English thread. Why not?

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Re: English thread. Why not?

Postby Gez » Mon Oct 09, 2017 4:46 pm

Rachael wrote:English is a very old language, existing at least for 3 half millenia, though it's certainly not the oldest European language by far.

English is a rather young language actually. English as we understand it is no older than five or six centuries.

Basically, if you read the King James' Bible (1611) or Shakespeare (1616), you should understand most of it. Though speaking of Shakespeare, you might wonder from time to time "why does he think these words rhyme?" (they rhymed when he wrote them; they no longer rhyme anymore). If you go back in time a bit further and read Chaucer (1400), it's still understandable with some effort, but that's already very archaic. I'm gonna quote it for illustration, the start of the prologue of the Canterbury Tales, considered to be the very first known work of literature in early modern English:
Here bygynneth the Book of the Tales of Caunterbury

Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open yë
(So priketh hem Nature in hir corages);
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
And specially from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke
That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seeke.

(Sometimes Chaucer is considered to be writing in Middle English, rather than Early Modern.)

But what was there before? What was not-modern English? It was pretty much a completely different language. For illustration, here's the beginning of the most well known piece of Old English literature, Beowulf (ca. 1000):
Hwæt! We Gardena in geardagum,
þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon.
Oft Scyld Scefing sceaþena þreatum,
monegum mægþum, meodosetla ofteah,
egsode eorlas. Syððan ærest wearð
feasceaft funden, he þæs frofre gebad,
weox under wolcnum, weorðmyndum þah,
oðþæt him æghwylc þara ymbsittendra
ofer hronrade hyran scolde,
gomban gyldan. þæt wæs god cyning!
ðæm eafera wæs æfter cenned,
geong in geardum, þone god sende
folce to frofre; fyrenðearfe ongeat
þe hie ær drugon aldorlease
lange hwile. Him þæs liffrea,
wuldres wealdend, woroldare forgeaf;
Beowulf wæs breme (blæd wide sprang),
Scyldes eafera Scedelandum in.


Alright. As much as you can understand Chaucer (the archaic spelling isn't that much worse than what you can see on the Internet sometimes); understanding Beowulf is a whole other kettle of fish. It doesn't just use weird words; it also use weird letters that have entirely disappeared from our modern alphabets (except in Icelandic).

So what happened to change the language so much? Well first there was a big cultural influence from the vikings. In the transition from Old English to Middle English, several changes in syntactic constructions happened in imitation of old Danish. (It's no coincidence that said Beowulf, by the way, is a story of Danish vikings having Danish adventures in Danish lands.) And then you had the Norman conquest (1066) which resulted in another set of changes in grammar and, especially, vocabulary, this time coming from Old French (more precisely the Old Norman dialect of Old French). It's important to note that the hybrid language took time to appear because it was segregated by class: the rulers spoke Old Norman, the subjects spoke their various dialects of Old English, and that continued for a while. Eventually Early Modern English emerged, through a process similar to creole languages.

And then you also had other processes in addition to these infusion of foreign languages, such as changes in pronunciation and notably something called the Great Vowel Shift (but there were also lesser vowel shifts, and also consonant shifts).

Anyway I think it's hard to claim that English as we can roughly understand it nowadays has existed for longer than six or seven centuries. The grammar, the syntax, the sounds used to speak, and the vocabulary have all drastically changed through influence from other languages.


Rachael wrote:Most "silent letters" are used in loanwords from the French language, which despite English's Germanic origins, has had a huge influence on it.


Nah. Take a word like "knight", it's definitely Germanic (compare to German "Knecht") not a loan from French ("chevalier") and it has a 50% silent letter ratio. That's because English stopped pronouncing the initial g and k sounds when in front of n, and the initial p, g, and k sounds when in front of s or z (including for an initial letter x, since that letter is pronounced "ks" or "gz"). French doesn't do that. If you want to talk about a gnome psychologist who plays the xylophone, you'll have to make an extra effort on pronouncing those initial sounds in French.
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Re: English thread. Why not?

Postby Reactor » Mon Oct 09, 2017 5:25 pm

Gez :D damn it, I keep learning such subject in the University, and I even made a presentation about language history & changes (I still have it). It was quite...intriguing to witness how English has developed into what we know and speak today. And besides, I had to learn some "old English" anyways, since all the Courbée Dominate characters within my TC will speak in "ye olde butcherede Englishe", and it's a pretty difficult task to "convert" modern day speech back to old English. In contrast, the AniTa gangsters speak in ghetto-slang, so when writing the story and the dialogs, I need to know 3 different forms of English simultaneously. Now THAT is a tiresome task!

I had no problems with words in foreign languages (or Hungarian for that matter) which were borrowed or originated from other languages. In fact, modern day vocabulary is a gazillion times easier to learn than it was in the 1700s maybe. And since Hungarian language uses letters with accents as well, very much like German does - like á, é, í, ú, ű - it was really easy to learn German words. The grammar of course was a whole different kettle of fish. In this regard, many people say that Hungarian grammar is way harder than German or English (yet, it's still much much easier than Chinese or Japanese). And, in defense of my language, Hungarian is the very one, which contains the most swearing words and cussing in the known universe and beyond. You can literally curse for hours without repeating yourself :D

Thank you for the post, it made me laugh :) I appreciate it!
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Re: English thread. Why not?

Postby NeuralStunner » Tue Oct 10, 2017 2:11 pm

Rachael wrote:Most "silent letters" are used in loanwords from the French language, which despite English's Germanic origins, has had a huge influence on it.
And French (via the Normans) can be thanked for good old everyday Saxon words like "shit" being considered "vulgar". (On that note, "vulgar" literally means "having to do with common people".) Doesn't "manure" sound so much more elegant and French? Oh, pardon me, I repeated myself there. :v

(I have nothing against the French in particular, but early "unlike them, we are civilized" attitudes always amuse me.)

Gez wrote:Chaucer
It always seemed that Chaucer, along with other writers of the time, gets most of the "goofy spelling" purely from there being no standardized spellings.

Gez wrote:a gnome psychologist who plays the xylophone
I have my next D&D character, thanks. :P

Reactor:
"Olde Englishe" is practically impossible to use in a serious context. 99% of what you'll find is either deliberately mocking archaisms, or accidentally doing so by imitation. You may get better results from an excessively formal style. (Even something as simple as avoiding the use of contractions can have interesting effects on the "feel" of speech.) My favorite reference is a very old Encyclopaedia Brittanica set. It's recognizably old in structure without putting excessive letters on everything. (I also get to experience the joys of the ƒ character.)
Slang dialogue is an even tougher one. Real-world slang is a bad idea outside of any real-world context (and even then should be used carefully). Even for custom slang, the easiest trap to step in is forcing it into every single corner of dialogue. Again, the result is usually comical and/or indecipherable.
Basically, aside from conversations that are brief and intentionally mysterious, dialogue has to take a few breaks from reality and put more focus on being understandable to the reader. Otherwise you're just making a foreign language film with no subtitles. :P
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Re: English thread. Why not?

Postby Reactor » Tue Oct 10, 2017 4:40 pm

Yes :) I was referring to that faux-old English, and maybe a little fantasy spelling to give the feeling of that old medieval gothic style...yea, sorta like in the D&D and Fighting Fantasy universe. There'll be a little runic writing as well, though these will be only for decorative purposes and will most likely be gibberish. I will stick to the modern English alphabet and will not use "thorns" or the other runic letters anyhow. As for slang, I'll stick to the usual formula - namely, using apostrophes, gangsta talk, a little swearing here and there, and "xtremely kewl letturz" too, that should do.
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Re: English thread. Why not?

Postby Matt » Tue Oct 10, 2017 7:33 pm

Recently I had to confirm with a friend that, no, I wasn't hearing things, in fact a woman's SCA name with the Welsh "ll" in it was being repeatedly said with a "th" sound because you can't trust your typical English speaker to get [ɬ] remotely right. Of course, presumably she wouldn't change the spelling of her name for that reason, and I don't think anyone can reasonably expect her to.

Repeat stuff like this for ~500+ years and that's why spelling bees are a thing (and why you get to ask for source language and grammatical role in them)
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Re: English thread. Why not?

Postby Reactor » Tue Oct 10, 2017 8:15 pm

Synonims often give me troubles in English. Here are some examples:

- The difference between "creepy", "eerie" and "spooky"

- The difference between "obtain", "acquire" and "grab"

- The words "nonetheless" and "nevertheless" are a constant subject of dilemma, you might have noticed...

Thankfully, I'm mostly OK with puns and English idioms :)
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Re: English thread. Why not?

Postby Gez » Wed Oct 11, 2017 5:09 am

"eerie" is something intriguing and strange, but it doesn't have to be scary
"creepy" is something unsettling, but not necessarily strange or intriguing
"spooky" is strange and scary

"grab" is a physical action, the fact of taking something in your hand (though it's often used metaphorically). "obtain" and "acquire" are closer in meaning. You can add "procure" too.
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Re: English thread. Why not?

Postby wildweasel » Wed Oct 11, 2017 7:57 am

Reactor wrote:- The difference between "obtain", "acquire" and "grab"

For the most part, these can be used interchangeably, but you'd choose one or the other based on how you want the action to come across.

I tend to use "obtain" in more archaic settings, like in fantasy fiction. While it's not necessarily a medieval word, it certainly gives off this aura of having found something important. "You have obtained the Obelisk."

"Acquire" is a bit more contemporary, and I'd feel less weird about using it in whatever setting or sense. And maybe it's because of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but I tend to think of "acquire" as being more associated with the less-than-legit means of getting a thing. "The Rules of Acquisition," basically. "I've managed to acquire some things that might not be legal here."

"Grab" is the outlier here. More than simply taking a thing, you'd use "grab" in a forceful sense. "Grab that gun!" Or "That guy grabbed me!"
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Re: English thread. Why not?

Postby Trance » Wed Oct 11, 2017 7:58 am

Eerie, creepy and spooky are almost the same term, and often used interchangeably by a lot of writers, but I would take Gez's ordering of the terms as a sort of ascending scale for provoking a fear reaction.

"Eerie" is most often used to describe the atmosphere of a place or situation, typically dealing with light and shadow, and while an eerie setting won't provoke fear outright, it will capture your attention and get you into the right mindset to be scared by something worse.

"Creepy" is more often used to describe objects, animate or otherwise, and tends to mean a mild fear reaction mixed with revulsion; "this doesn't seem right". The fear-of-the-unknown side of your brain starts to kick in.

"Spooky" is used for scary skeletons. Commonly provokes the reactions of shivers down your spine, shaking and shuddering in surprise, and being driven so insane.
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Re: English thread. Why not?

Postby Reactor » Thu Oct 12, 2017 1:22 pm

Thanks, guys, that was certainly some useful information! :) Sometimes it's very hard to determine what is the difference between these words, and the online dictionaries don't seem to evaluate on it either. I noticed this with the verb "grab" as well - most of the time, it's a physical straight for getting something in the hand, in other times, it is used is a much more loose context...grab a beer, for instance. Also, the verb "grasp" is used is many contexts where "grab" would do better, and vice versa. These are truly interesting features.
You know what's great in English? So many words for "killing"! Pelt, exterminate, mince, stomp, crush, annihilate, eliminate, assassinate, and the list goes on and on and on! Such a great help when writing the in-game epitaphs! I wonder how come this language has so many fancy ways to describe a killing.
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Re: English thread. Why not?

Postby Trance » Thu Oct 12, 2017 2:26 pm

Reactor wrote:You know what's great in English? So many words for "killing"! Pelt, exterminate, mince, stomp, crush, annihilate, eliminate, assassinate, and the list goes on and on and on! Such a great help when writing the in-game epitaphs! I wonder how come this language has so many fancy ways to describe a killing.

One may be killed by being crushed, or stomped on, or pelted with things, but those words don't directly mean to kill. They're various acts of violence which may or may not cause death.

(Also don't be surprised if you get a few giggles when you brag that you were "mincing all over the place" in a shooter)
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Re: English thread. Why not?

Postby DoomRater » Thu Oct 12, 2017 10:49 pm

Re: killing, what I like is that there are technically words that mean righteous killing (slaying) and unrighteous killing (murdering). I even pointed this out to a troll post that kept referring to "murdering sperm" that technically that wording assumes people don't have the right to kill them. It didn't really argue against his point very much but it was cool to note either way. Even Steven Dutch had to mention that killing isn't condemned in the Bible, just unjustified killing, especially when it's neighbor vs neighbor.
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Re: English thread. Why not?

Postby Matt » Fri Oct 13, 2017 9:58 am

Slaying is pretty neutral as far as I've seen, except figuratively.
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Re: English thread. Why not?

Postby Gez » Fri Oct 13, 2017 10:08 am

For topics that can shock other people -- and that involves killing, but also various bodily functions, as well as the evocation of religious figures -- it is natural to use euphemisms, and metaphors, and other such ways to let people infer the actual meaning of what you say without you having to actually saying it. That's how you get a lot of slang words and phrases.



And that's how you end up saying that someone "bought the farm" or "kicked the bucket" to mean that they died.
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Re: English thread. Why not?

Postby Reactor » Fri Oct 13, 2017 12:04 pm

Yesh, those English phrases like "kicking the bucket" were pretty familiar. Hungarian language also has tons of phrases for dying, such as "biting the grass" or "throw up his feet", when I was much younger and learnt English, I could easily understand such idioms and phrases. "Biting the grass" obviously refers to the person goes underground, and the "throw up his feet" refers to the common misconcept that a dead person has his arms & legs strecthing upwards. This was important for me, as some English words don't have any Hungarian translation, such as "saga" or "franchise".

I've noticed that many words with negative connotations has several synonyms and euphemism. Stealing can be often called "jacking", "hawking" or even "liberating", though in this case, there ought to be some differences, as we don't say "jacking" for money, but rather for vehicles maybe.
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