Most native speakers of any language converse every day without even thinking about what language they are using, what using that language means and how they feel about using that language. For the majority, language is just a means to communicate. For others, it’s so much more.
I have learned more about the grammar, syntax, styles and variations of English purely through studying other languages and in doing so I have learned to appreciate my language. But what I want to know is the extent to which others feel the same about their languages.
When considering the etymology of English words, it isn’t as ‘pure’ as, say, French or German. I spoke to fellow native English speaker, Sarah Bennett (@penguinbennett), a German and English Linguistics graduate now teaching English in China, about how proud we are of our language.
“Before studying linguistics at university, I wasn’t aware of the intricacies in our language, but now, through this knowledge, I have gained a much deeper respect for my own language, its historical background and its development across the world. Most countries seem to put a lot of educational power towards learning English, but seeing my students struggle with some often absurd rule only makes me feel lucky that I use it as my mother tongue, in all its glorious forms. I’m sure many people with English as their mother tongue take speaking it for granted, but I don’t think that is disrespect to the language.”
Sarah brings up a good point. It’s all very well for us linguists to talk about how great English is, but what about those who haven’t studied their language in depth? Native English speakers can be notorious for their incorrect grammar; how many know the difference between your and you’re and how many know how to use an apostrophe?
Incorrect usage is not necessarily disrespectful. Some will quite happily accept the criticism; however others simply don’t care about the misuse of their language. Perhaps we there is a correlation between such people and the ‘everyone in the world speaks English’ brigade.
But aren’t these people at least proud that their language is being spoken across the world? Sarah goes on to say, “the fact that there are many varieties and dialects of English all over the world is a testament to the power of language; we all change and adapt it to our own use, to aid our communication with each other. Whether the lingua franca will change with Spanish and Mandarin emerging much more prominently is yet to be seen, but I believe English will always remain one of the most powerful languages in the world.”
Parts two, three and four look at our neighbouring languages to see how highly their native speakers value their own language.
Lloyd Bingham (@Capital_Trans) is an in-house translator based in North East England. He graduated from Newcastle University in 2011 with a BA in Modern Languages (French, German and Spanish) and also studied Dutch, Catalan, French language variation, Iberian history and German linguistics.
In 2009, as part of a university project, he investigated the extent to which Occitan language and culture is still relevant to contemporary life in Toulouse and the south west of France. He has travelled extensively around the countries where these languages are spoken and has lived in Cardiff, Newcastle, Toulouse, Munich and Alicante. He blogs on his website (http://capital-translations.co.uk) about matters relating to Western European culture, language and linguistics.