Saturday, October 29, 2005


I have learned and speak a number of languages. Some I have learned principally in school, others, the ones I know best, by living in different countries.

But recently I have come to the conclusion I speak and especially write them all badly. Even my mother language, a Scandinavian language. The reason? I have forgotten much grammar. That is embarrassing. Also I tend to mix languages. I must have reached the limit of number of languages or I am getting too old. It can't be the latter so it must be the former.

My language problems especially come to light, when writing texts like the ones in this blog. I still remember there are rules and I also remember to apply some of them. But not all.

Like when to use who or whom. I once learned some rules (sentence object, substitution with his/him, her/she) for that one. The last rule, when in doubt and the other rules don't apply - use who. At least I think that was it. Or is it whom?

I can still analyze a sentence and have no problems with tenses I think. And yet. English is seemingly a very simple language grammatically speaking. But just on the surface. There are so many rules and exceptions. Mostly now, I just play it by ear - the result is predictable.

Hmmh. I have completely forgotten punctuation rules in English. It is no excuse I found the rules illogical, similar to where to divide words in English when spelling.

I promise my reader (I only think I have one so far) and myself, that I will brush up on my English grammar.

BTW a bit out of context: Goethe once said: To know your own language you need to learn another. He was a smart man.

Conclusion: To keep up language skills you need to practice, unless you have a memory beyond mine. That is not unthinkable by the way.


At 29/10/05 13:48, Blogger Herald said...

Salvador Dali once said: Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it. When wondering over the correctness of your use of language (or the correctness of anything, for that matter), ask yourself this question - how great is really the difference between mistakes and innovation?

At 29/10/05 14:19, Blogger von Schlichtningen said...

I like this comment! Dali of course, but especially the bit about difference between mistakes and innovation.

Many of the best innovations are to a degree a result of a "mistake".

On the other hand when it comes to language... Innovation is fine, but exactness and complexity, part of the language protocol, is important. How otherwise do you express and/or communicate exact and complex thoughts?

At 29/10/05 14:42, Blogger Herald said...

First of all, thank you for the kind words. That was exactly what I meant by the difference between mistakes and innovation, or the lack of the difference - how so many things have come to be through the making of mistakes.
And yes, language isn't necessarily the best platform for innovation as understanding ones meaning greatly depends on the establish rules of any given language. But languages do change a lot, more often than not causing quite a bit of confusion between the participants of a conversation. The English language itself has gone through a great change over the last centuries, but also over the last decades. The change is endless and often barely noticeable to bystandars who use the language day-by-day and take use of the reformed rules without even realizing it because the reforms spread out with such speed that the new rules become norms and hardly deserve the attention of any common user of the language.
What an enormously interesting world it must be for the philologists of our time.


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