Defined: Tweet

The word tweet has been added by the esteemed Oxford English Dictionary in its June update. The OED now officially recognises the word both as a noun (as a post on Twitter) and a verb (as the act of posting to the social-media site). The word joins others such as flash mob, fiscal cliff, dad dancing and many more. As you probably should know, Google has already been added to the list.

The main significance of a word being added to the OED, is that the OED is distinctively different from other dictionaries. It is the  definitive historical record of the English Language.The Oxford English Dictionary is one of the largest dictionaries in the world, and is the accepted authority on the evolution of the English Language. The second edition of the OED contains 20 volumes and tracks over 600,000 words that were used in the past 1000 years, providing more than 300 million quotations. The reason why the dictionary is so detailed, is that it was made to be detailed. For 68 years, linguists, philologists and scholars alike had toiled to create the first edition of the OED. It was 12-volumes long. The origins of the awesome dictionary stems from a study made by Richard Chenevix Trench On Some Deficiencies in our English Dictionaries. The problems were:

  • Incomplete coverage of obsolete words
  • Inconsistent coverage of families of related words
  • Incorrect dates for earliest use of words
  • History of obsolete senses of words often omitted
  • Inadequate distinction among synonyms
  • Insufficient use of good illustrative quotations
  • Space wasted on inappropriate or redundant content.

The study was completed in November 1857 and listed quite a few prevailing problems in that time. I wouldn’t say that the OED has solved all of the problems and nuisances, but it was a great step forward. The OED goes to show that languages are never set in stone. They change and evolve as they move through different times and different places. From mouth to ear, and ear to mouth, the English language has travelled far and wide. For example, in 1865, a computer was someone who computed your taxes. Now, a computer is a general purpose device that can be programmed to carry out a finite set of arithmetic or logical problems. I don’t have access to the OED (pay up, please), and thus this is not the exact definition. But you get something like that.

Now about 1.8 billion people speak English, but non-native speakers now outnumber the natives three to one. Different slangs have been developed, for example, Hinglish which is Hindi English, Singlish in Singapore, Chinglish in parts of China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Sometimes we wonder, is there anything remotely English about the English Language? Whose language is it anyway? Ever since the Anglo-Saxons invaded Britain, English has shown the absolutely remarkable and unique ability to absorb, evolve, invade, and of course, steal. All on its own, it has stolen (read: adapted) words from over 350 languages and established itself as the lingua franca of many parts of the world.

This is despite the fact that the written alphabet has no relation to how it sounds. When we write in normal spelling, we are using letters to convey sounds we use while speaking. In English this relationship is only ever a rough guide to pronunciation, and it is certainly not reliable. However, one of the successes of the English spelling system is that it is flexible and strong to be communicable across different variations of English. However, it is difficult to learn, as a few websites has shown. (for more details about English spelling and pronunciation, see the links at the bottom of the article.)

In conclusion, the English language has got so little to do with England in recent years while it has earned it’s accolade of being a global language. Even if it has official status in more than 53 countries, it still has no regulating body (the OED is not a regulating body) and a severely antiquated 400 year old of writing and speaking. However, I doubt that reform will happen very soon. The ‘international’ status of the language might be the very condition that prevents reforms on a large scale. For example, English is spoken and written very differently in countries ranging from the United States to India. When deciding on a sole regulating body, and a model to base English on, the motives and intentions of all the countries involved can be a barrier to reform. Until then, English is still a language of the world. If you can read this, be proud that you are part of the 1.8 billion people worldwide. And counting.

As always, thanks for reading.

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Disclaimer: I do not support or object English language reform in any way


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