We like to think of English as an entirely unique language with its own rules and structures. While, yes, it has turned somewhat into a language that boasts certain achievements that other languages haven’t managed to muster, such as; being the only global language, being the official language of the internet and of course, thanks to Hollywood, being the number one language for blockbuster films which reach as far as Timbuktu (which isn’t actually that far off from anywhere, considering that it is pretty much in the center of The Globe).
Hollywood and Timbuktu aside though, English is a language born from the remains of many other languages, kind of like the Phoenix of the language world. While some of its descendants still remain, languages such as Spanish, Greek and the very generous French language which gave us words we were too lazy to change like; Reservoir, Cul-de-sac, genre and one you may have seen this morning; omelette. Other languages have turned to dust to allow the English Phoenix to rise, these are Latin, Celtic, Old-Norse, Germanic, one called Old-Frisian (which may have fallen away everywhere else except for a little city in the North of The Netherlands called Friesland) and of course we can’t forget Anglo-Saxon (also known as Old-English) which was brought to England by the aptly named Angles and Saxons (and the Jutes, but their contribution seemed unfitting for the title).
These languages developed out of what is known as Indo-European which, as you may guess from the name, originated in Europe. Not to confuse you but Indo-European has since been linked to Indo-Iranian which is estimated to have started around 2000BC somewhere around Iran and India. Further back than that we will not go for today as we will lose the focus on what we started with, English.
So why does English appear to be so confusing? Well this may be due to the fact that so many of its words and rules have just been adapted from other languages. To try and better understand, let’s have a look at a few words and just why they are the way they are;
Caravan: قيروان qaīrawān, convoy of travelers journeying together. (Arabic)
Sofa: صفّة soffa, a low platform. (Arabic)
Springbok: This literally translates to “jumping antelope”: The National Animal of South Africa. (Afrikaans)
Olive: Started out as “elaia” in Greek and then evolved into the Latin “oliva”
Table Mountain: Taboa da caba (“table of the cape”) by Portuguese explorer Antonio de Saldanha.
Cape Town: The Dutch knew it as Kaapkolonie (The Cape Colony) and it may have been referred to as Kaapstadt which translates literally to Cape Town.
There are many other words and many more reasons for why English confuses us so much but next time you get frustrated with the spelling of a word or what it means, remember it’s not the fault of the English language, but rather that of every other language that came before it.