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View Diary: Origins of English: The Great Vowel Shift (148 comments)

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  •  Thanks for these diaries (8+ / 0-)

    Very interesting about spelling predating the vowel shifts.

    Question: Is it true that English has many more words (vocabulary) than other European languages? Thanks again!

    •  Vocabulary (6+ / 0-)

      I have not seen any real data on this.

      •  shakespeare enthusiasts insist english has more (6+ / 0-)

        words than any other language and that the bard is single-handedly responsible for more of them than any other individual. [assuming shakespeare was one individual, of course.]

        if you can get hold of Webster's 2nd unabridge dictionary, it beautifully documents the 'foreign' sources of many words we take for granted as inherently english.

        one of my favorite grad school professors pointed out, though, that the way we change borrowed words can make their origins obscure.  favorite example: what swahili origin word could the american advertising industry never have done without, and [hint] what did P.T. Barnum have to do with it?.........well, as my prof explained it (have y'all had enough time to ponder it yet and got there already?), when the original european purchasers of a certain...purchase... asked the ...item's... caretaker how the caretaker "called" the "item", the caretaker allegedly misunderstood "call" to mean "greet" (such as to say g'day each morning) and replied...

        ...are you there yet?  yes?...

        "Jahmboh", i.e., "hello".  
        so to the european purchasers' ears, the elephant's name seemed to be Jumbo, and when Jumbo eventually came into the possession of Barnum's circus and was exhibited in the United States, the elephant's name came to be synonymous with "really huge" and was for a few decades ubiquitous on product packaging for meaning the largest amount buyable on the shelf.

        my prof told it better back in the 1970s.  wikipedia tells it a little differently now http://en.wikipedia.org/...

        i found this example a pretty good ice-breaker for teaching english to american kids who felt their heritage sidelined them out of the mainstream.  there were some other examples from various corners of the world that helped make studying english more friendly but, darn it, i can't recall any of the others!  anyone got some more?

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