The English Language Is A Sandwich

The English language. I’m writing it. You’re reading it. Unless you’re a godless foreigner, plotting down the downfall of the Western world beneath a deep system of caves and an elaborate moustache, you probably use it as your primary tool to interpret the world around you, but how often have you considered it’s character?

Like old cats, galapagos tortoises and boats, languages have a distinct character, a uniqueness that sets them apart from all the other unique languages. Yiddish for instance, was formed in the shtetls, the segregated urbanised communities of the Ashkenazi Jews, and therefore, while lacking many words to extensively describe nature, it’s packed full of words to describe social situations and phenomena to the minutests detail. It’s here we get words like “shmuck”, “chutzpah”, “klutz” and my perennial favourite “meshuggeneh”. Click here for there meanings and more Yiddish hijinks.

German is guttural and good for heavy metal. It also likes to add bits of words on to other words to make highly confusing lengthy composites. Scholars often suggest this as one of the key reasons for their success in the Second World War. A good example of this would be “Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz” or “Beef labelling supervision duty assignment law”. To German’s credit it’s is also filled with useful philosophical and psychological terms such as “angst”, “schadenfreude” and “zeitgeist”. Perhaps we can hypothesise that the mental stresses and rigours Germans must feel, due to their day to day dealings with unreasonable compound words such as Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz, have forced their language, like a guttural, atavistic teenager, to become more inward looking and existential. Man. Here’s a vulgar showtune that sums it up quite well.

Russian is longwinded, forcing people to use abbreviations to get by, like “Komsomol”, or alternatively “Vsesoyuzny Leninsky Kommunistichesky Soyuz Molodyozhi” The Soviet era Communist Youth League. The Irish, convinced that then they can get by on half the language those damned Saxons use, get by with just thirteen letters, which they form into interesting (read frustrating) combinations. “Mbh” for example equals the letter ‘v’. The Chinese and Vietnamese have a tonal system, which can change an entire sentence’s meaning depending on what mood you’re in. The Slovaks have over a dozen suffixes. The Japanese have several parallel language systems that depend on the social status of the speaker and the spoken too. And taking the coup de grace, to excuse my French, The Yagan language of Tierra Del Fuego has the word “Mamihlapinatapei”, a beautiful expression meaning “the wordless, yet meaningful look shared by two people who both desire to initiate something but are both reluctant to start”. And no. I won’t even attempt to pronounce it.

Then what is the character of the English language? Good question imaginary ballgirl. Well, perhaps the most distinctive feature of English is the fact that it steals stuff. Like pubic hair, every language has loanwords, but the history of English is important here. Perhaps the fact, and here I go again indecently massaging conjecture, that early England’s habit of getting invaded by foreigners every couple of years set it up for a special sort of versatility. A shamwow style absorption ability. The video below only adds to my point.

Afterwards of course it became the literary vehicle of the best form of Imperialism, and has now through Uncle Sam and his diabolical superweapon, the internet, transitioned to become the language of globalisation. Excellent theory aside, there is no doubting that England is the unsuccessful sex tourist of linguistics, picking up a disturbingly large variety of exotic and undeniably useful words and phrases. We stole shampoo and pyjamas off the Indians, chocolate and tortillas off the Mexicans, robots off the Czechs and cheques off the French, but by George the wine quaffing papists deserved it. Huzzah! For the versatility, and the ease in which English adopts new phrases has made it the perfect vehicle for evil contemporary Yankee corporate Imperialism. English wins free market style. Through pure competition… and the fact that it has the patronage of the world’s major military and economic superpower and a monopoly over the internet and commerce.

English is also highly logical. It’s a popular folk tale that English is one of the hardest languages to learn, and it’s got about as much truth behind it as Rapunzel, and a couple of the Brothers Grimm’s more dark and anti-Semitic classics. The kernel of truth lies in that due to a lack of an early regulating body, when print media was first birthed from Satan’s burning tubes, the spelling of our language is erratic and nonsensical. This of course is a blinding condemnation of capitalism. The French set up the Acadamie Francaise to purify their tongue, and the Germans were collectively devising a set of guidelines regarding correct orthography before they brought down the Roman Empire.

Germans Fight Romans Homoerotically

It Is Said The Battle of Teutoberg Forest Stemmed From The Roman Emperor's Public Disdain For The Runic Alphabet

Apart from that minor blip English is logical in grammar and structure. A key part in the simplicity of our grammatical system is the fact that we don’t have genders. Unlike many languages, including those diabolical French again, English doesn’t assign genders to every noun. We don’t inexplicably designate a table masculine and a newspaper feminine, we don’t have six gender dependant articles and we don’t modify our word endings with snazzy little suffixes to confuse the wits out of our enemies. Indeed, we may surmise that the English is the perfect language for feminism. Did not the first outbreaks of Feminism take root and grow in the Anglosphere? Did not Germaine Greer pen her seminal work, the Female Eunuch, in English? Did not women first gain the vote in New Zealand? Is it not too audacious to surmise that English’s egalitarian nature lead to these very social changes in the first place? That the way a society talks about and to a group, often affects the way we treat them?

So indeed, in timely dramatic and perfect synthesis, is not the English language’s character now simple? It is versatile, it is logical, simple, and virulent. Like a perfect disease, like the Borg it incorporates the unique and useful features of every foreign laguage it encounters and embeds them into itself while inexorably wearing down all opposition. It is the very embodiment of a succesful Empire. But within itself it is more or less egalitarian. It has little place for honorifics, and those it has are hardly grafted into the very substance of the language like Japanese. Like the perfect man it’s chin is covered in a fine coat of masculine stubble, and it refuses to genderise nouns. It is therefore the perfect handmaiden for feminism.

Therefore to personify English would to be describe it as a sandwich. And yes. Sandwiches are people too.

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13 thoughts on “The English Language Is A Sandwich

  1. English also went through three periods of simplification due to conquests, etc. Don’t ask me what they were…Wikipedia likely has the requisite information.

    I’ve lived abroad a bit and currently am in Egypt, where English is almost as ubiquitous as Arabic. It’s become a sign of social class—those that can speak English automatically have access to better jobs and form the elite of society. People don’t care much about their native Arabic. On the one hand, I want to believe that the mixing of English and Arabic could make a better language together more able to describe the world. On the other, I know that certain terms of Arabic that had value will likely be lost forever. It’s also interesting to note that many foreigners come here to learn Arabic and encounter resistance from the local population which is surprised that anyone would want to learn such a useless language.

    Sorry for the long comment—enjoyed your post!

    • No problem! It was well thought out and wonderful!

      From what I know, the basis of English came from the Germanic invaders who flooded into Britain following the retreat of the Roman Empire. They took the bare minimums from the existing Celtic languages, but adopted a lot of Latin from the Catholic clergy. The Danes came along a couple of centuries later and settled the north, giving us words like “knife” and “anger” which speaks volumes of their character. The last major impact was made by the Norman French, who claimed overlordship over much of England and heavily modified the existence language over time. Since then we’ve refined and changed depending on internal fads and foreign influence, becoming what we are today. Any linguist is free to correct me here by the way. :p

      I love Arabic by the way. It’s just so different in almost every way and seems highly poetic. I’ve only dabbled a little, and learnt a few phrases though.
      And the trend for globalisation I think will continue, unless some great apocalypse stands in the way.

  2. This was interesting!

    a) Yiddish phrases are probably one of my favourite things. “You can’t dance at two weddings with one bum” is one of my favourites.
    b) Avenue Q may possibly be one of my favourite musicals. YOU HAVE SO MANY FAVOURITE THINGS IN THIS POST.
    c)If you’re interested in this topic, The Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson will fascinate you.
    d) I actually do find that Hebrew is easier to learn than English is. French too. English’s sentence structure *is* convoluted, and unless one has grown up with it it’s hard to catch on to. Most other languages follow similar sentence structures, then English is quite different. (Side note: Hebrew has no word for is, but has a word for was and will be.)
    e) Sandwiches are ALSO one of my favourite things! Now that I don’t eat meat, slightly less so. But still.

    • A) Ha! Fantastic!
      B) I’ve never heard of it myself, but I’ll be sure to investigate!
      C) Let me say two things here. 1. I’m by no means a linguist, and 2. I know the English pattern of Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) is much different to Hebrew (VSO) in structure. But I’d love some more examples. By the way, do you speak Hebrew?
      E) Avocado on a sandwich is super.

      • Warning: Paragraphs below contain Gabi rambling about language. Since this topic fascinates her, she may be long-winded/incoherent.

        I do speak Hebrew. I definitely understand more than I speak, and read better than either of those. But I’m fluent enough to function well with it.
        Let’s see. . .
        I love you -> ani ohevet otach is the same, except that the verb for love, ohevet, for the speaker, and you, otach, for the person the sentence is directed to, change based on gender. Like English, you can also flip it around to “You, I love.” But it doesn’t have capital letters and no comma is needed.
        In terms of the “is”, you would say “Ani Re’evah”, which translates directly to (“I hungry[female]”)
        Erm. Now I’m trying to think of examples where the difference is more pronounced, but I’m having trouble. I’ll get back to you.

        I love avocado on sandwiches. But it needs to be paired with something.

      • Wow, thanks! It fascinates me too. I learned the basics of Hebrew once. Mostly just how to say “Ani mevin ivrit” (?) and “slikha”. It’s amazing how different these languages structure themselves. And as for avocado… There’s not many vegetarian pairings.

  3. Are you sure you’re real? And a teenager? I have some doubts on both of these points. I am also quite sick and not thinking clearly, so perhaps I should be questioning my own existence and not that of nice strangers on the internet. Language(s) are awesome, as is this post.

    • I’m not sure I’m real, and therefore I’m not sure I’m a teenager. Though if we, for a moment, operate under Descartes’ assertion “cogito ergo sum” or in normal speak “I think therefore I am”, then the answer is yes on both occasions. Go languages!

      Also thanks, you’re a pretty agreeable stranger yourself, and I hope you get better soon.

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  5. I’m always interested in the English language, and how other languages have fed and formed it. This was a great post. I’m here at drevets urging and will probably be back regularly. Teenager, I’ll buy, but the spelling of *rigours* makes me ask if you are a British or Canadian teenager.

  6. This is a really fascinating subject, but even more interesting than language itself is how our brains deal with the problem of language. So cool! Read The Midnight Disease by Flaherty, one of the most interesting books on neurolinguistics and language disorders – but not in an unapproachable, oversciencey kind of way.

    • Agreed, I watched a Stephen Fry program that went into the very same issue. Going into Tourette syndrome and the like. Remember also hearing about people who’d damaged certain sections of their brains, and how they;d interpret everything differently depending on what part had been damaged the most.

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