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The Vocabula Review

 

Julian Burnside

Julian Burnside

The English language has developed haphazardly. Drawing on diverse sources, it has spawned as rich a vocabulary as any known language. The chaos Johnson found, and tried to tidy up, includes many words that have sprung from the same source whose meanings are related but different. For example, frail and fragile both come from the Latin fragilis. They are not synonyms for each other even though they share the same central idea. ďA frail old man bought a fragile old vaseĒ sounds right. Reverse the adjectives, and the resulting sentence would sound distinctly odd. Similarly, we have many words that sound similar but come from different roots and have different, though similar, meanings.

Generally, the distinctions between these approximate twins are useful. English has thousands of them; they account in part for its richness and subtlety. Unfortunately, some of these useful distinctions are being rubbed away by careless handling. As the process continues, the language loses a little of its power and subtlety.


Jamil Daher

Jamil Daher

Any living language is subject to a process of evolution; it must continually adjust to new needs and situations. A primary cause of this evolution is the influence exerted by one language on another. Contact between cultures leads to borrowing between languages. This borrowing is a major factor in language change and language development (Sapir 1921, Langacker 1967).

Some linguistic forms are more susceptible to borrowing than others. Although languages may borrow phonological and grammatical features from one another, it is lexical items that are most frequently borrowed (Haugen 1950), and on which this paper will focus. Among lexical items, nouns are the most frequently borrowed. English provides a vivid example of lexical borrowing: its wealth of vocabulary from French, Latin, Greek, Spanish, Portuguese, and many other languages — including Arabic — no doubt accounts in large measure for the widely noted absence of regularity in English spelling (Crystal 1987:214). In addition to having been a significant source of loan words into English, Arabic has permeated the vocabulary of Persian, Turkish, and other languages (Bloomfield 1933, Chejne 1969, Bakalla 1980, Al-Harbi 1991). Arabic words account for 11 percent of Spanish lexicon, and in Portuguese there are over 3,000 words from Arabic.


Susan Elkin

Susan Elkin

So, in the United Kingdom at any rate, Latin is making a small but very welcome comeback, especially in British primary schools, courtesy of an innovative book by teacher Barbara Bell. Her mouse, Minimus, an Ancient Roman rodent, lives at Vindolanda, a fort on Hadrian's Wall, which kept "the weasel Scot" out of northern England.

Good news, of course, but why stop at Latin? What about Greek, the language of Homer, Aristotle, Socrates, and of all educated men (and a few women) since time immemorial?


Mark Hochhauser

Mark Hochhauser

Much of my work involves reading informed consent forms for clinical trials, consumer health information thatís distributed by hospitals, clinics, and doctor's offices, privacy policies of healthcare institutions, and the like. Unfortunately for me as a reader, most of those materials are written very poorly. Over the past thirty years, most "readability" research has concluded that health information usually requires reading skills that most consumers simply don't have. And after thirty years, the poor quality writing hasn't improved much.


Richard Lederer

Richard Lederer

I have tongue and will travel, so I run around the country speaking to groups of teachers, students, librarians, women's clubbers, guild professionals, and corporate clients. These good people go to all the trouble of putting together meetings and conferences, and I walk in, share my thoughts about language in their lives, and imbibe their collective energy and synergy. I will go anywhere to spread the word about words, and in going anywhere from California to the New York Island, from the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters, I hear America singing. We are teeming nations within a nation, a nation that is like a world. We talk in melodies of infinite variety; we dance to their sundry measures and lyrics.



The May issue of The Vocabula Review is due online May 18.


 

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