is Godzilla, what creature is English?

  1. A hydra. Once you lick one head and think you can move on to the next, you run into a weird exception.

  2. Mrs Fever says:

    The Blob seems an accurate description. English *does* frighten people, after all, and it has all the consistency of melting Jell-O.

    For some reason, I am inclined to think of English as something that believes itself to be puffed up with its own tooth-and-fang importance, but is actually small and thief-y. Like a mome rath combined with a Jabberwock.

  3. limlom says:

    A variation on the theme that will stir some controversy: http://9gag.com/gag/aVPYjOv?ref=fbg

    At least there is some agreement on case heavy agglutinative languages?

    I’d say the Turkish tense system is much harder than Hungarian.

  4. astraya says:

    Chimera: ‘a monstrous fire-breathing hybrid creature composed of the parts of more than one animal’ or ‘any mythical or fictional animal with parts taken from various animals … anything composed of very disparate parts, or perceived as wildly imaginative, implausible, or dazzling’.

  5. The English language is Frankenstein’s monster. A bunch of parts from other languages sewn together and unnaturally brought to life.

    ECHO ECHO

  6. Hugo says:

    Re: https://i.imgur.com/6fx6bpA.jpg

    Elokuvateatteri = cinema
    teatteri = theatre
    Elokuva = film
    Elo = life
    kuva = picture
    Elokuvateatteri = life picture theatre

    But having said all that, “kino” is also commonly used in cinema names.

  7. Dermot Ryan says:

    English is Perl. Things are not strongly typed and can act as other things (nouns as verbs, verbs as nouns, for example), depending on context. And it draws on useful features from other languages, with no regard for purity of approach.

    Unlike Perl, though, it is not in decline.

  8. Stan Carey says:

    Thanks for all the excellent and amusing suggestions. Others that were sent my way on Twitter include a camel, a griffin, a porcupine, a platypus again, an amoeba, Cthulhu, and Mecha-Streisand.
    And Dr Jouna Pyysalo of the Proto-Indo-European Lexicon says: ‘Among the Indo-European languages Old Irish and Albanian contest for the titles of Godzilla and Alien.’

  9. Peter Morgan says:

    Bull Shark Grammar

    image1.jpeg

    Australians handle all aspects of the English language like a bull in a China Shop and if it’s Australian then it must be aquatic. Plus it reflects the adventurous and dangerous nature of the the wild life here in Australia. Australian: Bull Shark Grammar!

  10. Perhaps a virus, constantly changing and hard to stop.

  11. Alina Cincan says:

    I was familiar with the image limlom posted in his comment above, where English was a cute little kitten.

    Of course, any comparison of the kind will always be subjective, as it depends on the speaker’s/writer’s/illustrator’s mother tongue (which undoubtedly affects the way they perceive other languages and the ease with which they can learn them) and on their knowledge of other languages.

    In my case, although I am Romanian and therefore Romance languages should come easily, I believe English grammar is a lot easier than French grammar for example (I also speak French, which was very useful when I learnt other Romance languages). Of course, I cannot comment on Finnish or Hungarian, as my knowledge of them is limited (read that as ‘non-existent’).

    To answer your question, I believe your suggestion (English as The Blob) is pretty accurate.

    • Stan Carey says:

      Wise words, Alina. Any interpretation along these lines will be very subjective and context-dependent. It is interesting that certain languages, such as Finnish, have this reputation, but that may reveal little more than the linguistic biases of a Germanic-dominant group.

  12. David L says:

    A long time ago I lived in Finland for half a year and learned a little of the language. An English native who had lived there a long time told me it was useful to think of the differences between the two languages in terms of a learning curve. With English, you can pick up a handful of words and start saying things, but the more you learn the more subtle and complex it all becomes: the learning curve starts off shallow and gets progressively steeper. With Finnish, it’s the opposite. You need to learn about declensions and conjugations and case-endings before you can even ask for a cup of coffee, but once you’ve mastered the grammar, the language falls into place. So the learning curve is steep at first but flattens out as you become more conversant.

    I’ve always remembered this is a helpful alternative to thinking of languages as being ‘hard’ or ‘easy.’

    • Stan Carey says:

      Thanks for the insight, David. That’s a useful way to think about it. I agree that it’s unhelpful to conceive of languages as inherently ‘hard’ or ‘easy’, except as it relates to specific situations. Children pick up any language with essentially the same facility; it’s only as we get older and more accustomed to certain phonologies and grammars that other languages come to seem difficult or otherwise.

  13. I have often thought that if you want to be precise you should speak German, if you want to be beautiful you should speak French or Italian, and if you want to be flexible speak English.

  14. Damean Mathews says:

    There are so many possible answers to this question! I would like to say, for myself and others, that the English language should be represented by a large and strong animal who isn’t afraid of standing up fiercely for the integrity of grammar and the like. However, based on such an influx of individuals choosing to incorrectly spell and type without caring to learn the proper method….let’s just say we’ll call the English language a Bald Eagle; it’s bold and fierce, but if people don’t start acting to preserve it, it may not last another decade.

    • Stan Carey says:

      English doesn’t ‘stand up for the integrity of grammar’, fiercely or otherwise. It contains a multiplicity of grammars, each appropriate for its own dialect or variety. One of these, standard English, is socially privileged but not intrinsically superior. Much of what’s considered proper English today originated in misspellings and mispronunciations, so it makes sense to reserve judgement on these. The language has survived many centuries of variation, change, wayward usage, and experimentation; it will probably survive a few more, if our species survives that long.

  15. samspinelli says:

    I say an alien
    Not like the one from alien vs predator
    I mean the little green visitor from space alien

  16. Hahahaha, it was me who did the first version of the extended post with godzilla on 9gag, yet it was about polish language. It’s nice to see ppl took it, changed and it spread around the internet :) pity it wasn’t my own version which got fame xD

    • Stan Carey says:

      Thanks for letting me know, Klaudia! I couldn’t find out whose joke it originally was, so I’m glad to be able to fill in the history a bit. I tried learning some basic Polish years ago and found it… challenging.

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