A polylingual multiglot?

Multidigit or polydigit … or simply just a lot of fingers.

In English the conventional terms are polyglot and multilingual. Of course. But what about polylingual and multiglot? Are these acceptable? Are they understandable? Can’t we just freely combine any “combining forms” like multi, poly, mis, dis, un, im, in, graph, kilo, auto, and so on?

Webster’s New World Dictionary (4th edition) has the following definitions of the traditional terms: polyglot and multilingual.

polyglot adj., noun [Gr polyglōttos < poly-, POLY- + glōtta, the tongue]

  1. speaking or writing several languages
  2. containing or written in several languages
  1. a polyglot person
  2. a polyglot book
  3. a mixture or confusion of languages

multilingual adj. [L < multus, much, many < IE base * mel-, strong, big > Gr mala, very combining form. ME < ML lingualis < L lingua:]

  1. of or in several languages
  2. using or capable of using several languages

These words entered English historically at different times: polyglot directly from Greek and multilingual through Middle English and (Middle) Latin. By convention we tend to combine Greek with Greek forms and Latin with Latin. However, descriptively I know of no real obstacle to being creative. Editors will surely shutter now. Apologies. But why not play with English.

We could create synonyms by crossing basic forms. For example, try Latin magna- instead of Greek mega- or macro- (all three mean ‘large or great’) and Latin urban instead of Greek politan (both basically mean ‘related to cities’). The results would be magnapolitan or mega-urban or macro-urban. Works for me. With all the roots from Latin and Greek, the possible combinations are numerous.

Let’s spice up our dull texts from time to time and be the first with a new twist on old words. Just for fun or at least in a blog.

English neutral

Matrix worldWelcome to the matrix: English in binary form?

During several decades of teaching English in international settings, particularly academic English, I have encountered non-native speakers who are uncertain of the regional written varieties of English. In fact, there are also many native speakers who are just as uncertain. As the Internet exposes all of us to more and more markets, the lines continue to blur.

Many books have been written about the vocabulary differences between American and British English; many humorous stories circulate on the Internet. But the differences go beyond vocabulary; English also varies regionally in spelling, punctuation, slang and even grammar.

Generally speaking, most writers already know the guidelines when they approach a publisher and have prepared their manuscripts accordingly. However, there are times, especially for academics, when they would like to submit articles to American, Australian, British or Canadian publishing houses. They certainly increase their chances of being published, but only if their language conforms to the specific norm.

One solution I suggest is to embrace “English neutral” … to find the overlap in English varieties where we all agree and avoid the specific regional markers. Easier said than done? Yes. However it’s not impossible.

First there are the obvious spelling differences like center or centre, organize or organise, theater or theatre, etc. Often a synonym provides a quick solution: middle, order, play/film, respectively.

Then what about punctuation: the Oxford comma (also called the Harvard or serial comma), punctuation (period or full stop) with honorifics and abbreviations including Mr/Mr., Mrs/Mrs., Dr/Dr., etc, etc. Well, the serial comma is in dispute on both sides of the Atlantic, honorifics and other abbreviations can be dropped (or as I did above with et cetera,  placed it at the end of the sentence.)

Next slang, but we can skip this one. In formal writing, just drop it. So we now come to grammatical differences. One of the most obvious differences is what linguists call notional concord — that is, the “notion” of what is meant in making the subject and verb “agree”  – I agree, you agree, but she agrees. Brits can regard family and government, for example, as either singular or plural: the family are, the government are.  The principle is what “notion” of the family and government is meant – as a single unit or as individual members. My solution has been to suggest that we always write using an indisputable plural: members of government, family members when the plural is intended.

There are many more details to consider; I truly welcome input, more examples, and especially solutions. Moreover if anyone can think of a neutral synonym that can equally replace color/colour, I would consider posting a reward!

But to return to the original premise: English in binary format. Unfortunately it’s not very workable. To begin with, binary code is based on letters, and thus the original spellings … so unless we change the original forms, we are back where we started  — variations.

Note: except for the contrasting American/British examples, this entire blog has been written in English Neutral.

And never the twain shall meet…

Two, or more, ways to spell many words.
Two, or more, ways to spell many words.

Here we see two different ways to spell the same word, but let’s hope the different spellings don’t meet … at least not in the same paragraph, or even in the same document for that matter!

Speaking of twain (archaic for two), consider Mark Twain who expressed his disdain for editors, often and strongly. He is acknowledged as saying “…he must have little genius who can’t spell a word in more than one way.” Actually this quote has had many incarnations including something about a writer who can only think of one way to spell a word lacks imagination. Or he who cannot spell a word more than one way cannot be trusted. Or he [Twain] had no respect for someone who cannot spell a word more than one way.

Twain does make a valid point; variation enriches language. But variation of this type can confuse and irritate the reader. When we write, we help our readers by maintaining consistency. Variation can be added with synonyms: same meaning, different words, not the same word, different spellings.

Mark Twain had strong opinions and great insight. As a writer and human. Variation in our writing is desirable for novels and creative works. Blogs … tweets … emails … notes … letters … personal communication. Language is so much richer for the variation and nuances we use.

But to disseminate – spread – information fluently and with ease, one standard would serve us well.  Consider efficiency and speed. Beyond literature and reading for enjoyment, our time is limited … business reports, technical manuals, trade journals, academic manuscripts and daily newspapers should not challenge us to read and reread the same sentence again and again.

On a global level, to communicate a message clearly, a unified, logical, systematic form of English is desirable. In plain English. It is much more difficult to write precise, accurate text than long-winded ramblings where the writer is clearly lost. What can we expect of the reader then.

When we write to communicate information, consider these points: write concisely … write clearly … write short sentences … use short words. Except for blogs where we can have some fun breaking the rules and enjoy the ambiguity and double-entendre English is so full of. (There. I broke a rule … broke quite a few, in fact!)

Plain English. One English. Please.