Menu Close

Month: March 2016

How far back in time could you go and still understand English?

All languages change over time. But the rate of change is dependent on a lot of factors. Purely spoken languages change the most over time. Languages that have a long written tradition and most children are in school (as opposed to working on a farm or in the family business) tend to change slower as people are more connected to older forms of the language.

Purely spoken languages change much more quickly because the normal forces that make language change are not being held back by widespread education and literature. Languages change because people start speaking differently because a role model starts speaking differently for fun, and their change catches on, or because an academic proposes a change, in any case, there are many reasons why people would start pronouncing things differently.

Once people start speaking differently, they will be others who remark upon this and say things like, “The language is going to the dogs” or such things. This has never been true. Languages change all the time. It doesn’t mean the language is degrading. Once the changes in the language have become more widespread, it will start being picked up by younger people. Since they grow up with the change, it will become normal to them. And then they in turn will make new changes, and so the cycle of language change continues.

A look at Old Norse

Old Norse is the name given to the language of the Vikings. There were to main types of Old Norse, Old West Norse which lead to Icelandic, Norwegian and Faroese, and Old East Norse which lead to Swedish and Danish. Most of the literature we have today is in Old Icelandic.

Modern Icelandic has changed very little compared with Old Icelandic and Modern Icelandic speakers can follow Old Icelandic with little difficulty. Norse Mythology was written in Old Norse, and learning Old Norse is a must for anyone with an interest in Norse Mythology.

Learning older languages is also a very fascinating endeavour as it allows you to see the links with modern languages. I have been learning Swedish and I have noticed some very interesting parallels with Old Norse. “kvenna” in Old Norse became “kvinna” in Swedish, which means woman, and “mikill” became “mycket” which means “a lot, much, great, many”. I very much recommend looking into the language of the vikings! Skål (said to toast good fortunes while drinking) 🙂

The Litany Against Fear translated into Atlaans

The Litany Against Fear originated in the Dune series of books by Frank Herbert. It is spoken by those facing great danger. There is a lot of discussion in the Dune books over humanity’s place in the universe and what it means to be human. In the beginning of the first book, one of the characters goes through a test.

The test will show if someone is truly human, or little more than an animal. A animal, one of the characters says, just reacts on instinct. If you are truly human, you will be able to face your feelings and not let them control you.

Here is the Litany Against Fear in English and Atlaans

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

Ig muss niet zietheet haben. Zietheet ar de geheern touder. Zietheet ar de kleena toud das bring kompleta sherstoorung. Ig wou meen zietheet begeenen. Ig wou es over mich en doysh mich su passen erlouben. En as es vech fon mich ar, ig wou meen inina oug drienen om esaar vech su sienen. Wo de zietheet war wou niesen zeen. Noor ig wou shurukbleeben.

Native Speakers

download (1)

It’s not that native speakers ignore grammar, it’s that they do it on instinct. Being a native speaker of a language is a very different thing to having learned a language from a book. Only through a large amount of exposure can you build up that instinct.

Native speakers spend most of their time in their native language. They think in it, they chat in it, they bear their soul in it. They know the nuances of a language. They will often know that something is phrased incorrectly, but not know why. They will be able to pick up on nuances, and in some cases even be thrown off by a perceived nuance that someone gave that they didn’t intend.

Grammar books list rules and explain how the language works. Native speakers know the rules instinctively and know how their language works. Prescriptivists (those who prescribe how a language should work) and grammar books (especially bad ones) have little impact on native speakers.

The worst, and I have experienced this, is people who try to tell you that what you said is wrong. I know that there are some nuances that are lost on second language speakers, or that nuance doesn’t exist in their native language.

The sentence was “I love language”. They told me that it should be “I love languages”. They said it was because if I just used “language”, I had to specify which language. But in this case, it was referring to the concept of language as a whole, not one specific language.