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"Emigrate" and "Immigrate": is English Insane?

By Edited Jun 14, 2014 0 0

Why does this have to be so friggin' illogical?

While many of you Brits wheeze and chortle about how we Yanks, (residents of the USA), mutilate “your” language, you fail to notice that this language is a chaotic, irrational mess.

How so? Well, first of all English obviously lacks the ability to spell phonetically, like any rational language should. Secondly it is filled with obscure, bizarre grammatical rules. For example, a grammatical purist would insist on replacing the “like” in the phrase “like any rational language should” with “as”. Why? After years of training from Madison Avenue marketing boys, I can’t possibly imagine saying, “Winston tastes good as a cigarette should.” That just sounds weird!

(A brief aside here: Winston always reminds me of Winston Churchill, who was most certainly the greatest political leader of the twentieth century. If he had overseen the American military instead of the sickly FDR, I think the world would have been a happier place.)

But the specific example I would like to point out here is the unnecessary confusion between two words, “emigrate” and “immigrate”.

A quick comparison of these words shows that emigrate means “to leave”, as in, “I emigrated from England because I wanted to experience sunshine.” Immigrate means “to arrive”, as in, “I immigrated to Spain, and now spend most of my days inside, so I don’t get a sunburn.”

Okay, I guess that makes some sense, but for goodness sakes WHY are both words pronounced the same? At least I pronounce them the same, but then I speak “American English” and pronounce “been” like “Ben”, not “bean”. (I don’t pronounce “ask” like (or should I say “as”?), “axe” yet, but I’m working on it!) And WHY, since they sound the same, does emigrate have one solitary “m”, while immigrate luxuriates with two?

Don’t even get me started on the pronunciation of “ough”! The wonderful Dr. Seuss wrote a great article, “The Tough Coughs as He Ploughs the Dough”, (padded with some other early writings into an interesting book), on the various idiocies of this particular combination of letters. And according to Wikipedia, it is even more convoluted in “The Queen’s English” than the more simplified version of the language we Americans speak.

But is any human language rational? I don’t know. I don’t really know any other language, other than enough Spanish to know it too has its own issues. I suppose that the world just isn’t a rational place, and so any language that functions in this world must by necessity be at least a little bit irrational. Maybe this is just another application of “Godel’s Incompleteness“? Try as we may, we just can’t cram all of human experience into a consistent set of rules.

But if someone ever comes up with a consistently logical language someday, (doubtful), and some nation adopts it, (even more doubtful), and I am capable of learning it, (extremely doubtful), then I will emigrate from wherever I am and immigrate to that promised land.




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