What is this thing called language?

My favourite book on the subject is “Loom of Language” by Bodmer. It was long out of print, but has since reappeared in paperback and is readily available. Bodmer says, (and I paraphrase) “Don’t waste your time learning one European language, learn them all!” Having said that, he distinguishes between the two main language groups, Teutonic (Germanic) and Romance (Latin). Then, from a closer study, it becomes very evident that there are only two languages here and that Swedish, German, Dutch, Afrikaans, English and the other members of the Teutonic group are actually just one language, as are French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and English, the Romance languages, also just one language. So there are only two “languages” to learn and you already know them – English and English! So what’s going on here?

Let’s take a look at some examples of Teutonic English


Some of the words become even more similar when we know how they are pronounced. For example V is often pronounced F and D is often pronounced T. Approximately 60 % of all English words are Teutonic, although only 40% of those in common usage fall in to this family.

Now lets take a look at some examples of Romance English


Now, although only 40% of English words are from the Romance family, 60% of the words in common usage fall into this family.

So, anyone who can speak English has an enormous advantage when learning the European languages. You very quickly get a feel for whether an English word is Teutonic or Romance and as English has two words (one Teutonic and one Romance) for just about everything it is relatively easy to make yourself understood in any of the above countries. I’ve written more about this here.





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