Earl Gray

Earl Gray
"You can argue with me but, in the end, you'll have to face that fact that you're arguing with a squirrel." - Earl Gray

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Vertical Language

     We should not be surprised that other languages lack a future (Japanese) or past perfect (spoken French) tense.  It could be argued that, in addition to needing participles to form the past imperfect ("I have seen...") and future ("I will see...") tenses, English lacks a present one! 

     Consider these uses of the "present" tense of the verb "to see":

1a.  "I am seeing the doctor."

     Surely the present progressive must represent what is progressing presently, right?

1b.  "I am seeing the doctor on Friday."

     Apparently not!  Worse yet, it might not refer to any singular, non-recurring event:

1c.  "I am seeing the doctor on Fridays."

     Assuming today is not Friday, the above refers to the past and the future--everything but the present!

1d.  "You can see the doctor now."

     The word "now" guarantees the medical professional's current visibility, right?  Actually, this is something a clinic receptionist might say while motioning you toward the physician's office.  Thus, it implies the healer is not in sight yet--the exact opposite of what the words mean literally.

2.  "It happened about five years ago.  I get up one morning, go to the clinic and see the doctor."

3.  "...was blind, but now I see."

     This implies a permanent change in status, "now" meaning "now and/or in the future", the paradox being it could be said or sung with one's eyes closed.

     This confusion comes before we contemplate the hundreds of irregular verbs, of which see/seen/saw is one of the least confounding.

     The five C's for communication are:

1.  Comprehensibility

    Whole web sites are devoted to expressions absent from English.

2.  Comprehension/Clarity

    I'm told this actually makes sense:  "The man the professor the student has studies Rome."

3.  Cohesion

    Much of our humor stems from absurdities in our grammar, syntax and vocabulary.

4.  Concision

     "All the faith he had had had had no effect on the outcome of his life."

5.  Consistency

    Exceptions to "'i' before 'e' except after 'c'":  beige, cleidoic, codeine, conscience, deify, deity, deign, dreidel, eider, eight, either, feign, feint, feisty, foreign, forfeit, freight, gleization, gneiss, greige, greisen, heifer, heigh-ho, height, heinous, heir, heist, leitmotiv, neigh, neighbor, neither, peignoir, prescient, rein, science, seiche, seidel, seine, seismic, seize, sheik, society, sovereign, surfeit, teiid, veil, vein, weight, weir, weird, etc.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #1
     How many of these does English do and do well?  Let me try the math:  um...3...multiplied by...plus...uh...carry the one...subtracting...yeah...

     None of them.  Seriously.  Not even close.

     Nevertheless, thanks to commerce and the Internet, in a few generations every educated individual on the planet will speak English.  At that point language will have nowhere left to expand on earth.  We and it will start thinking and growing vertically.  Even St. Augustine would begin to dream of the stars. 

     Consider how ill-prepared English is for interplanetary exploration.  For example, we know our universe is expanding but what do we call what it's spreading into?  We can't call it "space" because that is the stuff of our universe--the thing doing the expanding.  How do we identify the area beyond?

     That's just vocabulary.  We need modes of conceptualization, a language not for our tongues but our imaginations.  We need nouns and modifiers that have states (i.e. solid, liquid, gaseous, like ice, water and steam) of being.  We need temporary, permanent and, in speaking of Schrödinger's Cat, indefinite verbs. 

     It's a long shopping list.

1. Vertical Language

2. Horizontal Language


English Is CUH-RAY-ZEE  - Words by Josh White, Jr. and Pete Seeger. Sung by Pete Seeger 

English is the most widely spoken language in the history of the planet.
One out of every seven human beings can speak or read it.
Half the world's books, 3/4 of the international mail are in English.
It has the largest vocabulary, perhaps two million words,
And a noble body of literature. But face it:
English is cuh-ray-zee!

Just a few examples: There's no egg in eggplant, no pine or apple in pineapple.
Quicksand works slowly; boxing rings are square.
A writer writes, but do fingers fing?
Hammers don't ham, grocers don't groce. Haberdashers don't haberdash.
English is cuh-ray-zee!

If the plural of tooth is teeth, shouldn't the plural of booth be beeth?
It's one goose, two geese. Why not one moose, two meese?
If it's one index, two indices; why not one Kleenex, two Kleenices?
English is cuh-ray-zee!

You can comb through the annals of history, but not just one annal.
You can make amends, but not just one amend.
If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one, is it an odd or an end?
If the teacher taught, why isn't it true that a preacher praught?
If you wrote a letter, did you also bote your tongue?
And if a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?
English is cuh-ray-zee!

Why is it that night falls but never breaks and day breaks but never falls?
In what other language do people drive on the parkway and park on the driveway?
Ship by truck but send cargo by ship? Recite at a play but play at a recital?
Have noses that run and feet that smell?
English is cuh-ray-zee!

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same
When a wise man and a wise guy are very different?
To overlook something and to oversee something are very different,
But quite a lot and quite a few are the same.
How can the weather be hot as hell one day and cold as hell the next?
English is cuh-ray-zee!

You have to marvel at the lunacy of a language in which your house can burn down
While it is burning up. You fill out a form by filling it in.
In which your alarm clock goes off by going on.
If pro is the opposite of con, what is the opposite of progress?

Well, English was invented by people, not computers
And reflects the creativity of the human race.
So that's why when the stars are out, they're visible,
But when the lights are out, they're invisible.
When I wind up my watch I start it, but when I wind up this rap,
I end it. English is cuh-ray-zee!

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