The Metamorphosis of English: Versions of Other Languages

The Metamorphosis of English: Versions of Other Languages

The Metamorphosis of English: Versions of Other Languages

The Metamorphosis of English: Versions of Other Languages


Beginning with the motley crew of invaders who mingled with the Gaelic, Norse, Latin, and French speakers to produce a small nation of empire-builders who would carry their language to the far corners of the globe, the story of the birth and migration of the English language is well known to us through the popular works of Robert McNeil, Robert McCrum, and Bill Bryson. Swiderski expands and extends our understanding of the "predatory" aspects of the language as he shows how English acquires and is transformed by the myriad other languages with which it comes into contact. Swiderski's examples begin with major world languages, especially Spanish and Chinese, and then go on to look at the less considered connections with remote and extinct languages. Through Swiderski's lens, English takes on the look of an agglutinative museum of linguistic artifacts in danger of having no describable identity or common fabric. Each speaker's variety of English is as individual as his or her genetic makeup; it is both so universal and so dissimilar that "English" as we know it may be endangered as a separate language.


Getting into languages has long fascinated me. I have found that I can learn only so many, and I forget the ones I do learn when I am away from those who speak them regularly. There really are only so many languages any one person can learn.

Yet I want to know about languages. The formulations of linguists, who have shown the common features shared by all languages and the unique features of some, become dissatisfying. Most linguists ignore the fascinating little facts about this language's word for a spiritual experience or that language's way of sounding when you are in love.

My vehicle into other languages, whether I am trying to learn them or just browsing around, is usually English. It's true that I approached Akkadian and Coptic through German, Ethiopic through Italian, and Quechua through Spanish, but for the most part English has opened the door. There must be many dilettantes like me for the number of grammars, readers, recorded language courses, CD-ROMs and affable instructors ready to serve our needs, ironic as they may sometimes be.

This book is a sampling of those approaches to other languages where "other languages" are not English. It shows the ways in which English presents or reflects other languages, and it tries to come to terms with the liabilities of that approach. Does all this reflecting allow the English speaker to know other languages for what they are? Are these other languages then dependent upon English mediation, which has a political cast? Is there an underlying structure of all languages that English evinces?

Without studying Hebrew's, Tibetan's, or many diverse languages' reflections of other languages it is impossible to rate English as a reflector or to decide any issues about inherent reflectivity. It is possible only to consider why English is able to form versions of other languages, and this endeavor includes trying to say what English is as a language. The result is say how the other languages . . .

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