10 Things About the English Language

An article on the blog for Oxford Dictionaries entitled “Ten Things You Might Not Have Known about the English Language” caught my attention. It’s several years old, but it contains interesting information. The only ones I didn’t know were that -ize was British and not American and how many people are in process of learning English.

During classes that I teach, I often talk about the lack of a language academy that has the ability to decide what is “good” English. While I might have been more in favor of the idea in the past, after I heard that Brazilian Portuguese became the official standard for the Portuguese language, I was much less interested. (Can’t find the source I read that in.)

Only recently (say in the three years) have I learned that Noah Webster decided to Americanize English in order to make it better.

Bartleby quotes Mencken’s The American Language from 1921, saying,

Grounding his [Webster’s] wholesale reforms upon a saying by Franklin, that “those people spell best who do not know how to spell”—i. e., who spell phonetically and logically—he [Webster] made an almost complete sweep of whole classes of silent letters…
A good many of these new spellings, of course, were not actually Webster’s inventions. For example, the change from -our to -or in words of the honor class was a mere echo of an earlier English uncertainty. In the first three folios of Shakespeare, 1623, 1632 and 1663-6, honor and honour were used indiscriminately and in almost equal proportions; English spelling was still fluid, and the -our-form was not consistently adopted until the fourth folio of 1685.

A great many of his innovations, of course, failed to take root, and in the course of time he abandoned some of them himself.

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