Masculinity of the English Language

Masculinity of the English Language

Masculinity of the English Language

If a person is required to characterize the English language in one short expression, he must say after Otto Jespersen, the most illuminating of philologists that it is expressly and positively masculine. “It is”, says Jespersen, “the language of a grown-up man, and has very little childish or feminine about it.” A great many things—things phonetical, grammatical and lexical, words and terms that are found and that are not found in the language- produce and confirm this impression.

The phonetic system of English bears out the masculine quality of English. The English consonants are clearly separated from one another in sound and they are clearly and precisely pronounced. English has none of those indistinct or half-slurred consonants that abound in Danish. An English consonant is seldom changed by the vowels on either side of it. The vowels are, for the most part, independent of the consonants flanking them, and in this respect English has become, in all respects, clear-cut in its sounds, though this impression is blurred, to some extent, by the diphthongization of most long vowels (as in ale, whole, eel, who (phonetically eil, houl, ijl, huw). English abounds in words ending in two or more consonant sounds as in prompt, temps, draught, fraught, wealth, plinth feasts, beasts, etc. and the pronunciation of these words requires as well as presupposes no little energy on the part of the speakers. Considered on the basis of its sounds English may be said to possess male energy.

The English language is characterized by briefness, conciseness and terseness which are characteristic of the style of men. In grammar it has got rid of a great many superfluities found in Old English, and in most cognate languages, reducing endings to the shortest forms possible, and often doing away with endings altogether. In the expression “all the young girls who come here” we find that all the article (the) the adjective (young) and the relative pronoun (who do not receive any mark of the plural number. Only the girls and come have received sign of the plural number. The sense here is expressed with the greatest clearness imaginable.

English has certainly gained in force—though it has lost thereby something of its melodic elegance- by shortening many words of two syllables into monosyllabic ones. If there were not the great number of long foreign, specially Latin words, “English would have approached”, says Jespersen, “the state of such monosyllabic languages as Chinese.” There are many English proverbs which possess the condensed power of the monosyllabism found in Old Chinese. Some of the examples of such monosyllabic proverbs are “first come, first served”; “no cure, no pay”; “haste makes waste”; “live and learn”.

A business-like shortness appears in such convenient abbreviations of sentences as are very common in English, for instance: “While going to the college he found a snake” (While he was going): “He did not answer when spoken to” (when he was spoken to): “Once out of the house he gets panicky (Once he is): “The feast over, the guests went away” (being). These expressions partake of the character of telegrams. These shortenings are in syntax what morphological shortenings are in words. Examples of morphological shortening are cab for cabriolet, bus for omnibus, photo for photograph, phone for telephone, rifle for riflegun.

Also Read:

This business-like brevity of expression cannot be separated from a certain sobriety in expression. Just as an Englishman dislikes to use more words or more syllables than are strictly necessary for conveying his sense so also he dislikes to say more than he can stand to. He is opposed to strong or hyperbolical expressions of approval or admiration. “That is not half bad” or “She is rather good looking” are often the highest praises one can draw out of him. He is always under the fear of appearing ridiculous by showing strong emotions. This sobriety is characteristic more of man than of woman, and so this feature (i.e. sobriety in expression of the English language stamps it with a masculine trait.

The grammatical side of the English language strengthens and deepens this impression of masculinity. This masculinity appears in the fewness of the diminutives and in the rarity with which they are used. Of these diminutives-let is the commonest, and a comparatively modern ending. The ending- kin and -ling are not very frequently employed, and they generally express the sense of contempt or hatred. The ending –y or -ie which corresponds exactly to the fondling suffixes of other languages is more or less confined to use in the nursery, and is hardly used by grown-up persons except in talking to children.

Word order of the English language bears the full stamp of its businesslike, virile qualities. In English words are not engaged in a hide-and-seek play as they are in Latin or German. In German we find that ideas which belong together by right are widely sundered in obedience to caprice or lo a rigorous grammatical rule. In English there is fixed word-order. In it an auxiliary verb does not stand far from its principal verb (Juthika has prepared tea; has – auxiliary verb; prepared- principal verb): indeed, the distance of the auxiliary verb from its principal verb is rarely greater than in the sentence, “Babla has almost never gone through such experiences”. A negative will be found in the immediate neighbourhood of the word it negatives, generally the auxiliary verb, e.g. Prakash does not read hard- not negatives read). An adjective nearly always stands before the noun it qualifies, notable exception to this rule occurs when there are qualifications added to it, which draw it after the noun, as in “I have never undergone an experience so uncanny and blood-curdling as you speak of.” The subject nearly always precedes the verb, and the transitive verb precedes its object (e.g. Dulal hit Anup- subject-Dulal: transitive verb-hit: object-Anup). This word-order is seen to be abandoned only for the specific purpose of emphasis as in “Him I don’t like, her I do.”

The logical quality of the English language boars out its masculinity. English is the most logical of the modern languages with the exception of Chinese which has been described as pure applied logic In English the difference between the past he came and the present perfect he has come and the past perfect he had come is maintained with great consistency. The comparatively recent development of the expanded (or progressive) tenses has furnished the language with the wonderfully precise and logically valuable distinction between I go and I am going; I went and I was going; I shall go and I shall be going.

English is marked by freedom from the narrow-minded pedantry which in most languages sacrifices the logic of facts to the logic of grammar or which makes people shy of saying and writing what are not strictly grammatical. This freedom from pedantry appears most clearly in number. Thus cabinet, government, clergy committee, family club, etc, are grammatically singular in number, but as a matter of hard fact they connote more than one person. Most languages can treat these words only as singulars, but in English they can take a singular verb when the idea of unity is predominant, as in “The present cabinet is better than the previous one”, on the other hand, they take a plural verb when the idea of plurality predominates as in “The cabinet were not unanimous in their rejection of the party’s directive. This freedom of choice is a great advantage, because it is conducive to clarity. In English the speakers are also at liberty to express as a singular what is grammatically a plural as in three years is but short” (Shakespeare), or ten minutes is heaps of time” (E.F. Benson).

A great many other phenomena in English show the same freedom from pedantry. The use of the passive voice, as in “This peculiar phenomenon was taken no notice of or of the prepositional combination or adverbs as adjectives, as in “an almost marriage” or “his out of the way humour illustrates this freedom. Such liberties with grammar cannot be taken in French where any deviation from the grammatical rules is severely condemned. This freedom from pedantry has done much to make English such a rich and elastic language as it is now.

This freedom from pedantry marks the vocabulary. English writers have always been free to choose from anywhere those words which suited their literary purpose. In order words, the purpose of English authors has determined the choice of words and not the words the purpose, as in France and Italy. No academy as in France and Italy has been allowed to chain down the liberty of English writers. The result is that English dictionaries comprise a larger number of words than those of any other nation. Now as men who move in wider circles of the world command a greater number of words than women who move in narrower circles, so this richness of the English language is a sign of its masculinity.

To sum up in the words of Jespersen,

“The English language is a methodical, energetic, business-like and sober language, that does not care much for finery and elegance, but does care for logical consistency and is opposed to any attempt to narrow-in life by police regulations and strict rules either of grammar or of lexicon”

Leave a Comment