babel blog


Doing Engrish Fun Good!
August 3, 2008, 11:34 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The Onion recently made an amusing broadcast about some fundamental changes to English grammar: Rules grammar change!

I find that the most interesting thing about such examples of mixed-up English is that they are fairly readily comprehensible despite some quite serious violations of expected word-order. I suppose it’s because, for less complex sentence structures in English, we also get lots of grammatical information from inflectional morophology rather than word-order. Often in deliberately mixed-up examples of speech, people tend to vary the position of the words which carry meaningful content but stick to the typical position rules for words which have grammatical content – e.g. keeping determiners next to nouns and tense inflections attached to verbs.

When people lose grammatical ability due to brain-injury (called agrammatism) they usually produce simple sentences with typical word-order but minus critical grammatical function words/inflections. More complex structures (e.g. passives) which depend upon word-order for interpretation are often entirely absent from spoken language and not likely to be understood correctly either.

Pathology aside, many people appreciate the amusing effects of not-quite-right English. Engrish.com is dedicated to that variety of English which pops up in Japanese adverts or design:

There’s quite a good FAQ section on there which explains the term Engrish and argues that the function of English in this context is often more about design than communication. I don’t know much about Japanese culture so I’m not sure to what extent this is true. There are equivalent sites which show misuse of kanji/hanzi in English designs and tattoos.

Finally, there’s a nice little essay here in wired magazine which points out that Engrish/Chinglish are varieties of language in their own right and probably represent the future of the English language.

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