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A constitutional amendment is an alteration to existing principles or precedents. Let’s call them laws. The 2nd Amendment protects the right of American citizens to keep and bear arms. This implies that the right was not legally assured before.

Laws are time-related: with the advent of cars, new laws were written to account for the change. At that time, there were no laws limiting speeds to 70 mph or 130 kph. The laws were amended later as a response to the increasing danger of more powerful vehicles. So where is the logic in not amending laws on gun-ownership and taking the increasing danger of more powerful arms into account?

The American Constitutional has already been amended 27 times. One more would do no harm.

#28thAmendment, #NoHarm

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It started as a simple retweet to @Languagebandit’s post that “Modern forms of "to be" are a mishmash of 3 different Old English stems + conjugations, which is why "be", "is" & "were" seem so different”.

I copied and pasted a line from my (soon to be published) book Pour en finir avec la langue française suggesting that the present tense of the verb to be comes from four separate roots: bēon → be ; eom → am ; earun → are ; and is → is and got more retweets and likes than ever before. Which is interesting but not as interesting as the roots of the principle itself. When a verb develops out of originally different verbs, it is called suppletion, a relatively common phenomenon in Indo-European languages. In English, it is the present tense of ‘to be’ that gets the juices flowing, deriving from 4 Proto-Indo-European (PIE) roots:
*h1es- (the copula is) → am and is
*bʰuH- (‘to grow’ or ‘to become’) → be and been
*wes- (possibly ‘to live’) → was and were
*h1er- (possible alternative to *h1es-, via Old Norse) → art and are

Which don’t exactly match the examples given earlier (bēon → be, etc.) because they correspond to different stages of language development, but still show the potential for various roots of different meanings coming together into a single verb. We find similar situations in languages such as Gothic, German, Icelandic, Lithuanian, Old Slavonic, Polish and so on.

Another verb that likes to mix and match is ‘to go’. While in English we stick to the relatively vanilla ‘I go’ vs ‘I went’ (from ‘wend’, the current past of which is ‘wended’), Latin-based languages such as French, Spanish and Portuguese tend to be derived from three (or, questionably, four) Latin verbs : vadere and ire (both to walk, go, or move forward) & ambulare (come and go, walk, walk away from, go for a walk) → *amlare*allare). The present, for example, uses ambulare / *allare (and no-one’s really sure about this development from ambulare or ambitare into aller) for the infinitive aller and most tenses plus the 1st and 2nd persons plural of the present, vadere for the rest of the present, je vais (I go, etc), and ire for the future j’irai (I will go). Why Romanian chose ‘a merge’ from Latin mergĕre for to dive, plunge or penetrate into is another kettle of fish.

But what we do see here are the traces of the difficulties earlier speakers had of expressing or interpreting intensity or subtlety of meaning with the words they had available. Suggestions have been made that the allare form existed in France in the 2nd C CE and might have resulted from a familiar military order: go! (Allez! from imperative ambulā́te with emphasis on its long final ‘a’ to allate with emphasis on its final ‘e’). And while ‘I go’ could be understood as a simple expression of personal choice and movement, the inclusive 1st and 2nd persons plural – Allons! and Allez! – could understandably be conceived of as a more coercive version of movement.

These are just ideas, tiny pieces of the massive jigsaw attempting to explain how language originates. One day, maybe, I might take a look at it more seriously.

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Pour tous ceux qui apprennent l’anglais, d’abord – je vous félicite ! Dans mon livre, Français ! Hors de France ! je parle de temps en temps de TED.com. Si vous n’y êtes jamais allé, faites-le, cela vaut le détour. Évidemment, je vais aussi suggérer que vous vous éloigniez des discours francophones, non pas parce qu’ils ne sont pas bien, loin de là, mais nous parlons de l’apprentissage de l’anglais et tant que vous ne vous jetiez pas à la mer, vous ne l’apprendrez pas.

Je viens de télécharger, un peu au hasard, l’un des derniers discours TED. Il n’est pas parfait, loin s’en faut (construction fautive selon l’Académie française mais on s’en fout ; il faut s’affranchir de ce perfectionnisme prétentieux qui nuit tant à la spontanéité) et c’est aussi à cause des ses imperfections qu’il est intéressant : personne ne parle une langue parfaitement. Maîtriser une langue passe par une familiarité avec ses travers…

Si cela vous chante, allez sur mon site et regardez Sharks in the dark. j’espère que cela vous intéresse. Si tout n’est pas clair, si vous voulez plus d’explications, faites-moi signe ! Bon visionnement et bonne lecture!

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One of the arguments the French put forward when vaunting their language is its precision. In many respects it is. In the phrase: “nous sommes allées”, it is unarguable that the number is plural, they tell you so three times: 1) nous, or we, the plural pronoun, 2) sommes, the plural auxiliary, and 3) allées, the plural s ending. So there is absolutely no ambiguity there, quite the contrary. Not only that, it also tells you that the people in question going are women, by the extra e after the past participle allé. But in common speech most people would have just said on est allé and left it at that, leaving you to guess who and how many, although usually indicated by the context.

What happens when they say “nous sommes allés”? Well, you’re buggered. It could be male, female or in between. And if there are 99 women and 1 man, it’s still “nous sommes allés”. So what? If anything, it reflects spoken speech when half the time you cannot tell number (how many) by sound (allé/e/s) anyway. But what happens with other types of verb? Take apprendre, meaning either to teach or to learn, precisely… and you’re buggered again: “nous avons appris”… seems to give you the same threefold confirmation of plurality, but you get the same plurality in the singular too: j’ai appris. And since “we saw” is nous avons vu, with narry an s in sight, it’s clear that the s of appris is not a plural. So much for precision… So participle agreement only matters in verbs conjugated with être. And you never know if the learners are women, nous avons appris applies to both genders. If a verb wants to specify the sex, it has to be the 3rd person: elle a appris or elles ont appris, she/they learnt. Note too that il l’a apprise means he learnt (or taught) it where the it is something feminine…

Yes, French is precise. Sometimes.

One of their complaints about English is its vagueness, which may be true. What is, after all a “unit”? Who are “they”? But one of the beauties of English is precisely its unanal flexibility. French, with its rules and regulations, its pedanticisms and archaicisms, its hallowed sense of correctness, is not a vernacular, it is a language of bureaucrats, and not this year’s either. It is a modern-day Latin, basically, a dead language.

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Cartoon image of Jane teaching Tarzan English

There is a happy little meme bobbing optimistically around the web. Apparently originating from the Natixis bank, it soon spread to the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie and thence to all lovers of French. It goes like this: by 2050 the number of French-speakers in the world will reach 750 million, ousting English, Chinese, Arabic and Gaelic all together. Most of its growth will come from Africa.

It is, of course, nonsense.

The French are past masters at marketing and mythology but this is almost certainly wrong.


Despite one glaring, and tragic, exception, that of AIDS with a penetration rate of 10.09% among 15-49 year-olds in English-speaking Africa compared to 1.85% in French-, francophone countries lag behind their English-speaking counterparts by an average of about 20% on just about every criterion you care to examine. Take a look at the following list where English-speaking countries come out on top every single time:

Criteria English-speaking Francophone
Corruption (www.transparency.org: 2013): 37.88 27.76
Literacy 15-24 yo’s, 2006-2011 (UNICEF) 78.65 63.66
No. doctors / 1000 (WHO: 2007-2008): 0.17 0.10
Improved access to water (UNICEF): 76.71 68.63
“Open defecation” (UNICEF): 18.94 29.38
Under-5 mortality rate (IFPRI, 2014): 7.91 10.24
Global Hunger Index (IFPRI, 2014): 15.29 17.61
Human Development Index (UNDP, 2014): 0.51 0.45
Mean growth in GDP 2004-12 (AEO) 5.31 4.68
Growth in GDP 2013 (CIA Factbook) 5.63 3.59
Global Competitiveness Index (WEF, 2013*): 108.24 126.64
Democracy (CSP, Polity IV, 2013): 4.00 2.00

* Figures perhaps biased (up or down) by the fact that of the 34 countries used the GCI did not include Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Niger, Republic of the Congo & Togo, all francophone… Why? Your guess is as good as mine…

Again and again, item after item – hunger, mortality, corruption, growth, etc. – francophone Africa loses out. If it were a game, they would have quit years ago, but it’s not, it’s human lives and human deaths. Instead, invited to Paris for prestigious conferences on “real culture”, the people of Africa allow themselves to be subjugated by the dazzling lights of French mystique, and lap the leftovers of former French glory.

Whether it is a question of language or culture is another debate. Either way, France – more right-wing than monarchical England despite its screeching liberté, égalité, fraternité – has trapped its Africa inside a fantasy realm of equality and rights of man while linguistically bogging it down in an antiquated language inappropriate for modern use and maintaining it in cultural servitude. Essentially, as long as Africa speaks French, it’s fucked. If it’s not culture per se, then language does the trick. While little children spend hours and weeks trying to understand the incoherent junk of French grammar, they are deprived of time learning the basic essentials of modern life.

For Africa to grow, it must switch to English.

The shift has already begun, with Rwanda, which some call the “ultimate turnaround”, switching to English for education in 2003 and continuing to advance in leaps and bounds. Then came Gabon in October 2012, initially adopting English as second official language and main foreign language in schools. How long before it discreetly drops French remains open. Burundi applied to become part of the Commonwealth in 2012, as did Mozambique in 1995. The snowball is moving.

To progress, Africa needs information, and it’s in English.





For further details, references, etc., please see Français hors de France!, in press, review copies available, just ask (click to go back to where you were).

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