Wednesday, February 18, 2015

5 Things Languages Could Do Without

If you hadn't already guessed, I love languages. However, languages are far from perfect. If you've ever had a misunderstanding, you know what I mean. While imperfections and subtleties are part of what makes languages amazing, here are a few things that I think would make languages easier for everyone if they were removed:

Gender

This is something the English language doesn't feature, which I'm so glad about. However, many other languages do have gendered nouns. Take the beautiful French language, for example. Nouns are either masculine or feminine and singular or plural. Thanks to the concept of objects being arbitrarily designated as one gender or another, you have to remember two different words for "the", le and la, and then when something is plural, you have to use les. This also means that adjectives "agree" with nouns, forcing everyone to have to learn different adjectives depending on the noun.

Pronouns or Conjugations

These two have to go hand in hand as you can't really get rid of them both. Pronouns help you identify who's doing what in a sentence. They're quite useful when verb conjugations are similar or identical. In English, a lot of verbs have the same conjugation regardless of the pronoun used. Try conjugating the verb "to speak" in the present tense:

I speak
You speak
He/She/It speaks
We speak
You speak
They speak

Without the pronoun, you'd probably have no idea who was doing the speaking. However, Spanish doesn't have the same problem with the verb hablar.

(Yo) hablo
(Tú) hablas
(Él/Ella/Usted) habla
(Nosotros) hablamos
(Vosotros) hablaís
(Ellos/Ellas/Ustedes) hablan

The reason the pronouns are in parentheses is due to the fact that in Spanish they're not necessary and can often be omitted. Of course, if there are two other people with you and one is a guy and the other is a girl, you can clarify who you mean with the use of either él (he) or ella (she). It would seem given the latter example, that you could either have one conjugation per tense, using pronouns for clarification, or a conjugation for each pronoun, meaning you don't need to use any pronouns.

Tense

Having a whole host of different conjugations to learn just because things happen in different tenses is crazy. Especially in languages where you have several new conjugations to learn every time you learn a new tense. British Sign Language deals with tense in an interesting way, marking when events take place by the position of the sign.

Of course, this can't be done in the written form of languages, but it could be done with temporal markers that indicate when events take place. We already have words for "future" and "past", so why not just say those along with one individual tense?

Case or Syntax

Since I've been using Romance languages for examples, I'm going to use Latin as my example here. Case is interesting as I can see how useful it can be, but absolutely hate having to learn it! Case, for those who don't know, is when a word changes to match its grammatical function in a sentence. This means words have various alterations depending on their function. There are 8 cases that can be found throughout a number of Indo-European languages.

English only uses a few of these because you can generally figure out a word's function from where it appears in a sentence. So why have both? Either have an unwavering syntax that allows users of a language to know exactly what a word does without any need for several cases, or a completely free syntax in which words appear in any order but make use of an obvious case, but never both!

Silent Letters, Diphthongs, and Irregular Spellings

What the hell are these even for? How about we just have a letter for each sound and leave it at that? We would probably have to accommodate a 40-letter alphabet to do it, though...

What do you reckon? What do you think languages could do without? Is there something in a foreign language that you think your mother tongue should have? Tell us in the comments below!