How language outsmarts its would-be masters, by the Economist's language columnist.
Language is a wild animal: rough, ambiguous, inconsistent in countless ways. But that just makes it all the more tempting to tame it. Many have tried, from sticklers for supposedly correct grammar to inventors of supposedly perfect languages; from software engineers working on machine translation to governments that see language management as politics by another means. But when you enter the lair of a wild beast, you can be lucky to escape with your wits.
Join Lane Greene on a journey of discovery into the deep strangeness of language. Learn why grammar rules can never capture the extraordinary variety of ordinary usage. See what happens when you try to design a language that really makes sense. Find out why, for all the talk of decline in English, no language in recorded history has ever gone to the dogs, or ever could. And learn the fate of those bold individuals who, through heroism or ignorance, ventured to teach their tongue some new tricks.
Lane Greene writes the Johnson column about language for The Economist. His book about the politics of language, You Are What You Speak: Grammar Grouches, Language Laws, and the Politics of Identity, was published by Delacorte Press in 2011.
Writing & Language
Language: reference & general