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Kevin Rea
  • Kevin Rea
  • Menomonee Falls, WI
  • United States

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Using the most logical and simple language versus one as complicated and illogical as English.

I am trying to teach my 10 year old son the ins and outs of the English language. I am math-minded, so everything must have rules with no ifs or buts. So when I run into the "i before e EXCEPT after c" rule, it really bothers me. Explaining silent letters like the "k" in "know" seems ridiculous to me.
And as a comedian once explained, why does "one" sound like it should have a "w" in it, while "two" HAS a "W" but probably doesnt need it?
From what I know, the Chinese language (Mandarin) seems very logical and simple.
I feel it would be better to move the World towards this (or a similar) language for two reasons:
1. It would make computer algorithms based on language and sounds a lot easier.
2. I would assume it would take less time to teach our children.
I grew up in the 1970s, and it took until the 8th grade until I learned most of what I needed to know about the English language. If teaching them an easier language could be accomplished by, lets say, the 4th grade, then we would have a lot more time to teach them skills relating to new technology.
What do my fellow TEDers think?

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  • Feb 26 2012: But it is an unstoppable effect of language evolution that it should become complicated and filled with rules and exceptions to the rules, and go in directions some of us detest (example, it will become common and accepted usage to say "then" when you should use "than," and I hate it, but can't do anything about it, it will just happen), and directions some of us embrace. Languages become rich and colourful, and I see nothing wrong with that.

    Anyway, to your surprise, probably, when I started learning English I found its logic (yes, its ***logic***) fascinating. Maybe because of its contrasts with the logic of Spanish. Convenience of ways for packaging ideas. The ease to using a noun as a verb, how the differences in word order still make sense ... I hope, perhaps against your topic, that technology does not destroy our languages too much.

    I also think that our development with richer languages is a gift, a necessity for the proper development of our brain's proper functions. There seems to be some work around those lines, but I have not taken a look at it.

    Simplified languages? Did you read 1984?
  • Mar 4 2012: English is baffling because it is a conglomeration of all the other languages. Pedi and Podi both mean feet because they came from different languages originally - one is Greek, the other Latin. English, like any living language, takes on useful words where it finds them. English also tends to make up new words as needed. You can strip away all the things you find confusing, and in a few years new confusing elements will arise because that is the nature of a living language.

    If you can't explain to your son why a podiatrist might recommend a pedicure, visit the dictionary where the root origins are explained. The Oxford English Dictionary is a wonderful resource, available online, at your local library, and in condensed form for a few hundred dollars. It is worth every penny to a word lover like me. Other dictionaries are less extensive, but will probably cover every word a school child will encounter. Unless he reads Heinlein and comes across occifloccinihilipilificatrix, which is how I met the OED!

    English has a specific word for anything you can imagine. The level of precision possible in English isn't possible in a simpler language and the level of complication in English exists because it serves the needs of its users. Someone else responded saying English is widespread because the Brits and Americans spread out so much. Actually, English was complicated 1000 years ago. Angles, Saxons, Normans, Vikings, Celts, and even Romans kept invading Britain. That is where English got its habit of taking useful words from other languages and where it developed the complexity that you find frustrating today.
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    Feb 28 2012: Chinese is great, but very difficult to learn because of the sheer number of characters to learn and memorize. It is a fantastically poetic language in that you can take any character and ponder and interpret its deeper meanings till the cows come home.

    Koreans used Chinese to communicate for the longest time, until King Sejong invented the Korean language to help normal people communicate with one another. Most people didn't have the time or patience to learn Chinese because they had things to do like farming, metalsmithing, etc... and feeding the family. :)

    Given what you're trying to do, which is more phonetic, I'd suggest you look at Korean, because King Sejong thought very much like you did. Why can things be written and pronounced without any confusion? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_language
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    Feb 28 2012: The reason that English is the universal language (insofar as any language is) today is because its impression was left behind all over the globe by British and American imperialists. Prestige, convenience, and historical trends are what have contributed to English's dominance world-wide, not its practicality. That said, seeing how established it is already as an international language, it seems to me like it would be a lot simpler just to keep it that way, rather than have the whole world outside of China start learning Mandarin.

    It might conceivably be worth learning Mandarin (or whatever language is deemed to be the simplest) if the advantages you claimed for it happened to be true, but I'm not sure that they are. I don't know much about computer algorithms, but basic computer operations already have an abstract common language: math. So I question the utility of switching to Mandarin for computing purposes.

    As for your second point...I considered myself to have a good command of the English language by 7th grade or so. By contrast, it takes Japanese schoolchildren (on average) til 10th grade to understand the main characters used in their language, and there are less characters in Japanese than in Mandarin. There is no language in the world that is simple enough to be learned well by 4th grade that is sophisticated enough to be useful, I think.

    All in all, I don't think English is as inefficient a language as you make it out to be. Sure, the language has its idiosyncrasies, but so does every other. Don't forget: Asians and westerners have different epistemological conceptions of the world, and people from those civilizations process and learn information differently: what works well for one does not necessarily work well for the other. This is a known fact. I have known quite a few westerners who had learn/were in the process of learning to speak Mandarin, and not one of them considered it easy.
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    Feb 27 2012: So a logical language would support technology, and allow children to start learning about technology earlier. Turn the person into a simulacrum of a machine?

    What about arts and emotion and creativity and humour? All of these depend on ambiguity and redundancy in language, which would be lost if language was denied the characteristics which have evolved over time and survived because they have value.
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      Feb 28 2012: I don't think the guy is arguing for the elimination of the English language, but rather the replacement of it as the "universal language" by something simpler, like Chinese. You make a good point though.
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        Feb 28 2012: As Gabo says, languages evolve and diverge. It's part of the natural way of things. It doesn't really matter which language you pick. English isn't a universal language now, although it's one of the set of dominant languages. That may change over time. But all this happens through a form of natural selection, not dictat.
    • Feb 28 2012: And any simple language would start evolving and getting complicated. Just look at what happens with programming languages. Not only they continue to evolve, versions get into different hands, and they start to diverge, you start seeing dialects, and one can't understand the other, and ...
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    Feb 27 2012: Is it your idea to replace the English language; to modernize the English language; to adopt an existing language as the new global language; or to develop a whole new global language? There is a pending conversation here on TED titled "A Global Language."
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    Feb 26 2012: You know i've been wondering what the global language of the world will be in the future,will english still be used or will it be a mix variant of spanish and mandarin or all three like in bladerunner.Now heres something to ponder though it sounds silly,with the advent of streaming video will our spoken languages evolve to incorporate slang sign language to give it more body,an extra dimension of expressing communication.