English: the Redheaded Stepchild of Languages

What sets the English language apart from other world languages, and even from other Germanic (the language family that English is a part of) languages?

Source: EnglishClub.com

Well, it’s a mutt.

If you know a bit about the history of the British Isles, you know that the area has been conquered so many times and influenced by so many cultures that it was the original melting pot, long before the USA was even a twinkle in Mother England’s eye. And while the cultures of the British Celts, the Jutes, Angles, Saxons and, eventually, the Normans, melded, so did their languages. (Read a great article on a brief history of English at EnglishClub.com.)

And that’s why English is so confusing: not only do we have words and root-words  from several different languages, skewing our spelling patterns (and increasing our vocabulary), but we also have grammatical and structural rules from several different languages–it’s a bit inconsistent, to put it mildly.

For decades, even centuries, students in the English-speaking world have been baffled by the complexities of their own language. When we think about grammar and language rules, we might even have the tendency to picture a bunch of evil English teachers sitting up in a tower thinking of ways to torture students in their classes by imposing confusing rules on the language.

While this picture is, I think, kind of awesome, the truth is actually quite the opposite; the rules for English that are printed in text books actually arose from the patterns in the language that have evolved over the centuries–the language created the rules, not the other way around.

English is also a fairly new language, compared to, for instance, Greek or Mandarin or even French, so it’s understandable that we’re still working out some centuries-old kinks, even as our modern world changes our language faster than ever before.

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