Queensland University of Technology
Dr. Glen Thomas
Lecture notes for KWB213: Corporate Writing & Editing 29/07/13: Week 2:
How Language Works.
Modern English can be a difficult language, even for native speakers. Unlike other languages (such as
Latin), it’s relatively language (About halfway through the 16 century), full of inconsistencies,
uncontrolled by a central authority (Unlike French) and difficult to learn as a second language (Unlike
say, Spanish or Japanese).
There are words that are spelt the same, but have different meanings depending on how it is
pronounced or said (The technical term being homograph). An example is the sentence “The
Bandage was wound around the wound”. There are words which are both verb and noun (Such as
post or book). There are inconsistent plurals (Louse to lice, mouse to mice, but houses are not hice).
There are rules that don’t apply, such as “I before e, except after C” despire neighbour and weight.
There are irregular verbs, such as drink, drank, drunk. Things like this make English a problematic
language. There have been many changes, theft/borrowing and adapting from other languages (Like
French) and English is very much a global, constantly changing language.
A brief history of English: In the fifth century AD, the Saxons arrived, and their language became Old
English, then in 1066, the Normans conquered England, speaking French. The two languages merged
into Middle English. This dichotomy between Saxon and Norman is why English often has two words
meaning pretty much the same thing. Our Old English words tend to resemble Germanic languages
(Modern German, maybe Dutch.) whereas our Norman words tend to sound like Latin or French.
English has not stopped stealing and appropriating our words. Consider the phrase “Check-Mate”
which is derived from the Persian “Shah-Mat” which means “The King is Dead”. Another example is
the word “Pyjama” which is derived from Hindi. We use words that have since lost their original
meanings i.e. a glove-box on a car was used for gloves, but now it’s no longer commonly used for
gloves. The origins of words can also be helpful so you can understand what they mean. The point of
all this is that all of our words have a long history and new words are often being invented.
Forming sentences does not come naturally, and sophisticated sentence structures, as well as syntax
don’t emerge until roughly age 5. However, if we take a group of words like “Dog, black, bark cat”,
then by the addition and rearrangement of words, we can create a sentence that makes sense. This
means that grammar is intuitive words.
English is, at its most basic, made of action words and names of things.
The main parts of speech are nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions.
Nouns can be concrete and abstract. They are the names of people, places