All Languages are Complex, to a Certain Degree

All languages are complex to a certain degree. English is oddly less complex compared to other European languages. It’s common for languages to excessively express some ideas, for example when we say ‘behave yourself’ or ‘repeat yourself’, the ‘yourself’ is kind of repetitive. Also, as a related example, the words hither, tither, wither, hence, whence, and thence have all but dropped out of English in the name of simplicity.

Perhaps it was this dropping of excessive languages that helped English’s survival and eventual diffusion. What happened to English was the Viking conquest, in which 250,000 people conquered parts of English and France and learned the language as adults. Often when one culture conquers another the conquerors will maintain some cultural (and thus language) separation. In the case of the Vikings, they settled in, married and learned the language. Their children were exposed to this hybrid, stripped down language and it became the standard. Because of the Vikings, and because there were enough of them, what was “Normal English” changed – resulting in things like English oddly being the only Indo-European language that does not use gender for everyday objects.

What was once askew was now normal – which is how many things evolve, I’m sure. The gap between the anomaly and the previous “normal” is what’s interesting here. English became stripped-down, but not maximally so. The gap was more significant than usual, but still traversable, I guess. It’s like short cuts, or jumps, or evolutionary slides that are catalyzed by some combining force. Lecture 6 and 7 explain all of this in fascinating ways.

Link to the first post in this series is here.

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