English in 500 years - New Scientist article
Posted: 28 March 2008 11:58 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Just to draw attention to this article in the current edition of New Scientist (UK) (No. 2649 - 29 March 2008) in case anyone’s interested.

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Posted: 28 March 2008 12:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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flynn999 - 28 March 2008 11:58 AM

Just to draw attention to this article in the current edition of New Scientist (UK) (No. 2649 - 29 March 2008) in case anyone’s interested.

You omitted the link.

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Posted: 28 March 2008 12:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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flynn999 - 28 March 2008 11:58 AM

Just to draw attention to this article in the current edition of New Scientist (UK) (No. 2649 - 29 March 2008) in case anyone’s interested.

Are you referring to the print edition? I don’t find 29 March 2008 at newscientist.com yet.

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Posted: 28 March 2008 05:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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The March 29 article is online now. I don’t have a subscription so I am not able to read the entire article, but this fellow in another message board was kind enough to reproduce the entire article: http://www.physforum.com/index.php?s=0b32578451f6811fb89ad20cd5f7e11b&showtopic=21007&st=0&#e;ntry326913 .

Now that I’ve read it a confession is in order. Missing the big picture entirely, my interest is focused on the two ideas below.

English may follow the path not of Latin but of Arabic, a language that was spread with Islam over 500 years and evolved into multiple local dialects, the speakers of which all feel united by the literary Arabic of the Koran. What may keep the world of English from dissolving entirely into mutual unintelligibility is scientific and technical writing, as well as worldwide media.

Erez Lieberman, an evolutionary mathematician at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, compiled a list of 177 irregular English verbs from Old, Middle and Modern English, and estimated their frequency in everyday speech. He found that the less common a verb, the sooner it regularises. In other words, irregular verbs that get used a lot remain irregular (in fact, the 10 most common English verbs are irregular - be, have, do, go, say, can, will, see, take and get). As Lieberman puts it: “The half-life of irregular verbs is proportional to the square root of their frequency.”

[ Edited: 28 March 2008 06:02 PM by Liza ]
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Posted: 28 March 2008 06:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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It’s a marvelous article.  I’m glad that the other forum violated the copyright and not us (we).  I leave to Dave to decide whether we can quote from it.

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Posted: 28 March 2008 10:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Oecolampadius - 28 March 2008 06:09 PM

I leave to Dave to decide whether we can quote from it.

Well the probem is Dave will not know if one is quoting from the printed article or the pirated text :P

Being a non-native English speaker, I have felt the profound homogenizing impact the internet has brought upon the language. This in itself merits several doctoral theses.

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Posted: 29 March 2008 06:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Unfortunately, the article is no longer available at that forum. It’s been taken down. But a fair use quote is fair use, whether it’s taken from a pirated or legitimate copy.

Sounds like an interesting article. I agree that one potential path for English is to become diglossic, with multiple local varieties and a single international standard and with people switching between the two as needed. We’re already seeing this in varieties like Singlish (Singapore English).

I have felt the profound homogenizing impact the internet has brought upon the language.

Regarding other languages v. English, the internet has been a boon for language preservation. Physically diverse speakers of a smaller language can remain in contact and in a virtual community, building an online reservoir of language resources. Early fears that the internet would further English dominance over other languages have proven unfounded. But I don’t know about the effect within English. There it may indeed serve to keep the various dialects close as speakers from around the world communicate directly with each other, as opposed through edited mediums like books, newspapers, and journals.

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Posted: 29 March 2008 10:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Google cached something that purports to be the link above.

Cache ends in “...and perfect Mandarin Chinese.” Do we know if this is the end of the entire article?

[ Edited: 29 March 2008 11:03 AM by droogie ]
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Posted: 29 March 2008 12:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Cache ends in “...and perfect Mandarin Chinese.” Do we know if this is the end of the entire article?

Affirmative, droog!

Early fears that the internet would further English dominance over other languages have proven unfounded. But I don’t know about the effect within English. There it may indeed serve to keep the various dialects close as speakers from around the world communicate directly with each other, as opposed through edited mediums like books, newspapers, and journals.

One brilliant scholar made that very prediction 12 years ago:

The Net is humankind’s best chance to respect and nurture the most obscure languages and cultures of the world.

(http://web.media.mit.edu/~nicholas/Wired/WIRED4-03.html)

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Posted: 30 March 2008 02:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Sorry all, I did forget to mention I was looking at the printed version of New Scientist - I’d also only scanned it as I was going away so just whacked a quick note up to let you all know it was there.

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Posted: 30 March 2008 04:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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"English may follow the path not of Latin but of Arabic, a language that was spread with Islam over 500 years and evolved into multiple local dialects, the speakers of which all feel united by the literary Arabic of the Koran.”

Note that in most cases, Islam spread without Arabic becoming the dominant language, (to what we now call Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Malaysia, Singapore etc) so that the modern Muslim world consists mainly of non-Arabic speakers (~70% or so).

I would think that the major gain to the realm of the Arabic language by way of the spread of Islam was the Maghreb.

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Posted: 30 March 2008 04:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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What about the rest of North Africa, including Egypt, and the entire Middle East west of Iran?  Egypt spoke Coptic and the rest Aramaic (with an overlay of Greek in both cases).

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Posted: 30 March 2008 05:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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"and the entire Middle East west of Iran?  Egypt spoke Coptic and the rest Aramaic (with an overlay of Greek in both cases).”

I’ll give you Egypt but it isn’t true that the entire middle east west of Iran spoke Aramaic prior to the advent of Islam. Arabic was established in much of the Arabian peninsula, and in parts of what are now called Syria and Iraq before the middle of the 1st millennium AD.

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Posted: 31 March 2008 05:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Yes, I thought it was obvious I meant “outside the Arabian peninsula,” but if it wasn’t, that’s what I meant.  But the Arabian peninsula was and is sparsely populated, and the pockets of Arabic speech outside it before the conquest consisted mainly of desert encampments and wandering tribes.  What is now the Arabic Middle East was then solidly Aramaic-speaking.

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