Monday, December 24, 2007

English and The Spontaneous Order of Language

From Wordsmith.org:

If you speak English, you know words from at least a hundred different languages. That's because English has borrowed words from languages everywhere, and continues to do so.

All living languages borrow, though not to the same degree. Each new word brings its own color to the mosaic of the language, just as each new person does to a population, making it richer and vibrant.

We see words derived from Greek, Latin, Spanish, French, etc. every day, but this week we'll look at a few words from languages that are not so well known -- Javanese, Coptic, Tamil, Shelta, and Hawaiian -- and also learn a little about those languages.

From a previous CD post:

Number of words in the English language: 500,000 according to the number of words in the Oxford English Dictionary. There are supposedly another 500,000 uncataloged technical and scientific terms. By comparison, most estimates indicate that German has a vocabulary of about 185,000 words and French and Spanish have fewer than 100,000 words.

Best thing about the English language, and the main reason for its rich vocabulary?

Nobody is in charge! Human languages in general, and English in particular, are perfect examples of "spontaneous order," the spontaneous emergence of self-organization and order out of seeming chaos. And perhaps it's because English has been the language most open to borrowing words from other languages that is has developed the most extensive and richest vocabulary.

The opposite approach to allowing a language to develop according to spontaneous order, is that of the French Academy, which actively tries to limit the French vocabulary and prevent the "anglicisation" of the French language.

2 Comments:

At 12/24/2007 11:37 AM, Anonymous Fred said...

English is an example of open source development.

 
At 12/24/2007 1:47 PM, Blogger GawainsGhost said...

The latest information available numbers the amount of words in the English language at over 1.2 million, with approximately 20,000 new words added every year.

The next largest language, in terms of vocabulary, is German, with 250,000 words.

Spanish isn't even in the top ten.

 

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