Decline of English Grammar

I find it a bit absurd that you think languages get less efficient over time. Try to translate a scientific text into Classical Latin, using actual Latin words the Romans would have understood. It will be a lot longer (less "efficient") than the French version.
The Vatican has no problems. It has invented much new Latin vocabulary to cope with science. Contrary to the myths propagated since the so-called "Age of Enlightenment", much of science came from within the Catholic Church and was written about in Latin.
 
  • Icetrance

    Senior Member
    US English
    I think modern American English lacks clarity. I cannot really put my finger on it - perhaps too many words/slang, too many chances for falling awkward sentences structures, even in more formal writing. Surely, someone will shoot this generalization down but it's just how I see things.

    Clarity is of utmost importance to me. There are times where I cannot follow newspaper articles/blogs/etc, and it is not due to my inability to comprehend, but rather a lack of clear, concise style.
     
    Good to see the Vatican keeping so up-to-date, concocting a translation* for disco ~ approximately 29 years after the term was last used in English.

    *orbium phonographicorum theca, a mere 11 syllables
    As has often been said: "The Vatican thinks in centuries, not decades".

    That said, most of the entries will have been around for a long time. I remember reading in the 1960s that the Vatican Latin term for a bicycle was "birota", although I'm not sure how they managed to use "rota" as a plural.
     

    Einstein

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    I remember reading in the 1960s that the Vatican Latin term for a bicycle was "birota", although I'm not sure how they managed to use "rota" as a plural.
    "Cycle" comes from the Greek κύκλος, meaning "wheel". All the Vatican has done is transform a word for something that didn't exist in Ancient Greece into a word for something that didn't exist in Ancient Rome. I'm not sure that the "rota" part needs to be plural; we don't call a bicycle a "bicycles" because it has two wheels. Also the Italian for tricycle is triciclo, not tricicli, unless we're talking about more than one complete machine.

    (but the modern Greek term for a bicycle is ποδήλατο (podílato)).
     
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    Pedro y La Torre

    Senior Member
    English (Ireland)
    I think modern American English lacks clarity. I cannot really put my finger on it - perhaps too many words/slang, too many chances for falling awkward sentences structures, even in more formal writing. Surely, someone will shoot this generalization down but it's just how I see things.

    Clarity is of utmost importance to me. There are times where I cannot follow newspaper articles/blogs/etc, and it is not due to my inability to comprehend, but rather a lack of clear, concise style.
    I don't see how American English differs from any other variety of English in this regard (the grammatical differences between different national varieties of English are very slight). English seems no more or less clear to me than French (which I also speak, and which has a self-proclaimed reputation for pinpoint clarity).
     
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    Icetrance

    Senior Member
    US English
    I don't see how American English differs from any other variety of English in this regard (the grammatical differences between different national varieties of English standards are very slight). English seems no more or less clear to me than French (which I also speak, and which has a self-proclaimed reputation for pinpoint clarity).
    Fair point about American English, I suppose.

    I think German is clearer than both French and English (my perception, and whatever I mean by "clearer.").

    I think French is very abstract, whereas English is more clear-cut. I can't think of any good examples off the top of my head. But, for native French speakers, the language is not abstract - just their natural tongue. Just my perception based on having studied French and German intensely.

    Again, I am getting lost in sweeping generalizations. I am now feeling that I am betraying intellectual standards. lol.
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    Good to see the Vatican keeping so up-to-date, concocting a translation* for disco ~ approximately 29 years after the term was last used in English.

    *orbium phonographicorum theca, a mere 11 syllables
    :D

    That’s quality. Gotta love a dead-dead language.
     

    Ben Jamin

    Senior Member
    Polish
    I'm not sure that the "rota" part needs to be plural; we don't call a bicycle a "bicycles" because it has two wheels. Also the Italian for tricycle is triciclo, not tricicli, unless we're talking about more than one complete machine.
    But I'm pretty sure, that there is no need to use plural here. I can't recall any word in English (and neither in any other language I'm familiar with) that combines a number and a noun in plural.
     

    Ben Jamin

    Senior Member
    Polish
    The Vatican has no problems. It has invented much new Latin vocabulary to cope with science. Contrary to the myths propagated since the so-called "Age of Enlightenment", much of science came from within the Catholic Church and was written about in Latin.
    Like Galileo for example?
    By the way, Latin was used as an international language of secular science into the XIX century.
     

    Doraemon-

    Senior Member
    "Spanish - Spain" "Catalan - Valencia"
    It's all about diachronic linguistics, which have some "laws". The case of English is not very different to what happened to Low Latin and how declinations almost disappeared. In a few centuries Latin became much more different than modern English in relation with Shakespeare's English. Similar changes have probably happened in every human language at some point of its history. Are there particular conditions which force languages to evolve? Probably, but they can be many, many causes, not just a single one. Deterioration and evolution are just a different point of view. I'm sure latin speakers where horrified about how it evolved to Romance.
     

    Red Arrow

    Senior Member
    Dutch - Belgium
    I think French is very abstract, whereas English is more clear-cut. I can't think of any good examples off the top of my head. But, for native French speakers, the language is not abstract - just their natural tongue. Just my perception based on having studied French and German intensely.
    Having studied French for 8 years, I always felt like it was less clear than English, Dutch and perhaps German. French seems to be more "basic". Whereas Dutch loves to use Germanic, Greek and Romance vocabulary (aanvaarden/accepteren, bioscoop/cinema/theater etc.), French often has only ONE frequently used word for a concept, and sometimes not even that. I am excluding some concepts like "vomiting", "having sex" and "shit" (there are lots of French words for those, like in many languages, I guess).

    Heck, French has so little words, it even uses the same word for basic concepts.
    sentir = to feel, to smell
    pédé = gay, pedophile
    son = his, her
    sa = his, her

    The French language is a lot of things, but "clear" (Dutch: klaar, duidelijk, helder, ondubbelzinnig etc.) is not on that list.

    It always baffles me when Francophones think French is the language of culture. Well, maybe... if that's the only language you know. To me it looks more like a minimalistic / Buddhist language :D

    I do feel like being less clear or strict is part of their culture. Or maybe that's just a stereotype? The Flemish and Walloons are essentially the same.
     
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    Icetrance

    Senior Member
    US English
    Having studied French for 8 years, I always felt like it was less clear than English, Dutch and perhaps German.
    I have studied French since the age of 10 or 11.

    Yes, French is just more abstract than English. They like to word things in ways that are not as clear-cut as we do in English.

    un petit kilo = barely a kilo

    il ne faut pas = one must not/one doesn't have to (depending on context)

    aimer vs aimer bien = to love vs. to like


    And French has a fondness for "la petitesse des choses"

    I may not have given that good of examples for showcasing the abstraction of French vs. the clear-cut mentality of English.
     

    Pedro y La Torre

    Senior Member
    English (Ireland)
    Sorry, but the idea that French is ''less clear'' than English or Dutch is complete nonsense. I can't believe that apparently educated people would even entertain such an obvious absurdity.

    French has different ways of expressing ideas. That doesn't mean that it's more or less clear than any other language (a wholly subjective notion in any event), it just means that it's different. English has no native word to express the idea of a ''terroir''. If required to do so, English speakers will explain the concept in a different manner. It'd be just as absurd to state that given this, French is therefore clearer or more concise than English.
     
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    Red Arrow

    Senior Member
    Dutch - Belgium
    Sorry, but the idea that French is ''less clear'' than English or Dutch is complete nonsense. I can't believe that apparently educated people would even entertain such an obvious absurdity.

    French has different ways of expressing ideas. That doesn't mean that it's more or less clear than any other language (a wholly subjective notion in any event), it just means that it's different. English has no native word to express the idea of a ''terroir''. If required to do so, English speakers will explain the concept in a different manner. It'd be just as absurd to state that given this, French is therefore clearer or more concise than English.
    What we are trying to say is that French depends more on context than English and Dutch. I don't see what's so absurd about that. We could be wrong, of course, but do you really believe that every language is just as clear as the other?!

    Doesn't "terroir" simply mean local? If not, is it some kind of cultural word, like Dutch "gezellig"? Every language has words like that.

    I should have added, though, that I love the French "oui - non - si" distinction. Dutch has the same distinction (ja - nee - jawel), but people are too lazy to use it, which sometimes leads to misunderstandings.
     

    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    In considering whether a language is “clear” context cannot be left out because language never lacks a context.

    We do though have to be clear about what we mean by “clear”. When you say something like: “French is less clear than English” what you probably mean is something like: “French does not make distinctions which English does”. That is true, but: “English does not make distinctions which French does” is also true. From the perpsective of an English speaker French may be considered defective because it does not make distinctions English does, but the fact French makes distinctions English does not may be overlooked; indeed, the English speaker may go further and insist that where French makes distinctions English does not that French is too fussy. What it comes down to is that one’s mother tongue seems natural and by comparison other languages odd.

    If you ask: “Is every language just as clear as any other?” the answer has to be “yes” if you mean: “Apart from the odd occasion, can the native speakers of every language regularly communicate to each other what they want to get over without misunderstanding?” Ignoring philosophical questions, all languages have to be considered perfectly adequate vehicles of communication for their native speakers. The only proper question is: “What can and must this language express?”
     

    L'irlandais

    Senior Member
    Ireland: English-speaking ♂
    ... Doesn't "terroir" simply mean local?
    In a word, No. The French for local is du terroir.
    https://www.wordreference.com/fren/terroir
    All languages depend on context, I fail to see how English depends less on context than French. Since English has more words which mean different things depending on context, surely it’s the reverse. According to this study: Context-Dependent Interpretation Of Words: Evidence For Interactive Neural Processes
    - most English words are ambiguous ( context dependent) many examples are cited.


    While Pedro’s use of absurd is possibly too strong a word, your opinion about French is still very subjective. Partly, that is down to the level of command you had after 8 years of study. If less than B2, then it’s not sufficient to allow you compare to your native language. You are not comparing like with like.
     
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    Pedro y La Torre

    Senior Member
    English (Ireland)
    What we are trying to say is that French depends more on context than English and Dutch. I don't see what's so absurd about that. We could be wrong, of course, but do you really believe that every language is just as clear as the other?!
    What is "depends more on context" supposed to mean? You claim that a language having more words apparently leads to its being "more clear". As evidence of this, you say that "pédé" (among other examples) can mean homosexual or peadophile. Whatever the origins of the term, pédé is a pejorative term for a gay man, not a peadophile. And French has dozens and dozens of words like it. Presumably you therefore believe that this makes homophobia "clearer" in French than in another language which has a less voluminous amount of homophobic insults.

    Doesn't "terroir" simply mean local? If not, is it some kind of cultural word, like Dutch "gezellig"? Every language has words like that.
    No, terroir has multiple concepts bound up in its meaning. English has no single translation for it. But every language has words like this. It proves nothing other than to say that every language is as fit as any other for communication. English is no clearer than any other language. In the past (and perhaps still today), some people advanced the idea that Classical Latin or Ancient Greek or Sanskrit or Quranic-era Arabic were uniquely pristine vehicles for communication. But this is simply nonsense.
     

    Red Arrow

    Senior Member
    Dutch - Belgium
    Whatever the origins of the term, pédé is a pejorative term for a gay man, not a peadophile.
    Maybe my French teachers simply weren't good enough. We definitely learned that in class. And I had both a Walloon and Swiss classmate then. They said it's always clear from context.

    Pédé ultimately comes from the Greek word for child / boy.
    Wiktionary says that pédé comes from pédérast, a man who has a relationship with an adolescent boy, so a gay pedophile.
    And French has dozens and dozens of words like it. Presumably you therefore believe that this makes homophobia "clearer" in French than in another language which has a less voluminous amount of homophobic insults.
    I never said anything like that whatsoever :rolleyes:
    In considering whether a language is “clear” context cannot be left out because language never lacks a context.
    Very true. I never said otherwise!
    All languages depend on context, I fail to see how English depends less on context than French. Since English has more words which mean different things depending on context, surely it’s the reverse. According to this study: Context-Dependent Interpretation Of Words: Evidence For Interactive Neural Processes
    - most English words are ambiguous ( context dependent) many examples are cited.
    That article doesn't mention French anywhere, just English. Maybe I underestimate the amount of ambiguous words in English. I tend to think of homophones as separate words, but they can just as much ambiguity in the spoken language.

    I wonder why all candidates were right-handed.
    In the past (and perhaps still today), some people advanced the idea that Classical Latin or Ancient Greek or Sanskrit or Quranic-era Arabic were uniquely pristine vehicles for communication. But this is simply nonsense.
    You make it look like I implied that minimalism is bad, but my previous posts on this forum (and many discussions with Eno2) should have made it clear that I prefer minimalism.

    Every living language is a uniquely pristine vehicle for communication.
     

    L'irlandais

    Senior Member
    Ireland: English-speaking ♂
    ...

    That article doesn't mention French anywhere, just English. Maybe I underestimate the amount of ambiguous words in English. I tend to think of homophones as separate words, but they can just as much ambiguity in the spoken language.
    I believe you are underestimating the amount of words in English period. French has around 150,000 words, while English has well over three times that number, for historical reasons.

    What you did do, is you compared French to English and Dutch saying it was less clear as a language. As a English native speaker I merely pointed out that this assertion is completely and utterly incorrect. The linked article in my earlier post, shows that most English words have a degree of ambiguity, some are much more ambiguous and context dependent than others. This is not the case for the French language, in my own experience. My spoken French is near native, apart from a pronounced accent, I rarely encounter problems in making myself clear. When I did it is invariably that the listener struggles with a mispronunciation of mine.
    Why would French native speakers have any difficulties getting their meaning across clearly?

    You have given an outline of an answer to this, in laying the blame on your French teachers. If your French isn’t very good that is entirely down to a lack of personal investment in the learning process, on your behalf. The French pride themselves on having the language of clarity. Source: La beauté de la langue française | Académie française
    Les spécialistes des langues décrivent de manière générale les langues par des caractères généraux. L’espagnol est considéré comme une langue noble, l’italien comme une langue harmonieuse, l’allemand comme une langue précise, l’anglais comme une langue naturelle et pour le français on met généralement en avant la qualité de la clarté.
    Odd that you should think the opposite.

    As for Dutch, I won’t presume to know if it is clearer than French. However I can imagine your perception is biased, since obviously things are clearer for you in your Native tongue, than they might be in a second or third language. You haven’t yet indicated your CEFR level in French, (is or was) that would help our understanding of where you are coming from.
     
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    Red Arrow

    Senior Member
    Dutch - Belgium
    Why would French native speakers have any difficulties getting their meaning across clearly?
    They don't because of context.

    My post was just a reaction on what Icetrance said. He finds French "abstract", but all languages are just as abstract. I suggested the word "clear". I now wish I hadn't, I should have tried "context-depended", maybe then I wouldn't have gotten so many angry responses.

    You guys are all reading between the lines. While in reality, between my lines, there is nothing but blank space.

    I believe you are underestimating the amount of words in English period. French has around 150,000 words, while English has well over three times that number, for historical reasons.
    Relatively, of course. As in: the amount of ambigous words that pop up in a random text/conversation.
    (ambiguous English words)/(total of English words) < (ambigous French words)/(total of French words)

    If (total of English words) >> (total of French Words) and (ambiguous English words) and (ambigous French words) have the same order of magnitude.
    You have given an outline of an answer to this, in laying the blame on your French teachers. If your French isn’t very good that is entirely down to a lack of personal investment in the learning process, on your behalf. The French pride themselves on having the language of clarity. Source: La beauté de la langue française | Académie française
    Odd that you should think the opposite.
    And as we all know, l'Académie française is an organization with lots of mulitlingual people that are totally capable of comparing French with other languages :rolleyes: But then again, neither am I, apparently. Fair enough.
    You have given an outline of an answer to this, in laying the blame on your French teachers. If your French isn’t very good that is entirely down to a lack of personal investment in the learning process, on your behalf.
    :thumbsup: A personal attack, how nice of you. So my French is bad, I lack personal investment to learn the language, and I blame my teachers for it. I must have been such a bad student! (but what if... I actually had good grades?)
     

    L'irlandais

    Senior Member
    Ireland: English-speaking ♂
    Maybe my French teachers simply weren't good enough. ...
    In what way is it a personal attack? I am responding to your post above. If my use of Gaelic is less than the B2 level required from school leavers in Ireland, I cannot lay the blame for that on my teachers, each of us must take responsibility for his own failings. You fail to see that French is far, far less ambiguous than English (this is not a subjective opinion), this must be linked to your command of both languages. Since you won’t share you level of French, I am bowing of of this discussion. Like many threads here on WR folks confuse personal opinion for facts.
     

    Red Arrow

    Senior Member
    Dutch - Belgium
    You took the sentence out of context. I don't blame my teachers for my level of French. I do "blame" them for giving me the wrong information, if that is the case at all, which I doubt.

    I simply don't know what level of French I have. We never used these letters/numbers at school. I understand Walloon TV without subtitles. My French got rusty after high school, but I still understand it. I can still say and write basic stuff, but I can't conversate about politics etc. I knew all grammar by hard, but I have forgotten some of it. My accent is pretty good. I know IPA, and our local accent here is influenced by French. I am planning to take a summer course in French once I graduate from university, to refresh everything I forgot.
     

    cherine

    Moderator
    Arabic (Egypt).
    Dear all,

    I would like to remind you that the topic of this thread is not the discussion of one particular word, or the comparing the degree of clarity of different languages, but a discussion of what the OP perceived as the decline of English grammar.

    Please stay on topic, and you can always open a new thread whenever you want to.

    Thanks,

    Cherine
    Moderator
     

    Icetrance

    Senior Member
    US English
    Sorry, but the idea that French is ''less clear'' than English or Dutch is complete nonsense. I can't believe that apparently educated people would even entertain such an obvious absurdity.
    I quote a well-regarded French > English translation professor (PhD): French is abstract in a way that English just can't stomach.

    To French natives, nothing is abstract, anymore than English is abstract to native English speakers. That wasn't the point.

    Language doesn't exist outside of context- we all know that!

    :)
     

    Icetrance

    Senior Member
    US English
    If we want to continue the discussion above, we will have to open a new thread.

    Now let's get back on track.o_O
     

    Icetrance

    Senior Member
    US English
    Decline of inflectional morphology doesn't equal to decline of grammar. Just a friendly reminder. :)
    You are correct in what you say.

    Hasn't Bulgarian lost a lot of its inflections?

    And since this is wordreference.com, may I kindly add a few corrections to your English sentence above?

    A decline in inflectional morphology doesn't equate to any decline in grammar.
     

    Awwal12

    Senior Member
    Russian
    And since this is wordreference.com, may I kindly add a few corrections to your English sentence above?

    A decline in inflectional morphology doesn't equate to any decline in grammar.
    Thanks, that was helpful (even though the half of the problem was that I simply got stuck between the verb "equal" and the adjective "equal", producing some mutated inbred construction as a result :)). Sadly, the English system of articles seems nearly impossible to master.
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    Decline of inflectional morphology doesn't equal/equate to decline of grammar.

    With a slight adjustment, I prefer Awwal's original, more taut and snappy sentence myself - since we're into nitpicking other members' posts.
     

    Icetrance

    Senior Member
    US English
    Thanks, that was helpful (even though the half of the problem was that I simply got stuck between the verb "equal" and the adjective "equal", producing some mutated inbred construction as a result :)). Sadly, the English system of articles seems nearly impossible to master.
    You are welcome. :)

    You'd be correcting my Russian for hours. o_O
     
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