So, a post that’s been making the rounds on social media recently caught my eye. It makes the wonderful point about how people who speak English natively use a particular rule almost by intuition, while non-native speakers have to learn it ‘from scratch’ so to speak.
Things native English speakers know, but don’t know we know: pic.twitter.com/Ex0Ui9oBSL
— Matthew Anderson (@MattAndersonBBC) September 3, 2016
It’s true, for the most part. Although the author of the pictured text makes an awkward example, as you could indeed have a “green great dragon” (where “great dragon” is a proper noun) or a “green, great dragon” where the adjectives are out of order but the dragon is presumably deserving of the description of “great” and not just the subject of the mere musings of a taxonomist with a sense of humor.
All of this caught my eye shortly after this meme was making the rounds:
Do you see it? Do you see the second comma? The irony, I know. But it’s interesting how the ideas of “right” and “wrong” can be thrown at a topic like the correct order of adjectives, or the placement of a comma. We live in a time when language has been codified and formalized, but obviously this wasn’t always the case. In fact, spelling wasn’t standardized until 1906 with the creation of the Simplified Spelling Board. Even then it took some time to catch on, and to create an official standard for every word.
But if you go even further back, the very building blocks of language were more fluid than we’d probably like to admit. Most of the time this was just due to regional or educational differences, but some individuals throughout history have been known to take matters into their own hands.
Circa the year 63BC, one such person was Cicero. A wealthy slum lord in and around Rome, Cicero had plenty of time to think his way through a variety of topics popular in the discourse of the day. He also had plenty of time to experiment with ways of expressing his thoughts. He would frequently play with the already loose rules of Latin, so much that modern scholars still don’t completely understand his syntax. His contributions changed the language forever.
More recent examples include Benjamin Franklin and we mustn’t neglect to mention The Bard, Shakespeare. We could add modern contemporaries like Anthony Burgess, I think. Even more names could be listed, but that’s not really my goal here.
What I’m wondering is: where will the next great linguistic inventor arise? In books? Comics? Or will it be movies? Who will have such an incredible force of language that it will push back against the tide of critics and nay-sayers? Or, with the advent of the internet and the global mind, will it not be once single individual?
What do you think?