Category Archives: English

Letter to a German politician

Dear Jens Spahn,
First let me apologies for writing to you in English. I fully understand your concerns regarding the use of English. In my defence I can only say that, as a 71 year old resident of Vienna I find that every time I attempt to speak German I am responded to in English. Even when I asked “Haben Sie Kohlsprossen” the response from the Gemüsehändler was, in English ” I think it is too early in the season”.

The problem, which, as a well educated German mother tongue speaker you have, is that you just don’t recognise the complexity of your native language. You also fail to realise that English is fundamentally a German dialect, as is Dutch and other derivatives including local forms where, in spoken form, all nouns take the masculine.

Languages are not prisons, they are a method of communication and the easier that is, the better for everybody. People adopt words which they find useful, hence the appearance of “Zeitgeist” and “Schadenfreude” in English. These German words are better than the English equivalent, shorter and more precise and so the language adapts and incorporates them.

I could write more and in fact have done so within my blog but may I close with this. It is not the strong which survive, but the most adaptable. That goes for languages just as with species.
ps. Why is so much of the worlds economy in the hands of the USA? One market, 350million people, one language. That is a great place to start a business.

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The Hans Christian Andersen effect.

The simple stories of Hans Christian Andersen  are brilliantly apposite to many aspects of modern society but for me, the best is the Emperors Suit of Clothes. it really fits to modern politics, but even more so to the use of English. If you find that strange, consider this. Very many people have a pretty good standard of spoken English. Written English is a different matter. In an attempt to appear competent, many people trip themselves up by using too many words, and confusing the meanings. Unfortunately, many recipients of those sentences are not exactly 100% certain of the meaning. However, (and this is where HCA comes in), just like the courtiers in his story they are afraid to speak up and ask in case they are shown to be less than competent themselves. “It must be correct, he is my teacher/boss/ etc”

It is not only none native speakers who frequently get it wrong. Look at this from the BBC website:-

“Nestled in a mountainous corner of Atlantic Europe, they also show distinct genetic patterns to their neighbours in France and Spain”.

What does it mean? At face value it means that they reveal to their neighbours their distinct genetic patterns.

But of course that is not correct. What the writer means is:-

Nestled in a mountainous corner of Atlantic Europe, they have genetic patterns distinct from their neighbours.

In case you were wondering, the article is about the Basques of North East Spain.

If English really does have a role as an international language it needs to be written accurately otherwise we might have to adopt Ido for precision, though with only 200 speakers worldwide, it might take a long time.