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English with Foreign Grammar

For native English speakers
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Those among us who speak English natively should consider ourselves lucky. Having as our birth tongue what is almost certainly the final dominant language of our species not only provides us with an advantage in terms of global communication, but spares us the torture of actually having to learn it. But there's a downside to this as well—while most native speakers (of any language) are capable of speaking their language fluently solely on the basis of intuition, they are more often than not ignorant of the actual grammatical rules, much less their significance in the context of language structure as a whole.

Also, as a result of the global dominance of their native tongue, many native English speakers never seriously study a foreign language. This is a shame for many reasons, not the least of which is that studying a foreign language academically is perhaps the best way to provide insight into the grammatical functions of one's own language. For example, it wasn't until I studied the use of the subjunctive mood in Spanish that I truly understood how it was used in English; while I'm quite sure it had been explained to me in grade school, and I'd had a vague awareness of its existence since then, once I learned how it was used in Spanish—and how that differed from its use in English—it was a concept that suddenly became quite clear to me.

The big problem, of course, is that learning a foreign language is hard, and requires time, patience, and practice. But why is it so hard? A language can be broken down into two mostly distinct parts: grammar and vocabulary. Of these two, the more difficult to learn, and arguably the less interesting, is the vocabulary. Learning the grammar is a matter of understanding and internalizing a complex set of rules, whereas studying vocabulary involves little more than rote memorization. For those who aren't good at this, or simply find it tedious, vocabulary is probably the biggest impediment to studying a foreign language.

So, let's eliminate the vocabulary aspect, inasmuch as that's possible. We thus modify English grammar so that it matches the grammar of a foreign language while retaining English vocabulary, thus highlighting the difference between the two languages. Studying this new set of linguistic rules will not only provide the student a greater insight into his own native tongue, but will hopefully prepare him for future study of the foreign vocabulary once he is more comfortable with the grammar.

Some examples:

“Yo voy a la tienda grande.” — “I go to the store big.”
“Yo espero que ella venga.” — “I hope that she come.” (Demonstrating the use of the above-mentioned subjunctive)
“Puedes quedarte aqui, pero no me molestes.” — “You can to remain thyself here, but do not me bother.”

Words that don't have a clear analogue in terms of conjugation in English may need to have forms imported for more advanced students. E.g., “to bother” might need to become “botherar”, to allow distinction between its various tenses and persons (thus making it “botheres” in the example given).

But while this may seem like an overly complicated way to get a simple point across, there are many features of English that we take so fundamentally for granted that we never learn about or even consider them. Indeed, it's not until studying how certain grammatical constructions are formed in other languages that it even occurs to us that there's another way to do them. Take, for example, the phrase “I want to go to the store.” In Romanian, this becomes “Vreau sa merg la magazinul.” Breaking this down word by word, we find a couple of striking differences from English:

Vreau: I want
Sa: (indicates that the following word is in the subjunctive)
Merg: I go
La: To
Magazinul: The store

So, literally, it's something like “I want I go to store(the).” Notice how where the infinitive would be used in English and many other languages, Romanian uses a conjugated verb. But we're really saying the same thing, just dropping the pronoun: “I want to go” means “I want me to go” as opposed to “I want you/him/her/it to go”. Somebody who had never studied Romanian, however, might not ever have considered that fact.

Also, notice how in Romanian, the definite article exists only as a modified form of the noun (the noun in this case being “magazin”). If you'd never been taught this, would it have ever occurred to you that articles don't necessarily have to consist of an independent word or prefix, but could simply modify an existing word? Or, in the case of Russian grammar, that they're totally unnecessary? For that matter, in Russian (and Hebrew) the verb “to be” doesn't really exist at all (at least, not in any form an English speaker would consider equivalent). So you see, there are a lot of things about our language we take for granted, but somebody who was intimidated by the time and effort required to learn to read and understand Cyrillic or Hebrew writing and vocabulary would remain ignorant of this fact.

Certainly, some words will need to be borrowed, and some existing words modified to suit foreign conjugation. Regardless, this wouldn't really be taught for actual use, but would be mainly intended as a means of gaining insight into the mechanics of English by contrasting it with different grammatical structures—but without all of those pesky vocab flash cards. The focus wouldn't be on teaching how this or that foreign language is different from English, but instead on simply teaching how those languages work and allowing the student to independently acquire the kind of knowledge that only comes through understanding (I think there's a word for that in German).

ytk, Aug 25 2012


       Small potential quibble: I'd heard Romanian was the only Latin language in a nonCatholic country. If it's like Spanish, "la" would be "the", but no idea really.   

       Well, Google translate confirms you're right. Although it could baffle a Spaniard having Romanian sprinkled into his grammar or vice versa.
4and20, Aug 25 2012

       As a Romanian speaker (conversational, anyway) and student, I assure you that it's not. “La” means “to”, and the definite article is applied to nouns by means of declension. Interestingly, this is not the case for the indefinite article. Thus:

       A child: Un copil
Some children: Niste copii
The child: Copilul
The children: Copiii (yes, that's three consecutive ‘i’s)

       Romanian is indeed a Romance language, but it's quite different from most other Romance languages in that it developed in relative isolation. Split off geographically from French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese (which all developed together, of course), it retained much of the original Latin grammar while also absorbing a somewhat Slavic feel.
ytk, Aug 25 2012

       I'd be curious how "copiii" is properly pronounced.   

       It would be interesting to know if studying the different declensions and word orders in different languages makes one generally more alive and more aware of nuance in each and every word of any language you know, supporting your contention of the necessity of learning multiple languages.
4and20, Aug 25 2012

       “ko-PEE-ee”, with the stress on the second syllable. A final letter ‘i’ is usually silent in Romanian, so you need three of them to get the repeated "ee-ee" sound.
ytk, Aug 25 2012

       Pretty good invention, I think this is, but to me a lot like Yoda Speak it sounds.
sqeaketh the wheel, Aug 25 2012

       Chifla pentru tine.   

       //the final dominant language of our species   

       I have to say, that translated well from the origin Mandarin....
not_morrison_rm, Aug 25 2012

       I think the title and subtitle explained the idea well and that I didn't have to read the rest. Am I mistaken?
Voice, Aug 25 2012

       I only read the first word of your annotation..
not_morrison_rm, Aug 25 2012

       // As a Romanian speaker (conversational, anyway) and student //   

       ... the long Winter evenings must simply fly by.   

       // I think there's a word for that in German //   

       Well, there's definitely an explicit hand gesture for it in English.
8th of 7, Aug 25 2012

       Entirely too much thought has gone into this.
MaxwellBuchanan, Aug 25 2012

       This is almost baked by Latin. ~75% of the words in English have a Latin root so learning the vocabulary is pretty easy. Personally I wish English had some Latin grammar too. The direct object is never in question the way it is in English.
DIYMatt, Aug 26 2012

       //I have to say, that translated well from the origin Mandarin....//   

       Ah ha, I was wondering if that statement would go unchallenged. Even though Chinese may have more speakers than English, they are almost all located in China, and almost all Chinese who do business internationally learn English. Chinese is simply too difficult to become an international language (although I'd be very interested in learning its grammar, hence the idea).   

       Even if China becomes the sole dominant world power eventually (which it won't), it takes more than simple economic power to make a language become a “lingua Franca”. It has only happened a few times in history, but is highly unlikely to happen again. Even if English fades from dominance, it is unlikely to be replaced by any other language thanks to the increased accuracy and availability of computer-based language translation. There may simply not be a need for a universal language in the future.
ytk, Aug 26 2012

       //English with Foreign Grammar//   

       Add foreign spelling too, and you've got Dutch.
Wrongfellow, Aug 28 2012

       Why would you want that ? Just asking ...
8th of 7, Aug 28 2012

       You know, for an aspiring member of a collective consciousness that indiscriminately assimilates every intelligent being it comes across for the express purpose of achieving perfection by absorbing the unique knowledge and values of every foreign culture in existence, you're surprisingly xenophobic, [8th].
ytk, Aug 28 2012

       But the Dutch are a "mongrel breed" ... not as bad as the Belgians, but close ...   

       Besides, having to gargle with cold, dirty gravel before attempting even the simplest of phrases is not exactly encouraging.
8th of 7, Aug 28 2012

       And the English are...
RayfordSteele, Aug 29 2012

sqeaketh the wheel, Aug 31 2012


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