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.


- 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! 😉

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@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: paulingraham.com/loose-grammar

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

@emacsomancer @frank87 @HMLivy also, a fascinating thing I learned a while ago (and please correct me if this is untrue):

The word for "tea" in a language often depends on whether it got there via land or sea route. Sea route leads to some variation of "tea"/"tee", etc; land route -- to some variation of "chai".

Polish for "tea" is "herbata". 👀

@rysiek Roughly true, though it's more tied to the particular region of China the traders were mainly in contact with (3 main: "cha" - Cantonese; "tea" - Min Chinese; and then another "cha" from northern Chinese, who the Persian traded with and added an Persian ending, thus "chai").

English actually has all three forms, though "tea" is the most general; but of course "chai" exists now too (referring to Indian-style spiced tea); and the British traded enough tea to have also acquired the "cha" form early on: en.wiktionary.org/wiki/cha#Ety

@frank87 @HMLivy

@emacsomancer @rysiek @frank87 @HMLivy

in London it was (and maybe still is) not uncommon to ask people if they want a "cuppa char"

@emacsomancer I'd known that.

I only just now realised that the "cha' in "kombucha" must be from "chai" for "tea".

And it is:

In Japanese, the terms konbu-cha and kobu-cha (昆布茶, "kelp tea") refer to a kelp tea made with powdered konbu (an edible kelp from the family Laminariaceae)...


Apparently the Japanese form differing from the fermented kombucha most of us know.

@rysiek @frank87 @HMLivy

#OccasionalEtymology #tea #chai #kombucha #kelp #japanese

@dredmorbius or at least from one of the (non-Persianised) "cha" forms. (That is, this "-cha" and "chai" share a common source.)

@rysiek @frank87 @HMLivy

@emacsomancer @dredmorbius @rysiek @frank87

If anyone is still interested in delving deeper into this ridiculous compendium we call language, I can recommend;

"The Mother Tongue - English And How It Got That Way" by Bill Bryson

It is a fun read. Well, it was for me. YMMV.

@rysiek @emacsomancer @frank87 @HMLivy

> Polish for "tea" is "herbata".

I often wondered about that exception.

The pl wiktionary refers to what seems to be an archived page of PWN, which together seem to claim that ,,herbata" is effectively "herbal tea" - so the "ta" is actually the standard universal root, if this etymology is correct {{better source needed}}.



PWN: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polish_S


The English page for Polish "herbata" ( en.wiktionary.org/wiki/herbata ) has:

"From Latin herba thea."

Which makes sense (where "thea" is "From Hokkien 茶 (tê) through Malay teh. The "-h-" is a faux-Greek spelling.").

@rysiek @frank87 @HMLivy

@boud and my sense is that this wouldn't mean "herbal tea" anyway, since that's in part a later extension of "tea" to botanically non-tea plants, but rather "herba thea" is essentially "tea plant" (with the "herba" perhaps necessarily originally to clarify what sort of thing this foreign "thea" thing was? pure speculation on my part, but it's my guess.)

@rysiek @frank87 @HMLivy

@emacsomancer @rysiek @frank87 @HMLivy

> but rather "herba thea" is essentially "tea plant"

Yes, of course.

en.wiktionary (bottom) leads to


> hol. herba thee,
> n.-łac. herba thea
> z chiń. tē 'herbata (roślina)'
> Pierwotnie była to nazwa handlowa herbaty (z łac. herba 'zioło', hol. thee i z tego n.-łac. thea 'herbata');...

So apparently it was originally a trademark. Time to start writing ,,herbata(TM)" to avoid lawsuits, in case genericisation is contested. :P

@emacsomancer @HMLivy @frank87 @rysiek @boud Swedish for the longest time had the spelling "thé", where both the accent and the "th" are unusual for a Swedish word. In the last 20-30 years the less exotic "te" has taken over.
@wauz The German "Tee" is closer in pronunciation to the Hokkien "te" than it is to the English "tea". That could be a coincidence of course, a double mutation that ends up close to where it started.

@clacke @boud @HMLivy @frank87 @rysiek @emacsomancer The citations in SAOB from 1800 onward use almost exclusively the simple "te" spelling. I suspect cafes have often used more elaborate variations in attempts to seem sophisticated, though they're not fooling me.

@mansr Oh! TIL.

So I guess the fanciful "thé" spelling was something that flared up in the 70s or so and then peaked some time in the 80s.

@boud @HMLivy @frank87 @rysiek @emacsomancer

@HMLivy @rysiek Britain's past is absolutely bonkers. It's a wonder there's any national identity at all.

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