English is the JavaScript of spoken languages.

Just think about it:

- it's extremely wide-spread for historical reasons;

- it is a somewhat random mash-up of at least three other languages;

- as much as all languages have their idiosyncrasies , it tends to have the more confusing ones.

Sidenote: the fact that "idiosyncrasy" is spelled with an "sy", not a "cy", at the end is in my book an idiosyncrasy in itself.

There, idiosyncraseption. You're welcome.

Oh, got one more: working with dates is surprisingly awkward and confusing.


English: what does "Next Friday" mean if today is Wednesday?

@rysiek I had the same thought while taking a walk in 2015. My belief hasn't changed since then.

@wauz That's, unfortunately, all too true. But it spoils the pun.


@rysiek The one thing that still really gets me is -able VS -ible, e.g.


I haven't yet figured out if there is a pattern. And they are even pronounced the same!!!

@rysiek This I seem to usually get right by intuition. I guess because I have lived in native English countries for a while...
The other thing is something I realised quite late and you only think about it when having to write these words down.

english dropped the 'i' and the 'a' from those verbal forms, but they remain in several romance languages, as well as in these derived forms it inherited with the vowels dropped from the verbs. you'

@lxo Thanks!
Yes, I had suspected it would i/e-conjugation vs a-conjugation and if I can find the word in another language I know (with proper grammar), I can use that to figure it out.

etymology mentions construere and assignare from french. in spanish it's construir and asignar.

@rysiek If English is the JavaScript, I just hope I never encounter the PHP of human languages.

@eviloatmeal @rysiek I started in Javascript... It's bad. I'm not sure PHP is worse.

@frank87 @rysiek I don't know about worse, but certainly bizarre and aggravating and backwards.

@eviloatmeal @frank87 PHP8 seems leaps and bounds better than when I left that space (around PHP5). So at least there's progress.

@rysiek every time you start worrying about this think of the phrase "Lingua Franca". Already feels better, right?
De rien.

would use “coming Friday” to avoid people become more confused..

@rysiek @ulva69 Same in German: "This Friday" (diesen Freitag) would be the Friday later in the current week, while "next Friday" (nächster Freitag) will likely be the one in the following week. Though details are possibly dependant on where you are, and the local dialect.
"This coming Friday" (kommender Freitag) and "Friday next week" (Freitag nächste Woche) would be the safer variants.

This Friday = Friday this week
Next Friday = Friday next week

But don't ask an Englishman anything about the English language. The non native speakers are far far better at it. 🙂

@rysiek It's ambiguous in other languages too. The interpretation depends on context.


- If you block English in your browser, the Internet seems like a somewhat empty place.

Though, more seriously, I'll add with my linguist-hat on, in terms of its linguistic properties, English isn't particularly weirder or more idiosyncratic than any other language. (Orthography aside, which isn't itself language but a language "add-on".)

@emacsomancer ah now you're cherry-picking.

The fact that one cannot reasonably clearly think about how a word is spoken based on how it's written (or vice-versa) is a huge deal. And I am ready to die on that hill! 😉

@rysiek Most of the history of human language, there has not been written language, and this is still true for numerous languages. Orthography is very clearly a separate system which is not, itself, language.

Though it's certainly true that orthography has very real psychological effects on literate speakers. (Spelling pronunciations being but one minor example.)

@emacsomancer don't take this away from me, man. This orthography thing is my coping strategy for when English really annoys me. I need this. :sad_but_cool:

@rysiek Modern English orthography is a mess, for a variety of reasons. Old English spelling is a bit more sensible, and at least was flexible enough to come up with symbols for non-Latin sounds (þ, ð). Norman scribes messed this up for English, though I hear that there's a place somewhere that is smart enough to have kept some of these characters around for orthographic purposes ;)

@emacsomancer as a resident of Iceland, I feel I now need to research where þorn and Eth showed up first.

I feel I might be up for a disappointment.

@rysiek My memory is that the Romanised use of þ and ð was spread by English missionaries, but I don't have a source on hand.

(Old English is also cool is retaining the use of runes as "abbreviations" for words, e.g. using the wynn rune ᚹ for "wynn" = "joy".)

@wauz There was a long history of German scribes before the typesetters, so there would also be conventions they inherited.


@wauz Administrators, interestingly, play a big role in the shape of standard German, which is, to a certain extent, a sort of administrative koiné (there was (and of course, still is, to a certain extent) a lot of variation between different regional German language varieties).


@rysiek @emacsomancer

A lot depends on which language a word was borrowed from, and when. For instance; "chief" and "chef" both have the same french word as their root, but they entered English more than a century apart. During that time the pronunciation of "ch" in French changed.

As one of my English teachers used to say; "English doesn't borrow from other languages. English follows other languages down dark alleys, knocks them out, then goes through their pockets for loose grammar."

@HMLivy @rysiek

on the origin of the quote, see:

on the general topic: part of the oddity of English spelling is that words from (esp. other European languages) tend to be borrowed with and retain their original spelling (modulo accents etc. in many cases).

@HMLivy @rysiek

On the quote, I'll note that English isn't actually particularly unique here, nor even an extreme.

Hindi/Urdu is a voracious borrower too, with heaps of Perso-Arabic vocabulary.

Albanian's vocabulary is more than 90% borrowings.

And Armenian retains only about 1,500 words from Classical Armenian, the rest being borrowed vocabulary

Etc., etc.

@emacsomancer @HMLivy see, this is why I like fedi.

I do a silly hot-take, and *boom* there is a thoughtful, civil, and illuminating thread diving deep into intricacies of the subject while still taking the hot-take in the good-spirited way it was meant.


@rysiek @emacsomancer @HMLivy that's the best thing about fedi, actually. (Well, that and cat pics, of course...)


> When does borrowing become a relationship?

Never, at least in the sense of a genetic relationship. But enough borrowing obscures relationships.

Also, contact can make languages converge w.r.t. certain features. But that's not the same thing as a genetic relationship, which encodes something about the origins of the languages.

@HMLivy @rysiek

@emacsomancer @HMLivy @rysiek @frank87 If language B came from A but borrowed liberally from C, there has to be a point where it is more helpful to say "C with an archaic core of A" than "A with most of the features of C".

The memes are there, whether by inheritance from meme germ cells or through horizontal meme transfer.

@clacke that's true. but (certain classes of) words and phrases are the things that are borrowed mostly directly. other things involve more complicated processes, and don't seem to result in the scenario suggested. (even words are not always easily borrowed, e.g. pronouns).

@HMLivy @frank87 @rysiek

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