Book spine poem #39: Language, Language!

December 18, 2016

My latest piece of doggerel in book-spine form has an obvious theme.


Language, Language!

Language, language!
The story of language.
Language, slanguage
Spoken here: a history of
Language, a history of
Writing: style, style,
Style in fiction,
Linguistics and style,
Language and linguistics.
What is linguistics?
Understanding language.


[click to enlarge]


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The -tide of reform

May 2, 2011

Sometimes it behoves people to adopt and accelerate changes in the common vocabulary of their language for political or cultural reasons. Mankind, once the norm, is now widely and rightly considered an inadequate term for humankind. Ditto chairman for chairperson, fireman for firefighter, and similar sexist and androcentrist terms.

In other cases, though, such attempts to ‘fix’ a language are misguided to the point of absurdity. I think we’re better off without huperson, woperson, personslaughter and personhole covers.

Of course, it’s not always gender that’s at issue. Here’s an account of one mercifully short-lived attempt at linguistic reform in the name of religion:

In the nineteenth century, British politician Thomas Massey railed against Catholicisms in the English language and proposed to the House of Commons that Christmas should be renamed ‘Christ-tide’ to avoid reference to the Catholic mass. When Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli stood up, however, to ask Thomas Massey whether he was then also prepared to change his own name to ‘Tom-tide Tidey’, the matter was closed.

From A History of Language, by Steven Roger Fischer.

Previously: Aborting the sexist pronoun.

New languages like new cloaks

August 26, 2010

Presented without comment:

Recent genetic analyses have revealed that, over centuries and millennia, it is generally languages and not peoples that are replaced. That is, new languages are readily absorbed by relatively stable populations. In this way, for example, the pre-Celts of the British Isles and Ireland adopted the Celts’ minority languages when these Indo-Europeans intruded. Their descendants, many centuries later, similarly adopted the minority language of the invading West Germans (‘Anglo-Saxons’), while the islanders’ genetic profile remained relatively unchanged. This is a phenomenon that has occurred innumerable times around the globe. Throughout history, human societies have donned new languages like new cloaks. The linguistic metamorphosis always went unnoticed – until there was writing.

From A History of Language by Steven Roger Fischer, Director of the Institute of Polynesian Languages and Literatures in Auckland, New Zealand. Later in the book, Mr Fischer has written a line I offer as a mantra to linguistic purists:

All linguistic contact is enrichment.