English as an Open Source Language

One of the great things about modern English is that it is bottom-up and open-source.  Years ago, the Oxford English Dictionary took the approach of documenting what English is, rather than the French approach of dictating what the language should be.  As a result, the language evolves based on how ordinary people are using it.  Which is perhaps why the word in many languages for new trends and technologies is often the English word (much to the consternation of the French). 

I tend to agree with Eugene Volokh's definition of "what is a word."  Then think how different this might be in statist cultures, where a word is only a word when the government says it is.

PS-  I acknowledge that this makes English harder to learn for people whose first language is less idiomatic.

Update: Much more here

  • la petite chou chou

    I thought that was a funny discussion. Thanks for the link.

  • Josh

    As a result, the language evolves based on how ordinary people are using it the Oxford English Dictionary is actually useful.

    FTFY

  • http://dicentrasgarden.blogspot.com dicentra

    I had to translate a user manual for proprietary accounting software into Spanish (not my native language). I found Spanish to be unwieldy and awkward, what with its insistence on stringing adjectives after the nouns in multiple prepositional phrases.

    English's ability to "verb" nouns or any other part of speech is annoying when it comes from the marketing department, but it's also highly useful. We can say, "then, you FTP the file to the main server" instead of "then, you send the file using FTP to the main server."

    Spanish has its charms, though. If you put the suffix -azo on the end of a noun, you create a new noun that means "a blow with ," such that "zapato" (shoe) becomes "zapatazo" (a whack with a show). Similar things can be done with -ote/a (big thing), so "grande" (big) becomes "grandote" (really big).

    But as far as technology goes, English wins, hands down, for its compactness and flexibility.

  • Frink the Foolish

    Agreed, English is quite a versatile language. However, ordinary usage also destroys otherwise perfectly good words. For instance, the words 'anxious', 'tragedy', 'unique' and, worst of all, 'ironic' have been utterly stripped of meaning by decades of improper usage. 'Anxious' is now simply a synonym for 'eager', 'tragedy' a synonym for 'sad event', 'unique' a synonym for 'special', and 'ironic' a synonym for 'coincidence'. Does it bother anybody else that the phrase 'very unique' is repeated ad nauseum?

  • A conformer

    Fink,

    Have to agree. As a person in the tech field, my pet peeve is use of a 'new' word when there's already a word that does a better job.

    Why use something like "this method is conformant to industry standards" as opposed to "this method conforms to industry standards"? Another that drives me crazy, "if you do it this way, your system will be more performant" as opposed to "if you do it this way, your system will perform better."

  • BobH

    >I found Spanish to be unwieldy and awkward, what with its insistence on stringing adjectives after the nouns in multiple prepositional phrases.

    I've noted the same thing, and began observing bi-lingual signs in stores and offices. Invariably, information in Spanish requires more words -- e.g., a paragraph of text at a store telling people not to remove the shopping carts from the parking lot might take three lines of text in English, but four lines in Spanish.