One of my favourite aspects about English is how it really is a combination of other language families, namely Germanic, Latin, French and, of course, smörgåsbord*-servings of others. This versatility makes English an extremely flexible, but also difficult, language to learn — especially if you don’t already speak a Germanic or Latin language.
— Origins of English, form the English language article on Wikipedia
My favourite demonstration of the mixed nature of English is the article “Uncleftish Beholding”, where Poul Anderson wrote about the basics of atomic theory using only Germanic words.
Since so many scientific and academic terms have Latin and Greek roots, the essay reads very differently… for instance, instead of “atomic theory”, the title is “uncleftish beholding”, where cleft is a Germanic word for “division”.
Here’s an extract:
For most of its being, mankind did not know what things are made of, but could only guess. With the growth of worldken, we began to learn, and today we have a beholding of stuff and work that watching bears out, both in the workstead and in daily life.
Here are some of his replacements:
- "Chemical elements" -> "firststuffs"
- "Hydrogen" -> "waterstuff"
- "Oxygen" -> "sourstuff**"
- "Helium" -> "sunstuff"
- "Molecule" -> “bulkbit”
- "Compound" -> “binding”
**Germanic speakers will be familair with e.g. the terms “Sauerstoff” (German), “zuurstof” (Dutch) and “syre” (Danish), which all have connotations with sourness or sharpness.
Sauerstoff is exactly the same type of word formation as its model Oxygen in Greek; same with Helium and Hydrogen, they both contain the Greek roots for ‘sun’ and ‘water’.
team aqua is still better than team magma
In the epigraph to Drown, Junot Diaz uses a quote from a Cuban poet, Gustavo Pérez Firmat—“The fact that I am writing to you in English already falsifies what I wanted to tell you.” This is the dilemma of the immigrant writer. If I’d lived in Haiti my whole life, I’d be writing these things in Creole. But these stories I am writing now are coming through me as a person who, though I travel to Haiti often, has lived in the U.S. for more than three decades now.
Often when you’re an immigrant writing in English, people think it’s primarily a commercial choice. But for many of us, it’s a choice that rises out of the circumstances of our lives. These are the tools I have at my disposal, based on my experiences. It’s a constant debate, not just in my community but in other communities as well. Where do you belong? You’re kind of one of us, but you now write in a different language. You’re told you don’t belong to American literature or you’re told you don’t belong to Haitian literature. Maybe there’s a place on the hyphen, as Julia Alvarez so brilliantly wrote in one of her essays. That middle generation, the people whose parents brought them to other countries as small children, or even people who were born to immigrant parents, maybe they can have their own literature too.
It’s because white cis women are the only women allowed enough nuance of personality to afford not to perform femininity to the high degree that women of color or trans women have to in order to be respected. That’s why it’s cute and Feminist! if white cis girls have hairy legs while Mexican girls are made fun of for having lip hair