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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 80.djvu/162

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

SOME INTERESTING CHARACTERISTICS OF THE MODERN ENGLISH LANGUAGE
By ALEXANDER FRANCIS CHAMBERLAIN, Ph.D.

PROFESSOR OF ANTHROPOLOGY, CLARK UNIVERSITY, WORCESTER, MASS.

MODERN English possesses not a few characteristics of great interest from a psychological as well as from a merely philological point of view. This is especially true, if one considers the possible culmination of our mother-tongue as the world-language. For some of these traits are the very ones which seem fitted to enable English to survive in that role. They are matters connected with flexibility; correspondence with thought instead of subordination of it to grammatical categories and merely formal canons; power over words unknown to other tongues, where freedom in accepting foreign terms and liberty to "reduce" unnecessarily cumbersome expressions are often unhappily much restricted; absence of fear of hybrids and certain other misgivings of the "purists" and pedants. Altogether, English is a living language, master over both grammar and dictionary, and exceedingly skilful in its use of this sovereignty. But a few of these important qualities of modern English can be considered here.

1. Foreign Words.—The free adoption of foreign terms of all kinds is one of the most striking evidences of the real vitality and essential cosmopolitanism of modern English. Its vocabulary always has "the open door." It admits on the same conditions a word from Ojibwa or from Greek; one from Latin or from Polynesian. If the right word turns up at the right time, there is no Academy to pass judgment upon it, grammatically or lexicographically. The sole authority to welcome or to reject is the genius of the language itself. Tammany and telephone, taboo and aeroplane, all come into our common speech with equal rights to citizenship. English is thus dependent upon no one language, or even set of languages, for the accretion of its vocabulary. It can pick and choose wherever it will; no linguistic market is ever closed to its traffic. No one language, however polished, however important in the past history of the world, however highly esteemed by educators or approved by men of science, can assume the rôle of dictator here. The balancing of its draughts upon the classic languages with those upon insignificant or unknown barbarian tongues and dialects is a marked feature of the mother-tongue. English lets the psychological moment dominate; the needs of the time outweigh the prohibitions and the circumscriptions of the pedant. Thus Greek gave us ostracise, but not