Monday, July 28, 2008

Progress At Last

Something you may not know about me , and are probably not gagging to find out ,is that I am quite knowledgeable about the development and structure of the English language . This odd state of affairs came about because when I arrived at “Uni” to do Eng Lit , I was deeply committed to hedonistic nihilism, aka 'wine women and song, plus sex and drugs and rock’n’roll ,(but not rum bum and concertina .) As a “subsid” , ‘English lang.’ struck me as a no brainer, and therefore fitted my skill set perfectly . Little did I guess at the Chomsky-ish horrors that awaited but , as sometimes happens I began to be fascinated. I have retained a curiosity ever since .
It was therefore with the trained nose of a 2.1 ( that’s two up from Carol Vorderman….) that I sniffed a sea change in a Janet Daley article . In it she slyly continue her long whine about David Cameron’s sensible balance by hypothesising a Labour Party attacking successfully from the right, under say a Purnell. All phoned in copy, but her final words set my spider sense tingling . …
“ I believe it would be best for the country if the entire policy debate was conducted in progressive terms
What was that word ? “Progressive”? Now last I heard this described a dog eared set of baby boomer bourgeois Liberal errors , does “Progressive" now mean something good ?.
Then at lunchtime in was pestering Labour parrot and amusing writer Hopi Sen. He is busy counselling against ditching Brown and this exchange occurred with one of his commenters about the meaning of ‘progressive’ .
““the progressive agenda is strongly represented in the Brown government.”( said Hopi)
"If my decoding is any good, you mean ‘Blairite’ (non -social/permanently pro-’more market’). Progressive never used to mean that…” (said Miller 2 )


Well this is fascinating . My suspicion that the New Speak-ers of New Labour are at the heart of this as their eroded Party threatens to shrink to its Old Labour core ,but the meaning of ‘progressive’ is also organic . When Labour follow Conservatives on Welfare reform , when Irwin Seltzer says the state is too large and tax cuts should be offered , when the forces of Labour are visibly obstructing progress then it can only be that Conservatives are the new “Progressives “. Should you require further proof Conservatives are now the most popular second choice of Liberal voters who , as we know , are vacuous Weathervanes who would cut off their arms to fit into the latest trendy cat suit .As you may gather I am ambivalent about how much I like to be a “Progressive”.
Language facts :
1 Penguin is the only Welsh word imported into English
2 Commuter stems from a ‘commutable’ ticket once issued in the US from the root ‘commutare’ or change /metamorphosise
3 Key Points and the endless use of Key from “men” to issues stems not from a metaphorical transference from ‘Key’ to a door but from an early transference to arch building now the dead metaphor “Key stone”. properly used it carries the weight of the final stone placed which holds up the arch.
3
Jacob Grimm, the elder of the Brothers Grimm, in his book Deutsche Grammatik was a seminal linguists establishing the first non-trivial systematic sound change to be discovered linguistics
Grimm`s law describes Consonantal shifts between Indo European languages as they become Germanic . The one I know is P becomes F.

English: foot, German: Fuß, -Latin: pēs, pedis, Sanskrit: pāda, Russian: под (pod),
4 Noam Chomsky`s genius was the description of “descriptive” Grammar. He started by asking why it was that when I change the order of a sentence “ I am John.” to “ Am I John” a statement becomes a question. What law was being followed ? He looked at more complex sentences and discovered the underlying structure of English. On the back of this he bored the world with half baked political rubbish but at his job he was a genius .
5 One of many structures of change is continued pejoration of words. For example stink was once neutral as was smell.
6Many pronunciations are incorrect if you judge by historical precendent . Forehead for example is correctly pronounced “ Forrid’. Our chaotic orthography drawn from non existent Norman sounds created the misleading spelling “Forehead”. At the end of the 19th century the new mass literate classes determined to be correct followed the spelling ..incorrectly . Similarly Garij has become replaced by Gararj following an irrelevant French model .
7 There are far more linguistic marker differences between English dialects than between English and US English which is virtually uniform by comparison
8 None of this helps me to spell or punctuate any better as you will have noticed

10 comments:

Blue Eyes said...

I'm glad you included point 9, although it does give me rather less to comment upon.

I have often wondered why England remains so localised with accents and dialect despite being small and having relatively good communications.

Auntie Flo' said...

Progressives are those few who claim their superior and unique understanding of the many enables them to govern via incremental advances on behalf of the many, not the few.

The inherent contradiction of an elitist few claiming to be a progressive universal class advancing the interests of the many may be thought to escape the few. However, it's doubtful that this really does escape them, hence all the lies and spin: to enable the few to continue rule on behalf of the few.

Newmania said...

BE..it is because they have been there for centuries and the majority still live and die in one smal town,.

Thanks Flo

Nick Drew said...

Point 3 - what's the story behind the common phenomenon that what's a 'b' in one language is a 'v' in another ?

Point 5 - another, constantly interesting aspect is the gradual evolution of meanings. Fair enough Heraclitus, everything changes. But something bothers me about this: what are we to say when a technical term with an important specific meaning (e.g. failsafe) changes its meaning through pure ignorance ?

An interesting intermediate case is kudos, which I get moderately worked-up about, but not as much as over failsafe

Newmania said...

Ahem I am now far from certain I know what either of those word means Nick.

The reason why Language and meaning changes is chance mutation effecting an interdependent system.There is no universal model the point/advance of Grimms Law was the separation of the Germanic from Romance languages and the beggining of a plausible ancestry from a Indo-European common root

You can over do the Darwinesque analogy though England was home to various mutually comprehensible Germanic languiages at the ed of the Old English period ( notably Danish / Norse) It is possible that this is why it is uniquely became n n inflected allowing an unusual ability to absorb other words . It was a sort of pidgin language you might say

Blue Eyes said...

I get worked up about "momentarily" which in English means "for a moment" but in American means "in a moment", but thanks to Hollywood is now used ignorantly by many English speakers.

Nick Drew said...

failsafe means 'designed so that, if it fails (which it may), it comes to a safe state'

but you hear people using it who clearly think it means 'incapable of failing' (I think we got there via the false-friend 'foolproof', which neatly straddles the otherwise vast conceptual divide)

kudos (kewdoss) means 'prestige' but Americans say 'kudos to him for getting that right', which could be OK except they say kewdoe-s, and you realise they think it is a plural noun & means 'brownie-points'

it's not just Americans: loads of Brits think 'taking a rain-check' means sticking your hand outside the tent to see if it gets wet ...

Nick Drew said...

but hey, what about the 'b' and the 'v', then ? (I understand 'g' and 'w')

Newmania said...

sticking your hand outside the tent to see if it gets wet ...

Which then forms the mainstay of their "hilarious" observational comedy..."you ever notice you stick your hand in the rain it gets wet ..am I right am I right ?"

BE I think you are a bit harsh there usage has always changed

ND

Have fun you`ve lost me

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grimm's_law

Tell you soemthing I cannot stand its being called "Buddy " which I notice gaining ground ...hate it .
That Australian lilt to a sentence is annoying as well and the word subjective should be removed with forceps from the minds of stupid people ( except me )

hatfield girl said...

What is the point of writing anything at all, loading up words and phrases with undeclared burdens, setting thought diversions and triggering others' mental asides, if spoilsports are going to display the works to all, in public? For shame, N. Soon you will demand that we know what we are talking about rather than inducing mental states.

Blog Archive