On the last day of class, we studied world English and a McDonald’s poster from the company’s advertising in Sweden. It actually featured mostly English with more advanced words in Swedish. I was confounded as to why McDonald’s would mix two languages and exclude Sweden’s population that only speaks one of two languages, even after I considered that McDonald’s wanted to advertise itself as a bilingual company. After thinking about it more, I realized that this bilingualism might hold very special appeal in European countries. This point seems especially true, because our class watched a striking TED talk on how the world is obsessed with learning English. The portion of Sweden’s population that only speaks one of two languages is probably also quite low, another reason why the advertisement is effective.
I was intrigued by Sailaja’s article on “Indian English,” or English as spoken in India, an English variation I had never considered before. She gave a great many examples, although she admitted that studies of Indian English tend to merely list variations and contain little empirical evidence.
I wonder why scholars study an “Indian English,” which does seem challenging to pin down, and whether it would be better to identify this dialect with another name, perhaps one along the lines of “Hindi-influenced English.” From this perspective, it might be easier to study “Hindi-influenced English,” “Bengali-influenced English,” – and so on – as different dialects. Sailaja seems able to identify many general trends of (hopefully) all Indian English, but perhaps further study in her field would be better focused on native speakers by language.
Lindquist’s article from this week’s reading treads through its claims carefully. The author defends against potential flaws in the data used and admits other issues that affect the same data. For example, he points out the issue that the number of written letters, or correspondences, from one person to another has declined with the rise of email.
Lindquist’s article also helped me realize that “personal letters are an excellent data source for sociolinguistic research on earlier periods, since they are usually closer to the spoken language than are printed texts.” He does remind us of one limitation: only literate individuals write letters. This point made me think about how certain words used primarily by the substantial illiterate population of pre-Renaissance England may have never made it into written sources. Slang and colloquialisms, which we might typically avoid in emails and letters today, probably form a significant part of the vocabulary of Middle English. Although the illiterate population contributed little to science, culture, and the like, they still form an essential part of history as a whole.
I appreciate the opening of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116:
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
These lines appeal to me because their reference to two minds, rather than a man and a woman, seems to advocate for love, regardless of gender. Indeed, we learned that many of the sonnets are dedicated to a young man, or a “fair youth,” and many of the sonnets use masculine pronouns while referring to Shakespeare’s potential lover. LGBT Studies taught me that same-sex marriage was a very far-fetched concept even in the mid-20th century, when the LGBT community merely wanted to remain safe. Although some scholars interpret Shakespeare’s sonnets as platonic, I believe the other interpretation and I am surprised that Shakespeare dedicated this much writing to same-sex love five centuries before same-sex marriage became a feasible idea.
Even though I am familiar with Shakespeare’s prolific coining of new words, I was surprised to learn the extent of his neologisms. According to this week’s reading by Busse and Busse (2012), various scholars measured his vocabulary and came up with figures ranging from 17,750 words (Schmidt and Sarazin) to 29,066 words (Spevack). Busse and Busse also mention that the Shakespeare Database lists 4,512 word forms that all first appeared in Shakespeare’s work. Most importantly, they point out that these new words are not necessarily neologisms by Shakespeare.
We learned that one reason scholars study Shakespeare so extensively is because his work forms a large portion of all the available work from this time period of extensive change in English at the dawn of the 17th century.
With the above point about scarce information in mind, I would make a very rough amateur estimate that approximately 40% of the 4,512 word forms that first appear in Shakespeare’s work were created by Shakespeare himself. This figure comes out to 1,805 word forms, still an impressive amount. Averaging the three academic estimates (17,750, 20,000, and 29,066) cited in Busse and Busse’s work, I would guess that Shakespeare’s vocabulary consists of 22,727 words. These numbers might give us a good idea of the extent of Shakespeare’s creativity.
Interestingly (and to be honest), while I was reading the Summoner’s portrait in our excerpt from The Canterbury Tales, I imagined him as a different kind of conjurer, or practitioner of witchcraft. Chaucer’s descriptions of the Summoner actually supported this idea: the summoner loved (…) drinking of strong wine as red as blood.
Then would he talk and shout as madman would. <- Stereotypical witch behavior.
And when a deal of wine he’d poured within,
Then would. he utter no word save Latin. <- I thought of these as incantations.
Some phrases had he learned, say two or three,
Which he had garnered out of some decree;
No wonder, for he’d heard it all the day;
And all you know right well that even a jay
Can call out “Wat” as well as can the pope. <- He’s a poor magician. Matches what we’ve read so far.
More potentially misleading descriptions:
Who had a fiery-red, cherubic face, <- More stereotypical “satanic” witch depictions.
For eczema he had; his eyes were narrow
As hot he was, and lecherous, as a sparrow; <- He is a loathsome being who dabbles in dark magic.
With black and scabby brows and scanty beard; <- Matches the above.
He had a face that little children feared. <- Again, matches the above.
There was no mercury, sulphur, or litharge, <- These are chemicals we could imagine witches using.
No borax, ceruse, tartar, could discharge,
Nor ointment that could cleanse enough, or bite,
To free him of his boils and pimples white,
Nor of the bosses resting on his cheeks. <- Even more stereotypical witch depictions.
If one doesn’t know the Latin phrase below, it’s easy to continue believing the wrong thing.
But when, for aught else, into him you’d grope,
‘Twas found he’d spent his whole philosophy;
Just “Questio quid juris” would he cry.” <- This is Latin for “Which law applies?”
Fortunately, some quick online research saved me. It helped me realize the summoner was a simply a corrupt servant of the law who “summoned” people to court. This fact completely changes the perspective of his portrait and possibly his story, if the reader is not studying outside of the story. I wonder if transcribing / translation errors have affected other studies of Old and Middle English – mistranslations certainly exist in other areas.