The English language has a history of borrowing words, letters, and even tenses from other languages, or as James Nicoll put it “pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and riffle their pockets for new vocabulary”.
This has given the English language a set of pronunciation rules that would best be described as crazy, frustrating even native English speakers, but while some of us would like to reduce the complexity, others are looking at other languages and thinking about English might steal next.
Slate recently found a video by Tom Scott where he details 4 parts of other languages which English lacks and could benefit from. The video was actually posted last year, but since I have never posted it I find it fair game.
As much fun as I found the video, only one of the 4 parts (time-independent verbs, clusivity, absolute direction, evidentiality) which English lacks really strike me as a shortcoming.
English has terms for absolute (cardinal) direction in addition to relative direction (left/right) so it’s not like it’s missing anything. Clusivity (inclusive vs exclusive pronouns) is handled by possessive adjectives serving double duty. And as for time-independent verbs, that just trikes me as a way of sowing more confusion by providing less detail in a sentence.
But evidentiality, now that could be useful. As explained in the video, there are languages which are structured so that when you make a statement that an event occurred, you also implicitly say how you know that the event happened – what was your source, in other words.
Speaking as a blogger who regularly has to judge the reliability of a report based on that report’s source (first-hand, second-hand, video, etc), evidentiality is a constant hazard. And while I can explicitly ask for this kind of detail, I would so love if it were instead baked into the language in the first place. It would make writing about events so much easier by guaranteeing that a summary would also include a mention of the source of information.
Do you know what I would also appreciate? Tenses (this was mentioned in a sidenote in the video). English has an excess of past, present and future tenses, many of which I only vaguely understand, but other languages have tenses which don’t map on to English at all. I would like to see more of those foreign tenses purposes be added to the English language.
On the other hand, I also regret never having been taught to fully understand the tenses we have now, but that is another story.
P.S. If you like this video, you might also like the following: