Wednesday, August 6, 2008

lingua non-conforma

i am reading a book called "the mother tongue: english and how it got that way" by bill bryson. i have been a fan of bill's since partially reading " a short history of nearly everything" a few years ago. this book caught my eye just as i was leaving borders the other day...empty handed i might add. i love learning about language, and especially since now i live with N who studied linguistics in college i hear a lot about the subject. it fascinates me how we can form thoughts, turn them into words that actually have value in our culture, say them, have them be understood ( most of the time ) by the listener and communicate a message. incredible. this book is about how english came to be and how it is such an amalgamation of german, celtic, gaelic, french and latin. history of language and people movement is covered starting at the beginning of time with 'cro-magnon man'. today i learned about how we have made up words as well as how we effectively destroy some of them with lazy speech patterns. here are some of the interesting things i have learned over the past few days in reading:
* shakespeare made up over 1,700 words...bump being one of them
* the city of paris' name is not french, it is celtic. (take that D :)
* english is the only language that needs/has a thesaurus. we have over 60k synonyms.
* in 1290, 'nice' meant foolish and stupid. in 1350 it meant wanton and lascivious. over the next 400 years it also meant extravagant, unmanly, modest, slight, shy, and dainty. in 1769 it finally made it to something of it's current meaning: pleasant and agreeable.
*in the language pekignese, the sound for 'yi' stands for 215 separate words.
you may thing it was an odd pick for leisurely reading, but i really recommend it. there is no heroine to fall in love with and no action packed pages, but it's so very interesting that i can hardly put it down.
i'm off to read more now!

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