Four Languages
• A Swiss guy visiting Sydney, Australia, pulls up at a bus
stop where two locals are waiting. "Entschuldigung,
koennen Sie Deutsch sprechen?" he asks.
The two Aussies just stare at him.
"Excusez-moi, parlez vous Francais?" he tries.
The two continue to stare.
"Parlare Italiano?"
No response.
"Hablan ustedes Espanol?"
Still nothing.
The Swiss guy drives off, extremely disgusted. The first
Aussie turns to the second and says, "Y'know, maybe
we should learn a foreign language."
"Why?" says the other. "That guy knew four languages,
and it didn't do him any good."
Polyglot animals
• A mother mouse and a baby mouse are
walking along, when all of a sudden, a
cat attacks them.
• The mother mouse goes, "BARK!" and
the cat runs away.
• "See?" says the mother mouse to her
baby. "Now do you see why it's
important to learn a foreign language?"
“Language is the dress of
century lexicographer
Samuel Johnson:
“The sayable defines and
organises the thinkable”
• Emil Benveniste, French
linguist (1902 – 1976)
“He gave men speech, and
speech created thought.”
Percy Shelly the 19th century
“Thought is no more identical
with language than feeling is
identical with the nervous
system.” Lecture in London on
‘Thought and Language”
Samuel Butler, writer satirist
“If thought corrupts language,
language can also corrupt
George Orwell 20th century
novelist and essay writer
“ The words of the language, as
they are written or spoken, do not
seem to play any role in my
mechanism of thought.”
Einstein, 1945
“Language is the light of the
John Stuart Mill, writer
philosopher (1806-1873)
“If we clearly consider what our intention is
when we speak, we shall find that it is nothing
else but to unfold to others the thoughts of our
own mind.” And “Since language is as
necessary an instrument of our thought as a
horse is of a knight, and since the best horses
are suited to the best knights, … the best
language will be suited to the best thoughts.”
Dante, c. 1304, De vulgari eloquentia (trans.
A.G. Ferrers Howell)
The language a person speaks
determines the way that a person
Language organises our experience
of the world
Edward Sapir, linguist in
Encyclopedia of the Social
Sciences: Language
“Language … makes progress
possible.” Language Thought and
Action Ch 1
S. I. Hayakawa, psychologist,
semanticist, teacher
“ Language, the most valuable
single possession of the human
C. F. Hockett, in A Course in
Modern Linguistics. 1958 Ch. 1
“Man does not live on bread
alone: his other necessity is
Ibid Ch. 64
“Language is a great force of
socialization, probably the
greatest that exists.”
Edward Sapir, linguist in
Encyclopedia of the Social
Sciences: Language
“It is only by language that we
rise above them [the lower
animals] – by language, which is
the parent, not the child, of
Oscar Wilde, 1891
Without language, we could hardly
have created the human world we
know. Our development, of
everything from music to warfare,
could never have come about in the
absence of language.”
R. L. Trask 1999 Language the
Basics Ch 1
“Man invented language to
satisfy his deep need to
Lily Tomlin, quoted in Steven
Pinker, The Language Instinct
“Knowledge of a language enables
you to combine words to form
phrases, and phrases to form
sentences... Knowing a language
means being able to produce new
sentences never spoken before and to
understand sentences never heard
V. Fromkin and R. Rodman 1974 in An
Introduction to Language. Ch 1
‘impeccably well formed
[language] is typical of casual
spontaneous speech (including
that of children)’
Halliday, 1985, Dimensions of
discourse analysis:grammar, p. 35
All surface language depends on a
subconscious framework of
“abstract language universals”
Noam Chomsky, American linguist
Chomsky als assumes that actual language is ‘degenerate’
and deviates from these subconscious rules of grammar.
“The language instinct”
Influential book published by
linguist Steven Pinker (1994)
“No two languages are ever sufficiently
similar to be considered as representing
the same social reality. The worlds in
which different cultures live are distinct
worlds, not merely the same world with
different labels attached.”
• B. L. Whorf, American linguist
On the relationship between
language and national character:
‘No greater harm can be done to a
nation than taking away its national
character and the idiosyncrasies of its
language’ (Immanuel Kant, over 200
years ago)
Liking or loving
piacere or amare
“…we don’t use language
according to strict rules – it
hasn’t been taught us by means
of strict rules, either.”
20th century Philosopher
Wittgenstein, 1933 in The Blue
Book 1965
“What I have most at heart is that some
method should be thought on for
ascertaining and fixing our language for
ever, after such alterations are made in it
as shall be thought requisite. For I am of
opinion, it is better a language should not
be wholly perfect, than that it should be
perpetually changing.”
Swift, 1712
“May the lexicographer be derided who
shall imagine that his dictionary can
embalm his language… With this hope,
however, academies have been instituted
to guard the avenues of their
languages…but their vigilance and
activity have hitherto been vain…to
enchain syllables, and to lash the wind,
are equally the undertakings of pride.”
Samuel Johnson English author, critic, &
lexicographer, (1709 – 1784)
“The richness of the English
vocabulary, and the wealth of
available synonyms, means that
English speakers can often draw
shades of distinction unavailable
to non-English speakers.”
. Bill Bryson, 1992 Mother
Tongue page 3
“One cannot but be impressed by
the hospitality of the English
Robert Burchfield, Linguist in
The English Language 1985
The English language is like a fleet
of juggernaut trucks that goes on
regardless. No form of linguistic
engineering and no amount of
linguistic legislation will prevent the
cycles of change that lie ahead.
“Every quotation contributes
something to the stability or
enlargement of the language”
Samuel Johnson, English author,
critic, & lexicographer (1709 1784)
Which English?
Americans spell words differently,
but still call it Enlgish.
Brits pronounce their words
differently, but still call it English.
Canadians spell like the Brits and
pronounce like Americans.
Aussies add ‘G’day’ ‘mate’ and a
heavy accent to everything they say.
GB vs US
• Have you eaten?
• Have you ever seen
Harry Potter and the
Philisopher’s Stone?
• You’ve already told me.
• Have they come home
• I’d been watching the
film for 20 minutes
before I realised I’d
already seen it.
• Did you eat?
• Did you ever see Harry
Potter and the
Sorecerer’s Stone?
• You already told me
• Did they come home
• I watched the film for
20 minutes before I
realised I already saw
An American in England
• An American visiting in England asked at the hotel
for the elevator.
• The portiere looked a bit confused but smiled when
he realized what the man wanted.
• "You must mean the lift," he said.
• "No," the American responded. "If I ask for the
elevator I mean the elevator."
• "Well," the portiere answered, "over here we call
them lifts".
• "Now you listen", the American said rather
irritated, "someone in America invented the
• "Oh, right you are sir," the portiere said in a polite
tone, "but someone here in England invented the

Language is the dress of thought” 18th century