On Language

The human community has invented some 3,000 different languages, And each language is honey-combed with singularity. What human tongues have in common is only purpose: the use of sounds to communicate sensations; the deployment of words to capture the swarming multitude of impressions on the self; the fashioning of symbols to express the infinite fantasies of the imagination, the devising of methods to teach what has been learned to those who do not yet know it; the creation of words, words, words that may just possibly convey the divine and the god-awful parameters of the human condition.

          Of all man’s marvelous inventions, language is surely the most

          amazing. It distinguishes him from all the animals; it makes

          abstract thought – generalization, discrimination, analysis,

           hypothesis – possible. Without language, there could be no

           science or technology, no poetry or physics, no transistor or

           computer, no laser, maser, zipper, or Hollandaise sauce. The

          Bible says, “In the beginning was the word.” If that means

          anything it means that language existed before man. The

          great Rabbi Akiba’s disciples took it for granted that an

          alphabet existed before God created the world. I have no way

          of proving this: BUT, there is no way of disproving it either.

No language is born of, nor ruled by reason. Were English logical, the opposite of “in-law” would be “outlaw.” A female ghost would be “ghostess,” and the past tense of “squeeze “ would surely be “squose.” An unknown prankster earned my thanks with this doggerel:

                              One fowl is a goose but two are called geese.

                              Yet, the plural of mouse should never be meese.

                              If I speak of a foot and you show me your feet,

                              And I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?

                              If one is as tooth and the whole set are teeth,

                              Why should not the plural of booth be called beeth?



Hooray for Yiddish! by: Leo Rosten

“A Book About English”

Copyright @ 1982, by Leo Rosten ( pgs. 13-14.)

Published by:

Simon & Schuster - Rockefeller Center

1230 Avenue of the Americas,

New York, N.Y. 10020 

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