Why are there so many dictionaries in the world for one language, the English language? Oxford Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Dictionary, even the unofficial and humorous Urban Dictionary

If there’s one thing I learnt from this course is that everyone likes to have things their way. For instance, if a word is not defined the way they understand or the way they would define it, they would redefine it and add something to it until the deem it complete. According to this article, there are around 180,000 words in the Oxford English Dictionary, if not more now. 9,500 of these words are derived from another word which makes the English language quite redundant. John Fiske, one of the contributing authors of the book Introduction to Communication Studies and sole author of the second edition of said book, argues that you can delete 50% of the words in the English language and you could still be able to use the language perfectly well seeing as the words are repetitive.

The English language is not the only one to have multiple dictionaries; for the French language, you can check out Larousse, Le Dictionnaire and Le Robert.

Advertisements

Don’t Kill Your Language

As I was curating data for the class’ tumblr, I stumbled upon this brilliant TEDxBeirut talk from November 2012 by Suzanne Talhouk titled “Don’t Kill Your Language.” Suzanne Talhouk is the founder of the Non-governmental Organisation Feil Amer (Arabic for ‘Order Verb’) that seeks to save the Arabic language and rise it to where it was a couple of decades ago.

The Arabic title for the video is “Meen ‘al iza hkina arabeh mn battel cool?” and it hits the nail right on its head seeing as the majority of Lebanese people avoid speaking Arabic so that they don’t sound old fashioned and uncool. It’s not just in business meetings; even the closest friends and family members would rather speak a broken French or English than be heard say a full sentence only in Arabic. Talhouk starts her talk by asking the audience if any of them wrote their name on their nametag in Arabic. No one says yes. She then goes on and starts telling a story about how one time she was in a restaurant and she asked the waiter for “leihit al akel” instead of saying “menu.” He didn’t understand her request. When she explained even more, still only using Arabic, he accused her smugly of not knowing what it’s called, and pulled a disgusted face, “You don’t know what they call it?” He said. They. Who they? Us? The Arabs? It’s funny because she knows more than him what they call it. While he only knows the international word, she knows the Arabic term, and that by itself is rich. The waiter is Lebanese mind you, in a restaurant in Lebanon. The diners were Lebanese too. All from the same Arab country. And yet he judged her. He assumed that she’s uncultured, uneducated, illiterate, ignorant…

“I’m not allowed in my own country to speak my own language?”

This video made me sad. It made me feel ashamed. Ashamed of the fact that I was just last night boasting to dad about how my mate told me that he thinks my French accent is impeccable! Ashamed of the fact that instead of fixing my first language, I’m looking forward to learn a fifth (Japanese). Ashamed that my favourite hobby is reading yet I can’t read novels in my mother tongue. And I cried. This might sound like I’m exaggerating but I did in fact cry as I typed the last words of this post.

Ironically enough, the course entitled History of the English Language has made me gain interest in the Arabic language and wish to empower myself through it. And I will make actual progress.

Over the semester, I opened my eyes and carefully scanned everything around me for signs of multilingualism, broken languages, mistranslations, and humorous code-switching. I put everything I found in this tumblr. It has 26 posts in total. I will be showcasing in this blog entry a few of them.

This one is my favourite of the bunch. Although it’s not really an example of multilingualism, it shows us how English is a complicated language and can be broken into multiple languages by itself. Which brings us to this lovely article our local Raseef22 wrote about English words that are borrowed from Arabic. Unfortunately, some words foreigners were not able to borrow from us like this one that doesn’t have a direct translation in English or any other language I’m aware of. It could be because Arabs, Lebanese people mostly, are used to burying and getting buried by their loved ones? Finally, I really like this one (and I still can’t stop laughing!) mainly because I really love how exotic the word “zoulohfa” sounds even if it’s in my mother tongue. I really wonder how my future daughter would feel about me calling her that.

Multiligualism is everywhere around us that before taking this class I would often not notice that more than one language is used in a sentence. It is also the Lebanese people’s pride and joy as they leave their kids from early ages in front of educational cartoons hoping to nourish their foreign languages, stick them in international schools as soon as they reach the required age and purposely opt to speak to them in multiple languages. Who of us has not ever stumbled upon a mother speaking Libano-French to her kids at the supermarket? The funny thing about Lebanese people is even though they can speak multiple languages, they make mistakes in all of the languages they speak. But hey, at least we know more than just plain old Arabic, right?

Glossary Entries

1. Aureate /ˈɔːriːət/: –adjective.

A writing style that is affected, pompous, and heavily ornamental, that uses rhetorical flourishes excessively, and that often employs interlarded foreign words and phrases. The style is usually associated with the 15th-century French, English, and Scottish writers. The word comes from the Middle English aureat, “golden” or “splendid,” and was probably coined on the basis of the Latin words auratus (“gilded”) and aureus (“golden”). Lerer uses this term to refer to Lydgate.

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/43291/aureate

 

2. The Baudot code, named after its inventor Émile Baudot, is a unique character set that offers a specific series of bits for each letter of the alphabet. It’s a 5-bit code with certain spaces and intervals, and is sent via a telegraph wire or a radio signal.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baudot_code

http://thesciencedictionary.org/baudot-code/

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/baudot+code

 

3. The word “coinage” has four official definitions that mean completely different things:

1. the act, process, or right of making coins.

2. the categories, types, or quantity of coins issued by a nation. The currency of a country.

3. the act or process of inventing words.

4. an invented or newly created word or phrase. Example: “Ecdysiast” is a coinage of H. L. Mencken.

These four definitions can be put in two categories. The first two are more related to actual coins and money. The last two are related to terms and language. The definitions we will be using are the last two.

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/coinage

 

4. The word “Winchester” is a proper noun used as the name of several towns and cities:

1. a city in Hampshire, in South England.

2. a town in East Massachusetts.

3. a city in North Virginia where battles of the American Civil War happened from 1862 till 1864.

4. a city in East Central Kentucky.

5. a town in North West Connecticut.

Winchester is also sometimes used as a family name. Example: the protagonists’ family name on the US TV show “Supernatural” is Winchester.

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/winchester?s=t

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supernatural_(U.S._TV_series)