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A deep puritan psychosis

December 13th, 2007 by Graham Attwell

Pretty active debate on the Capetown Declaration on Open Educational Resources.going on through the Unesco OER list server.

And it has featured one or two good side lines.

This contribution from Francis Muguet is brilliant:

“Another example of the deficiency of the English language has been the suppression of the thou/you distinction as the result of a deep puritan psychosis that has been implemented in the language, and that English mono-speakers are carrying unknowingly until now.

It appears that if English wants to fulfill its role of a worldwide communication language, it must accept to be enriched with words in relations to concepts it is unable to render properly and concisely.

The fact that a native English speaker would have to make an intellectual effort to understand the word libre (although libre seems an understandable adjective corresponding to liberty… ) is not an obstacle, in fact this would be a good thing.

A statement in this Capetown declaration concerning Linguistic Diversity (and the right for everyone to be able to get a basic education in his/her mother tongue) would have been welcome.

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3 Responses to “A deep puritan psychosis”

  1. Nick says:

    Reading this I thought about the diversity of categories of knowledge in Welsh. You wrote about it somewhere Graham, but I couldn’t find it quickly so I thought I’d write, because that made me think that it is more than just the right for everyone to be able to get a basic education in his/her mother tongue, it is also about the need to preserve diversity, the same kinds of arguments apply to language and to biology.
    So how about a post on the Welsh words for knowledge?

  2. Nick says:

    Notwithstanding my previous comment, I think one could take issue with Muguet’s characterisation of the suppression of the you /thou distinction. It is alive and well but carried by the modal verb and other constructions, instead of being limited to the pronoun choice. (You, not thou, you, might consider this Francis, as distinct, for example, from Why don’t you consider this, Francis…a different issue is the deliberate choice of more familiar constructions by most native users which may or not respond to a range of motivations)

    Most languages serve the purpose of codifying the world their speakers inhabit. They may however do it in different ways, that may escape the non-native speaker. To assert otherwise could be construed as arrogant, and destructive of the worldwide communication that Muguet would appear, perhaps tentatively, to an preciptivevalue. Most analyses of English as worldwide communication tool point to simplification(arguably impoverishment though the term is value-laden) rather than enrichment. Muguet’ usage might, in some circles, even be used to support this view.

    However the other side of the argument is that, despite perceptions, English arguably due to its reduced complexity of inflection and resultant flexibility, is by far the world language with the largest number of loan-words. It has been and continues to be enriched. And for the record it doesn’t “accept to be enriched” there is no Academy (or Cathedral) to “accept” the enrichment, it just happens. The tradition is descriptive rather than prescriptive, and the language evolves with the user community (the Bazaar). Sounds quite similar to Open Source 🙂

  3. Nick says:

    Notwithstanding my previous comment, I think one could take issue with Muguet’s characterisation of the suppression of the you /thou distinction. It is alive and well but carried by the modal verb and other constructions, instead of being limited to the pronoun choice. (You, not thou, you, might consider this Francis, as distinct, for example, from Why don’t you consider this, Francis…a different issue is the deliberate choice of more familiar constructions by most native users which may or not respond to a range of motivations)

    Most languages serve the purpose of codifying the world their speakers inhabit. They may however do it in different ways, that may escape the non-native speaker. To assert otherwise could be construed as arrogant, and destructive of the worldwide communication that Muguet would appear, perhaps tentatively, to value. Most analyses of English as worldwide communication tool point to simplification(arguably impoverishment though the term is value-laden) rather than enrichment. Muguet’ usage might, in some circles, even be used to support this view.

    However the other side of the argument is that, despite perceptions, English, arguably due to its reduced complexity of inflection and resultant flexibility, is by far the world language with the largest number of loan-words. It has been and continues to be enriched. And for the record it doesn’t “accept to be enriched” there is no Academy (or Cathedral) to “accept” the enrichment; it just happens. The tradition is descriptive rather than prescriptive, and the language evolves with the user community (the Bazaar). Sounds quite similar to Open Source 🙂

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