If only everyone spoke English

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The Independent Online

It gives me great pleasure to welcome back Dr Wordsmith, our roving language expert who makes it his mission to visit every pub in Britain at least once in his lifetime to check up on the state of the evolving language. He is back in the office to pick up some more beer money, so I have taken the opportunity of pouring him a large Guinness and sitting him down to answer some of your questions. Take it away, doc!

It gives me great pleasure to welcome back Dr Wordsmith, our roving language expert who makes it his mission to visit every pub in Britain at least once in his lifetime to check up on the state of the evolving language. He is back in the office to pick up some more beer money, so I have taken the opportunity of pouring him a large Guinness and sitting him down to answer some of your questions. Take it away, doc!

Dear Dr Wordsmith, You keep reading in the papers about languages dying out, and how there are some spoken only by three old men in the jungle, and when they die, it will be the death of another language. Do you have any thoughts on this sad state of affairs?

Dr Wordsmith writes: Yes, I certainly do. I see nothing sad about it at all. I am all in favour of the death of languages. There are far too many as it is. Can you imagine how an alien would react if he came here and discovered most of us couldn't communicate with each other? That when America invades Iraq or Afghanistan, it can't even talk to the people it's fighting? What we need is simplification, not diversity. How often do you find people fighting each other who speak the same language? Never. Eliminate all other languages except English, and you will eliminate war. Each time a language dies, I rejoice.

Dear Dr Wordsmith, Harsh words, surely? If you rejoice when a language dies, what makes you sad?

Dr Wordsmith writes: It saddens me when they revive a language. From time to time, misguided nationalists regret that the tongue of their forefathers has expired, and set about learning it again. I believe that happened to Hebrew. I came across a young man recently who was trying to learn Manx. Manx! Why? To talk to other people who have revived Manx? We had it safely on the list of dead languages. We don't want it back on the living list again.

Dear Dr Wordsmith, Perhaps I could calm things down a little by drawing your attention to a new word which has come into English this week: the name of the planet they have discovered beyond Pluto. They have called it Sedna, after an Inuit deity. Do you have any thoughts on this?

Dr Wordsmith writes: After an Inuit deity, eh? And I thought it was just "Andes" written backwards. Well, it certainly carries on the pattern, as all other planets have been named after gods and goddesses, with one exception. What I cannot understand is the way we humans cheapen the planets' names by using them for such ignoble purposes. Why do we turn Mars into a chocolate bar? Why did Walt Disney choose the name of the king of the underworld, Pluto, for a daffy dog? Beats me.

Dear Dr Wordsmith, What is the exception? Which planet is not named after a deity?

Dr Wordsmith writes: Earth. Next, please!

Dear Dr Wordsmith, I heard someone writing to Feedback on Radio 4 the other day, complaining that weather forecasters didn't pronounce "mild" properly any more, but said "mahld" instead. Does that sort of thing bother you?

Dr Wordsmith writes: Yes, it bothers me very much when people write to 'Feedback' with such loony complaints. There is no proper pronunciation of "mild". It is pronounced differently in different parts of the country. Down in the West, you can hear it pronounced "moild", and in Wales you can hear clearly that it is not one but two syllables. What we say is "mah-yuld". Say it to yourself slowly, and you will hear there is no way you can say it as one syllable. Except maybe by saying "mahld". Which is probably why they are doing it. But people who object to such changes are talking a load of zapateros.

Dear Dr Wordsmith, A load of what?

Dr Wordsmith writes: A load of cobblers. "Zapatero" is the Spanish word for "cobbler". Don't say you never learn anything from this column.

Dr Wordsmith will be back again soon. Keep those queries rolling in!

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