Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Unwanted words

Some people get very hot under the collar about their language being "corrupted" by words from other languages. They think it's the thin end of the wedge, that if it goes on it'll lead to a tsunami of alien words and their whole language will vanish down the plughole.

Italians love English words and use hundreds of them (il weekend, il snack bar, il taxi). We Brits love foreign words and sprinkle them everywhere to show how cosmopolitan and well-travelled we are.

But the French aren't so welcoming. They turn up their noses at dubious unFrench interlopers and try to stamp them out le plus tôt possible. They regularly round up the nasty little intruders and find respectable, upstanding French words to replace them.

The Académie Française has just run another competition to create substitutes for such ghastly arrivals as "le buzz" (an internet craze), "le tuning" (hotting up a car) and "le newsletter". They eventually decided on "le ramdam", "le bolidage" and "l'infolettre". Phew, that's more of the pesky little critturs wiped out.

Personally I don't know why they're so fussed. Foreign words add variety to a language, they enrich and refresh it. Every language is choc-a-bloc with foreign words that were introduced by travellers, translators and traders. Usually the words change naturally into something more like the host language, so eventually they seem like the real thing anyway (medicine, anyone?)

What are these language purists so afraid of? It's like cooking a meal and rejecting any foreign ingredients as polluting the taste. But all our languages have been polluted and contaminated by other languages from the start, that's what gives them their unique flavour and texture. The more foreign muck the better, I say.

24 comments:

Leah said...

I am with you on this one, Nick. I love polyglot-ism (hm...now that was a clumsy neologism). I think it reflects the reality of the World Clique and heterogeneity.

Nick said...

Leah - Absolument! Vive la diversité! Bienvenu, tout le monde!

Rummuser said...

Nick, the most often used word in almost all Indian languages is "Noproblem". Each language claims it as its own. Purists be damned. The beauty of the word is however, the very many way it is pronounced. Ah, to be an Indian. Beats being an European any day. Particularly the French.

meno said...

Language is a foolish thing to try and control. It has a mind of it's own and will grow and change despite any efforts to keep it "pure."

Let it grow i say!

Nick said...

Ramana - Goodness, what a fierce nationalist you are! If I wasn't a completely unenthusiastic Brit, I might even take umbrage....

Meno - A mind of its own indeed. Particularly when millions of people are speaking it and each one is modifying it slightly. Who can control that?

Saint Dolores said...

This causes me such discombobulation I want to mount my velociopede and procede without tarry to the nearest....no I lost it there.

Language is alive and growing true. But the French want to preserve their culture, which is not a popular thing in current Western Civ.

Baino said...

I can understand the desire to keep French pure (especially from English influence, let's face it, we're not their favourites) but the beauty of the English language is that you can muck it up to Friday and still be understood. Seems like an attempt to remain difficult to communicate with and arrive at some level of exclusivity just for the Hell of it. It's not like French is going to die any time soon!

nick said...

Saint D - Good point about preserving culture. But will the vast edifice of French culture collapse if a few foreign words enter the language? Surely not?

Baino - Well, they're only difficult to communicate with if you don't understand the language. A few words here and there don't make any difference. I think it's a sort of pride and possessiveness that they want their own words for things rather than using someone else's.

e said...

Having grown up where people spoke all sorts of languages, I too enjoy the polyglot, and yes, I would love a Mr. Pinckie too, though I wonder what the cats would think???

Brighid said...

Awe the beauty of language melding. Living in California is like a mini melting pot of lauguages. You can have a conversation sprinkled with words from a whole host of languages: Spanish, French, Russian, Chinese, Mexican, German, Japanese and on and on. Great fun.

kylie said...

yes, gimme foreign muck anytime


oh, we're talking about words??

Quickroute said...

I'm a big fan and user of Spanglish myself. Also in Chinese there is no expression for 'excuse me' which is why they barge thru you so adding foreign words is all good to me

Nick said...

e - So where did you grow up exactly? No idea where Mr Pinkie came from, but there's a lovely pink teddy at shopping.com, a snip at $10.99!

Brighid - London's much the same of course, but not many unfamiliar languages in Belfast. A lot of Chinese and Polish but not many others.

Kylie - Why, what sort of foreign muck were you thinking of?

Quicky - No expression for excuse me? That's no good. Italians often say Permesso? meaning Permission to come past?

RT News said...

In the 19th century, Russian was full of French words. And everyone was scared.

Now Russian is full of English words. And everyone is scared.

It's natural, I believe. Every language needs to refresh itself.

Scarlet Blue said...

I'm in favour of mucky language and grubbed up words.
There's a surprise!
Sx

Nick said...

RTN - Not scared of words, surely? Scared of the English maybe....

Scarlet - You saucy little minx you. Yes, language can be too pristine, it needs to get mucky sometimes.

Suburbia said...

Absolutly!

Nick said...

Suburbia - Goodness, 100% agreement, I'm honoured! I'm beginning to think this blog isn't controversial enough....

kylie said...

nicky,
blogging tends to be a case of like attracting like, which is why you dont find a whole lot of controversy here

and quicky, all linguistics aside the chinese can be plain rude. my kids even say so and they are half chinese

Nick said...

Kylie - Oh, I've had some quite heated controversies in the past. I think it's just that my open-minded visitors all tend to see a naturally evolving language as a Good Thing.

And don't you dare disagree or else.

Liz said...

It's easy in Wales: we just add io to everything. So, for example, we have Dim Smocio (no smoking) ...

Nick said...

Liz - You're pulling my leg! I've been to Wales several times and I've never heard that one....

Kate said...

Its amazing how alike certain languages are - I have been studying Spanish for the last few years and there are so many words that are the same just pronounced a little differently!!

I never did get on that well with French!!

Nick said...

Kate - Spanish and Italian are very similar too. I know a lot of Italian and I'm sure that if I tried to learn Spanish I'd get the two languages hopelessly confused!