Beauty and Quirkiness of the English Language

It’s been good fun writing about CVs, internships and all things business for the blog these days – and there you were thinking no sane person would ever place “fun” and “business writing” in the same sentence. But, for a change, it’ll be my pleasure to write about a lighter topic that binds us former and prospective UK students together: The passion for the English Language and all its weird little quirky things :). The text will be in English because, well, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

I speak Latin with God, Italian with musicians, Spanish with women, French in court, German with workers and English with my horses.

So maybe polyglot Charles I of Spain who said the above statement wasn’t very keen on the beauty of English. However, as much as memorizing this quote will be useful for joking about with Britons, one can easily say that the world doesn’t agree with the statement: English is the number one language for globally famous music, films and other forms of art. When trying to kindle the interest on the language to others using art I always mention literature in particular: Fluency will give you the pleasure to read from classics like The Picture of Dorian Grey and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin to modern works such as Watchmen or The Casual Vacancy in the original writing, without translation losses. Also, poetry in verbatim also carries a special sonority to it. For example on the video below ‘This is the night mail’, can you notice how the poem is recited mimicking the sounds of a train? The end result is beautiful trough its simplicity.

(Brazilian songwriter Chico Buarque used a similar sonority mechanism in his song ‘Vai Passar’ imitating the sounds of military processions. But, I digress.)

In terms of allowing accurate self-expression, the English language, with a larger amount of words than any other tongue, and expressions originated from the 50+ countries that speak it, is as good as it gets. It’s pretty common for those of us who have lived abroad to think of something in English naturally then trying – at times without success – to translate our thoughts. I for one struggle with conveying simple expressions such as the ‘have it any other way’ from this article’s first paragraph, to ‘can’t be bothered’ or words like ‘insight’ and ‘compromise’ – a bad translation from compromise to ‘compromisso’ in Portuguese (which means ‘commitment’) is a pet peeve of mine. Oh look, there’s another one! I find the whole concept of ‘pet peeve’ hard to translate to either Portuguese or Spanish.

It’s interesting how in English virtually any word can become a verb. For example, I’ve recently read in a news article ‘pirates throughout history have piggybacked on romantic social causes’. Can you see how fascinating using the word piggyback (carry a child or person on one’s back) as a verb allows for one to paint a more vivid image of what the journalist intended to say? And finally, a trivia: A lot of commonly used English words were actually invented by Shakespeare, such as ‘assassination’, ‘addiction’ and ‘eventful’.

Humour: English is the language of wittiness. Sure, today being quick and playing smart on twitter is the common thing, but it’s interesting to see how its roots trace back from the likes of Oscar Wilde in the 1800s. It was him who carry the wittiest quotes such as ‘All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does, and that is his.’ For a modern take on wittiness, check out TED’s plain hilarious video on Education and Creativity by English author Ken Robinson. Finally, the language is also specially fitting for play of words, for example on the classic comedy video “Who’s on first” below:

Now, there’s no such thing as a ‘British accent’. The pronunciations and mannerisms vary widely in what is such a small country! As a comparison, the whole of European Union could fit inside Brazil, and over here we don’t get nearly as far accent variations as you’d find in the UK. It’s uncanny how someone with a trained ear can talk to a Brit for half an hour and guess with a 50 mile error radius where that person grew up in. And the accents truly play a major role in people’s personalities and identities. Test your accent listening skills in this Buzzfeed quiz; and rejoice on hearing how people speak in certain regions of Scotland on the following comedy sketch.

And finally, let’s talk about some pronunciation quirks. The UK truly has very interesting geographical cases: For example, the city Reading spells like ‘reading’ but is read like ‘red-ing”. Also ‘burgh’ and ‘borough’ in Edinburgh and Loughborough are pronounced ‘bra’, like the female undergarment. So a town in Yorkshire pronounced as ‘nez-bra’ caries the unnecessarily long spelling of Knaresborough – and oh yes, ‘shire’ in locations are pronounced ‘shi’ as in ‘shirt’ and not as in ‘shy’, just because. Finally, ‘Leicester’ and ‘Worcester’ are pronounced ‘les-ter’ and ‘wus-ter’. Someone one day probably thought ‘yeah, let’s just add ‘ces’ to words to mess with people’s minds’. And to combine some other strange examples, there’s nothing better than the video below by Asap Thought.

For all things UK-Brazil, formal and informal, always keep in touch with the Embaixadores blog! Cheers!

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