Wednesday, March 27, 2013

What are the assets of English language?

English, the world’s lingua franca, has some intrinsic assets as well as liabilities. Today’s English language reflects many centuries of development. During this long journey, English has enriched itself from its contacts to other languages and cultures. Now, in number of speakers as well as uses for international communication, English is one of the most important languages of the world. But apart from the advantages, English also has some disadvantages which are also not negligible. Here follows a discussion on the relative advantages and disadvantages of English language. 

 In A History of The English Language, Abert C. Baugh and Thomas Cable pointed out three assets of English language which are as follows.

Rich vocabulary

One of the prominent assets of the English language is its enriched vocabulary. English has got mixed character of it’s vocabulary. English is classified as a Germanic language. That is to say,it belongs to the group of languages to which German, Dutch, Flemish, Swedish, and Norwegian also belong. It shares with these languages similar grammatical structure and many common words. On the other hand, more than half of its vocabulary is derived from Latin. Some of these borrowings have been direct, a great many through French, some through the other Romance languages. As a result, English also share a great number of words with those languages of Europe. To a lesser extend the English vocabulary contains borrowings from many other languages. Instead of making new words chiefly by the combination of existing elements, English has borrowed from Hebrew and Arabic, Hungarian, Hindi- Urdu, Bengali, Malay, Chinese, the languages of Java, Australia, Polynesia, West Africa and from one of the aboriginal languages of Brazil. And it has assimilated these heterogeneous elements so successfully. So,  cosmopolitan a vocabulary is an undoubted asset to any language that seeks to attain international use. Some examples of foreign words that are in use in English language.

Words from Italian language: balcony, canto, duet
Words from Spanish: alligator, cargo, mosquito
Words from Persian : jasmine, dervish, divan

Inflectional simplicity: 

A second asset that English possesses to a preeminent degree is inflectional simplicity. In the process of simplification, English has gone further than any other language in Europe. Inflections in the noun as spoken have been reduced to a sign of the plural and a form for the possessive case e.g. boy, boys and boy, boy’s etc. The elaborate Germanic inflection of the adjective has been completely eliminated except for the simple indication of the comparative and the superlative degrees e.g. fast, faster, fastest. The verb has been simplified by the loss of practically all the personal endings, the almost complete abandonment of any distinction between the singular and the plural, and the gradual discard of the subjunctive mood. The complicated agreements that make German difficult for the non-native speaker are absent from English.

Natural gender:

In the third place, English enjoys an exceptional advantage over all other major European languages in having adopted natural gender. Other European languages such as French require a student memorizing, along with the meaning of every noun, its gender.  In the Romance languages, for example, there are only two genders- masculine or feminine. In the Germanic languages, the distribution of the three genders appears to the English student to be quite arbitrary. The distinction must be constantly kept in mind. In Germany, for example, sonne (sun) is feminine and mond (moon) is masculine. In the English language all this was stripped away during the Middle English period. Gender in English is determined by meaning all nouns naming living creatures are masculine or feminine according to the sex of the individual, and all other nouns are neuter. But when English speakers speak of a ship as feminine, sun and moon as masculine or feminine, they only mean to use them is rhetorical purpose , but not for grammatical purpose.


A History of the English Language. Baugh, Albert C., and Thomas Cable. 4th ed. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1993.