A Way with Words …

 Prehistory … 

In prehistoric times, there would have been only speech and no writing or reading.  Speech itself would have been very basic, probably starting with only vague grunt-like sounds, accompanied by much gesturing and waving of hands to help indicate the intention of the speaker.  Eventually, these grunts and sounds would have evolved into specific sounds I’ll refer to as proto-words, which were known and understood by all members of a common family, clan, tribe, village or population.  With inter-mixing of one tribe with another through contact during hunting and traveling in general because most populations would have been nomadic, following the animals and plants as the seasons cycled, these proto-words would have become understood and used by increasingly larger populations.  These early ‘words’ would have been restricted to those related to essential activities for living – food, water, hunting, gathering, fighting, sex, shelter, protection, rest and key aspects of weather and climate.


As civilisations developed, so living became more complex, necessarily requiring more spoken words.  But populations were relatively small and scattered, so each group developed their own spoken language and were basically unaware of spoken languages which were not their own.  Eventually, as complexity of life continued to increase, the need for recording names, items, ownership, events and occurrences developed, so past history could be used to inform and educate people for the future.  As there were so many different spoken languages, there arose many different written languages, each with its own writing characters or symbols, its own spellings, its own rules and its own customs and traditions.

At times, certain languages became dominant and were spread widely, perhaps the best example being Latin, the language that the Roman conquests imposed on conquered nations.  It was for a time the official language in what is now called the United Kingdom (UK), but was only learnt by the privileged educated minority, while the general population used Gaelic or Old English.  Again, for a time, French was the language used by the educated class of people in control of the UK after the Normans invaded.  In fact, French for a considerable period, was the preferred language for international trade, communication and diplomacy (hence the term ‘lingua franca’ used for such languages which go well beyond their original boundaries).


English now occupies the prime position as the modern ‘lingua franca’ in international communication.  This has arisen for various reasons:  English was widely spread throughout the world with the British colonial empire established in recent centuries, the widest-spread empire so far, and English, the language of the British Isles at that time, was thereby introduced world-wide.  Also, international navigation, most international scientific events and international trade arrangements have adopted English as the standard or preferred language.  The early introduction of computers and the so-called qwerty keyboards in nations whose normal language is English have also facilitated the dominance of English.  There are now more people who speak English as a second language from nations where English is not the native language than there are native English speakers in the world, and use of English is expanding fast.

The future

English, like most native languages, has many faults and inconsistencies which take much time for school children and non-English speaking adults to learn all its rules and all its exceptions.  Major faults are its:  44 sounds with only 26 letters to accommodate them, inconsistent and non-phonetic spelling, irregularity of grammar rules especially for verbs and vast numbers of exceptions to the rules.  This is partly because English has gained words and grammar from many foreign languages over the centuries, including Gaelic, Old German, Old English, Scandinavian languages, Latin, Greek and French.  All these faults mean that learners have to spend a long time learning the rules and then learning all the exceptions to the rules by heart.  My book ‘Nu-English’ offers realistic suggestions to overcome most of the faults, thereby reducing the time to learn the language, all without having to introduce non-English letters or diacritical marks.  This improved ‘Nu’ English will make it even more attractive as the global language for the future and expand it use accordingly.  Similar changes could be applied to several other languages, including French and German, making them easier to learn also.