Tag Archives: English

What the World Will Speak in 2115 – WSJ

Two thousand years ago, English was the unwritten tongue of Iron Age tribes in Denmark.

via What the World Will Speak in 2115 – WSJ.

One of the English B topics we do is language diversity. The book we use has several articles arguing that English may or may not retain its crown as, more or less, a global language. Mandarin is often touted as a possible successor, but I remain sceptical because China has none of the cultural clout globally that America does. At most, Mandarin may become a lingua franca among nations with less reputable regimes which are nominally cosy with China.

However, I’m less interested in this particular debate than I am in what Dr McWhorter has written in his article for the Wall Street Journal. Let’s start with my lead above.

Two thousand years ago, English was the unwritten tongue of Iron Age tribes in Denmark.

Two thousand years ago, Germanic was a Sprachbund (which to all intents and purposes is pretty much any language with a minimal amount of dialectal variation). When the Anglo-Saxons arrived in Britain in AD455, they were still speaking dialects of West Germ­anic, and wouldn’t be speaking Old English until sometime in the 7th century at the very earliest. Even then, the Anglo-Saxons could still have returned to the mainland Europe and have conversed with their continental cousins. St Boniface was the West Saxon who took Christianity to the German parts of the Frankish Empire in the middle of the 8th century (wikipedia).

Old English bristled with three genders, five cases and the same sort of complex grammar that makes modern German so difficult for us, but after the Vikings, it morphed into modern English, one of the few languages in Europe that doesn’t assign gender to inanimate objects.

Five noun cases? Try four; and in the masculine and neuter, the nom­in­at­ive and accusative had merged. And if German has such a complex grammar, how on Earth do the Germans manage to acquire it at all? What about the Lithuanians, who have twice as many noun cases, or the Finns who have about four times as many? How do the Hungarians and Turks cope with all that agglutination? What about all those languages with noun incorporation?

As for the Vikings, they did have a lexical impact on English (e.g., leg, egg, skirt, they, their, them, though), but changes to English grammar came from within the language. The inflectional system of English was dying throughout the Old English period. Unlike Old High German and Old Saxon, Old English had reduced the present plural endings of the verb to -aþ, which was, in origin, the 3rd per­s­on ending.

The same applies to the effect of French on English. The lexicon may have been irrevocably altered, but the morphology and gram­mar of the language remained native. Whatever the source of continuous verb forms in Modern English (a feature which is not shared by any other continental European language), it cannot be Old Norse or Old French.1

Mandarin, Persian, Indonesian and other languages went through similar processes and are therefore much less “cluttered” than a normal language is.

A “normal language”? Does this mean that Mandarin, Persian, and Indonesian are all abnormal?

Even if much of the article is sound, it is statements such as these which undermine any pretension which McWhorter might have to academic rigour or merit.

Notes

1. Icelandic also has continuous verb forms, and such constructions can also be found in Italian, but have a much more limited scope. One possible areal feature of European origin in British English is the range of the perfect, which is wider than it is in American.

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Well, Herr Hirschmann, was talken Sie about?

Those old neologisms in full.

cpo has just released Telemann, Grand Concertos for Mixed Instruments Vol. 1 performed by La Stagione Frankfurt. It came with a complete pdf booklet, which is fairly remarkable because most of my cpo albums have never come with any additional information (the cpo website does fill in some of the missing details, though). This booklet is a strangely large file, weighing in at 62Mb for a mere sixteen pages.

As I said above, the cpo website includes some information about each album. The translations from German to English appear to have been done by machine, perhaps with some post-production editing. The English is often a little odd – grammatical, but with German styling.

The few pdf booklets I have for cpo albums also employ the same slightly pompous, bombastic style, but the quality of the translations appears to be better. However, in the booklet which came with Grand Concertos, we have

Along with the motoric ‘perpetuum mobile’ of the Presto the pendulum again swings toward Italy.

I looked at “motoric” and wondered whether this was some adjective with which I was unfamiliar. My Concise OED didn’t have it, and looking up the German motorisch on line left me no more enlightened. However, according to the OED on my Kindle, the word is usually spelt “motorik”, which is used in music to mean “marked by a repetitive beat suggestive of mechanized action or movement”.

The other adjective of which Herr Hirschmann seems fond, “motivic”, was also new to me, but the meaning was immediately transparent.

The end of the hols

And not a golden sunset in sight.

Final day of the holidays, more or less. Our start-of-term conference begins tomorrow with an extra day for us lucky English teachers. Actually, there are one or two parts of that which will be useful since we’ll be dealing directly with SATs for the first time.

I’m hoping that this year’s AS classes will be less painful than last year’s, and not just because we’ll be focusing on TOEFL, which they supposedly want to do. Honestly, I wish we could get away from any IELTS or TOEFL preparation classes until, say, a month before the actual exam. As I mentioned a few posts ago, I ran into three of my students in 远东百贸, who were off to TOEFL classes that afternoon; and they’ll be putting up with me for double periods nearly every day of the week doing the same.

I’ve been wondering again whether out little darlings think of school as where they do their IGCSE, AS, and A-level subjects, and English First or New Oriental as where they do English. Thus, we’re the elephant in the room which they wish would go away, at least after their PAL year.

But though I’m hoping that this year’s AS classes will be better than last year’s, I think I will put my name forward to switch to the IB programme when the call goes out in January. I’m fed up with the absence of any intellectual content for one thing, and not counting at AS and A2 level for another.

Summer continues to wind down. More cloudy today, but the thin stuff through which it’s possible to see the disc of the sun searing overhead. Feels a little cooler, but the humidity level remains defiantly high. I tried to air out the flat again yesterday, which was successful to a point, but I find that 70% humidity in my bedroom means 70% humidity outside and is not just a micro-climate figure.

Where did the summer go and why couldn’t the holidays be much, much longer? I know where I’m going – to buy lunch –, and the only way I can get longer at my age is sideways. Ugh. See you later.

Me: Let’s do TOEFL.

Class: Ugh!

When I went into 远东百贸 to buy some honey, I ran into three of my students, who revealed that they were off to TOEFL class. It’s bad enough that they’re doing this during the holidays, but it also means that when we have class, I’m rehashing what they’ve already done elsewhere, which is when they start ignoring me.

Probably they think of school as the place where they do their AS- and A-level subjects and New Oriental or English First as the place where they do English. Probably my classes are regarded as a little pointless even although the intentions of the programme are good.

I know that EFL is about linguistic competence rather than academic ability, but the longer I do this, the more I wish that the focus was on English as an academic subject. Of course, I know that that’s not going to happen for a very good reason: the results of an academically oriented English exam would be almost entirely abysmal. That’d mostly be a consequence of English being a foreign language, but it’d also be a consequence of English not being a robot subject like maths or physics. By doing English as an academic subject, students might get a better perspective of their own academic abilities because all but the most unutterable dunces can still get As in maths and physics. All that tells me is that they’re very good robots, but it’s in English where the wheat gets sorted from the chaff.

Anyway, I see that the big and little hands are on no numbers in particular, which means it must be time to, er, do something.

English as she is wrote

Who listens to whom?

I note the following rather odd phrase from a BBC Radio 7 web page:

Sorry, this programme is not available to listen again.

Now as I understand the phrase, “programme” is the subject of “listen”. Wouldn’t it be better to say “It is not possible to listen to this programme again”?

The phraseology is odd to me, but seems reminiscent of the Old English hæteþ gretan “orders [sc. someone] to greet” where we would use a passive infinitive in the modern language.

(Cross-posted from Green Bamboo LJ.)

When I was in the shower

I got thinking about stress-timing, again.

Mark Liberman has been discussing stress timing and syllable timing following some comment made about the speech pattern of some American politician of Italian decent (Stress timing? Not so much; see the article for older links to the story). Investigating this further, Liberman seems to come to much the same conclusion that I vaguely recall Elizabeth Couper-Kuhlen1 came to in her second (?) book: stress timing in English is a rather approximate notion at best.

The idea is that languages tend to fall somewhere a long a continuum between stress-timed (stresses at equal intervals) and syllable-timed (syllables at equal intervals). I don’t know whether there’s any correlation between the mode of stress assignment and the nature of the language. For example, are syllable-timed languages more likely to have quantity sensitive stress assignment or quantity insensitive stress assignment; or is there no observable tendency here. English, which has quantity sensitive stress assignment, is generally regarded as the epitome of a stress-timed language. Apart from the usual sorts of stress patterns, I’m not sure whether there’s much going on in the phonology of English where LL = H2 means anything. In other words, on the surface such a pattern, which might be regarded as a typical marker of a syllable-timed language, is insignificant in English.3

As I’ve probably said here before, a syllable is perceived as stressed in English because of a number of features. One of those features is relative prominence. One of the reasons why we perceive a syllable is stressed may be because some adjacent syllable has a lesser degree of stress (right down to being unstressed). The former is relatively more prominent than the latter. Adjacency is also important because a stressed syllable doesn’t become more prominent when a whole string of unstressed syllables follow. One is enough.

But although the notion that stressed syllables come at roughly equal intervals seems all well and good, I have thought in the past that even unstressed syllables have duration. When you think about it, it kind of implies that in two strings of syllables such as áxáxáx and áxxxáxxáxxxx, the unstressed syllables of the latter are spoken faster than those of the former to maintain that whole notion of equal intervals between the stressed syllables. Speakers of Chinese may have problems distinguishing (unstressed4) shwa from ø, but shwa isn’t without duration.

Another matter to consider is the structure of English words and how stress is a assigned.5 I don’t know whether it’s possible to find a non-derived word in English where the syllable bearing primary stress is preceded by four syllables to the start of the word, and the initial syllable is stressed as well (i.e., àxxx[á]x or àxxx[áx]x). Thus, although English (and other so-called stress-timed languages) may not quite satisfy the standard definition of stress timing when we study the issue more closely, stressed syllables are going to occur relatively regularly in an utterance.

Actually, I think it’d be more interesting to study this phenomenon in Russian, which has morphologically determined stress. As far as I’m aware, Russian lacks secondary stress which, being phonemic in English, must contribute to how speakers perceive rhythm in English. Yet Russian is, unless my information is antiquated, usually listed under the heading Stress-timed Languages.

Notes.

  1. WTF?! A search via the Google toolbar for her in Firefox got me redirected to Baidu, although a search via the Google website produced the expected results. Ditto a search for Harry van der Hulst.
  2. L = light syllable; H = heavy syllable.
  3. “Currently not significant” may be nearer the mark. Old English poetry points to a mid point between the two camps. One aspect of verse is LL or LH = H; yet certain parts of the verse allowed for an indeterminate number of unstressed syllables. This sort of pattern isn’t subsequently found in English until the 16th century when Sidney and others tried to write syllabic verses after the pattern of Greek and Latin poetry. My PhD supervisor, Chris McCully, wrote an article about this which, I think, was published in the Journal of Linguistics back in the mid 90s. Nonetheless, English verse has shown no true interest in LL = H in a very, very long time.
  4. In fact, Chinese does have shwa, but it’s always stressed. In English, shwa + sonorant is always reduced to a syllabic consonant, hence Chinese /ən/ sounds very different from it’s English counterpart (e.g. the second syllable of “sudden”).
  5. In nouns: stress the penultimate syllable if it’s heavy, otherwise the antepenultimate; in verbs, the final syllable if it’s heavy, otherwise the penultimate. I think Harry van der Hulst proposed that the language then has rhythmical left-to-right secondary stress. But without really long words, it’s hard to confirm this. From the history of stress assignment in English, I think van der Hulst is right. I believe that this pattern of secondary stress has its origins in the assignment of primary stress in Old English.

A Brief History of the English Language

An antidote to ignorance.
I was searching through Spaces [the now defunct Microsoft blog host –JH] before for “Old English” out of curiosity. Of course, I forgot about things like “Old English sheep dog” and “the good old English weather”, but where the phrase was being used of the English language, it was being used with cringe-inducing inaccuracy. I felt it was my duty to be a source of enlightenment on the subject. [Oh, crap. Here we go again. –ed.]
 
English is typically divided into three periods – Old, Middle, and Modern. I would argue that contemporary English really belongs to the next stage in the history of the language and that what we now call the Modern English period is going to have to be renamed.
 
English is an Indo-European language belonging to the West Germanic branch of the Germanic sub-family.

Old English (449 – 1100)

Although the Old English period starts in AD 449 when Hengest and Horsa turned up in Britain as migrant workers looking for a job, Old English wasn’t a distinct language until some time after that. Even then, it was probably still mutually intelligible with the Continental Germanic languages for some time. There were several dialects of Old English, the most extensively recorded of which was West Saxon, although Modern English is the descendant of Anglian.

Phonology

Old English (specifically West Saxon) had seven vowels, long and short; and three diphthongs, long and short. There were roughly eighteen consonantal phonemes, not including long consonants which were also phonemic. Descriptions of OE consonantism in the usual handbooks don’t tend to make the observation that there was a lot of allophony (i.e., sounds that depend on the environment in which they occur, but don’t serve to distinguish one word from another). In some cases, one grapheme had to serve for more than one speech sound (e.g. g for both [g] and [j]).
Primary stress was assigned to the initial syllable of nouns and adjectives (excluding prefixes such as ge-) and the root of verbs (hence verbal prefixes were unstressed). Secondary stress was partly quantity sensitive and partly lexical.

Morphology

Old English was an inflected language. Nouns had four cases (nominative, accusative, genitive, dative) while adjectives and pronouns had an instrumental case in addition to these four. The verb was divided into two classes, strong and weak. Strong verbs showed vowel change in the past tense and past participle (e.g. drīfan “to drive”; drāf “drove (sg.)”; drifon “drove (pl.)”; “drifen (past part.)”), while weak verbs added –de/-don in the past tense, and –ed, –od in the past participle (e.g. fremman “to do”; fremede “did (sg.)”; fremedon “did (pl.)”; fremed “done (past part.)”). The verb also distinguished a subjunctive mood from the indicative, although it was limited to –e in the singular and –en in the plural.

Syntax

This is an aspect of Old English that is also in transition throughout the Old English period. The syntax of Old English is very similar to that of Modern German. Roughly speaking, constituent order in main clauses is SVO; in subordinate clauses SOV; and sentence-initial adverbs trigger subject-verb inversion. Verbs could still case mark dO nouns in cases other than the accusative, and the sense of a preposition might be clarified by the case that it took.

Lexicon

The lexicon of Old English is predominantly Germanic. There are a few words that entered West Germanic from Latin and other sources before the Anglo-Saxons arrived in Britain. During the Old English period, other words would have entered the language from Latin via the church, and some words from North Germanic were probably adopted during the Viking Period, although evidence for these usually doesn’t turn up until the Middle English period.

Middle English (1100 – 1500)

After the Norman Conquest, English disappeared for a time as a written language, but when it eventually re-emerged in the 12th century, it was still predominantly English. It is during the Middle English period that increasing numbers of words enter the language from French, although it’s not until the end of the Middle English period that the language starts to look vaguely recognisable to a modern audience. French culture also had a major impact on English literature.
No one form of Middle English was standard, hence there is a lot of information about the dialects of the language. By the end of the period, London English is becoming the standard form of the language.

Phonology

Because of the loss of inflectional endings, sounds which were previously allophonic became phonemic. For example, [v, ð, z] which had previously been restricted to a voiced environment came to stand in a word-final position (hence MnE noun-verb pairs such as proof ~ prove; bath ~ bathe; house ~ hou[z]e). The vowel system is similar to Modern Italian with a distinction between high mid and low mid vowels. Vowels still retain their Continental pronunciation. The diphthongs of Old English are lost and a new set of diphthongs arises.
The stress system of Middle English is more like that of the modern language with primary stress occurring at the right edge of words. This seems to be a reinterpretation of the native pattern rather than a departure from it because of the influence of Romance loan phonology.

Morphology

Middle English retained a range of inflectional morphemes, but there is further loss and merger. Nouns retain traces of some of the old inflectional endings, but the use of the -s ending as the plural and genitive of nouns in general increases. High frequency vocabulary resists this either successfully (e.g. man, woman) or unsuccessfully (e.g. lady). Various strong verbs are transferred to the weak class, although there is at least one instance of a French verb (strive) being assimilated to the strong verbs.

Syntax

The loss of inflectional endings has some effect on the syntax of English because word order becomes increasingly important as an indicator of the relationship among phrases in a sentence. Middle English tolerates a wider variety of structures than the modern language, and there are new structures (especially periphrastic forms of the verb) entering the language. The genitive inflection is still limited to the head of its phrase, hence the well-known phrase from Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde “King Priamus son of Troy” (i.e., “the son of King Priam of Troy”).

Lexicon

Large numbers of words enter English from French as the language of government, the law, and commerce. Numbers of Latin words also enter the language from this time on. Although English remains a Germanic language, the large number of French words entering the lexicon indelibly changes the look of the language. Many words from Old Norse appear at this time, but must already have been in spoken English. These words include “they, them, their; leg” and various others which belong to high frequency vocabulary.

Modern English (1500 – )

By the end of the Middle English period, London English has become established as the standard form of the language. The same forces that were at work during the Middle English period still affect the early modern language. The impact of the Renaissance results in a further increase in the number of words from French and Latin so that it was possible to discuss new ideas. There was also a general belief that English suffered from monosyllabism and needed to be enriched with polysyllabic words.
Although English is regarded as a poor cousin at the start of the period, it has risen to become a world language during that time. The British Empire has left a legacy of new forms of English around the world (American, Australian, New Zealand, South African, Indian etc.) and is, in many countries, an official language beside indigenous ones.

Phonology

The major change of the modern English period is the Great Vowel Shift. Roughly speaking, low and mid vowels were raised; high vowels were diphthongised. Vowels lost their old Continental values. The process was gradual and seems to have taken about three hundred years. Pope is still rhyming “tea” with “obey” in the early 18th century. A few words, such as “break”, “steak” and “great”, resisted the change. The period has seen no significant changes to the consonantism of English. One major distinction that comes from extensive borrowing is two levels of phonology, one for Latinate words and the other for native words.
Stress assignment follows the Latin pattern of penultimate if heavy, otherwise antepenultimate, but the application of this process is affected by word class. Verbs apply this to the final ~ penultimate syllable, but quantity remains the key factor.

Morphology

There is a further reduction in the morphology of English with endings such as the 2nd sg form of the verb (thou …est) being lost, and the old 3rd sg pres. -eth being displaced by -(e)s. A few verbs such as “hast, hath”, and “dost, doth” remain for a time. The inflectional endings of nouns are limited to -(e)s for both the genitive (sg. and pl.) and the plural. The genitive inflection ends up being attached to phrases rather than just the noun heading the phrase, thus making “King Priam of Troy’s son” grammatical. Borrowings from Latin and Greek led to the addition of some irregular plurals beside the usual inflections (e.g. formula, pl. formulae, formulas). The structure of the verb becomes more complex, hence “might have been being eaten” with slots for modal – perfect – passive and continuous forms.

Lexicon

The borrowing of words from other languages has continued throughout the period, but has decreased in quantity. These days, English is more likely to be a source of new lexical items in other languages. In contrast with the start of the Modern English period, English has no shortage of lexical resources at its disposal. Even then, it is not above borrowing new terms from other languages or even within its own store with borrowings between dialects.

Final note

Everything written above came straight off the top of my head. It’s no substitute for doing research in a library and gleaning information from a variety of well-researched and informed sources.

Dicky get your gun

Woke up this morning, got a boom-boom in your eye.

The story of Dick Cheney is certainly on a roll. First he shoots a friend. Then the guy turns out to be a lawyer and 78. Now he has a heart attack. When Ayatollah Dubya wants to sack White House legal advisers, he’ll just send them to Dick to “take care of them”.

The article in The Guardian notes

Hospital officials said they were not concerned about the six to 200 other pieces of birdshot that might still be lodged in his body.

Six to two hundred?? So 194 pieces of birdshot may or may not still be in there. It’s like saying the Earth’s between six to 93 million miles away from the sun.


Only if it means the opposite.

Meanwhile, The Guardian had this article about the global spread of English. It included this rather rash statement:

In China, 60% of primary school children learn English and more people in India and China speak the language fluently than anywhere else in the world.

I can’t speak for India, of course, but “fluent” is being generous about English as she is spoke in China. Modest to competent is about as good as most of them get, and our pupils will rarely use English once they leave school unless they’re going to study it at university. [I’d say most of the students in the main school never get beyond intermediate level. In recent interviews for the final few places in my current programme, one boy told us that he’d been learning English for nine years. Sounded like he’d been sitting in English class for nine years.]


It wasn’t like that in my day.

Meanwhile, the old guard here (i.e., those over the age of 95) have called for more openness in the Chinese media. I’m sure Nanny is having palpitations, and the Internet snoops are already busy deleting references to it in online. [It has been observed time and again that the Party boys shoot themselves in the foot over this matter because people don’t trust official sources of information, which leads to rumours, etc.]


It ain’t popular till they ban it.

The ban on Memoirs of a Geisha has made it even more popular. There’s a kind of irony about this because the makers won’t see any money from the sale of DVDs here; yet the ban has given the film which is, so I hear, not particularly good, a boost.

It’s this sort of thing which makes Nanny look mentally incompetent. If she stopped trying to ban this and that, no one would give a damn. But the moment she starts cracking the whip, suddenly you want a piece of the action. While I was in Hong Kong, I was tempted to buy Beijing Doll and Shanghai Baby which are banned on the mainland. [One or both of these are now openly available on the Mainland. I have since read Shanghai Baby. Can’t remember exactly what I thought about it, but don’t remember being impressed.]

Such books are described as spiritual pollution, which sounds rather religious in a country which is officially atheist.

[04.07.13. Edited formatting and added comments and tags.]

A spoonful of sugar

You know I’m good for it.

The name of the, er, medicine is 脑灵通 nǎo língtōng which seems to mean some­thing like “brain boost”. The safety signs are up at the entrances to the bike park; there’s a poster with a series of safety suggestions, including 注意安全; and then there are other posters on some of the columns. But I’m sure the manufacturers are sponsoring the posters out of concern for student safety.

25.06.13. The medicine in question was advertised in the bike park at the school. Outwardly it was a safety notice, but this stuff was almost certainly aimed at the Senior 3s. I can imagine the outrage at home if such stuff was advertised on school property.


In the building to the east of our entrance, another shop has just opened. But just to be different, this one’s selling sporting goods. All we need is a clothes shop, a branch of China Mobile, and an off licence, and we’ll have a complete set. Actually, on second thoughts, a complete set would also include a chemist’s shop (药店 yào diàn) of which there seem to be an excessive number in this town. And there the students can buy their brain boost medicine.


Meanwhile, from the Land of Literary Amusements, comes this site (via Language Log) where you can analyse the titles of books to see how likely they are to be best sellers. I threw in Perfect Blue (Satoshi Kon’s anime thriller) and got a 69.0% of the title being a best seller. OK, it’s not a novel, but half the fun of these sorts of programs is seeing what happens when you experiment.

Varney the Vampyre [sic], a 19th century penny dreadful, got a 45.6% rating. Sillier still, I entered a random string of letters, made up the rest, and ended up with a 59.4% chance of a best seller. You have to enter a title, but I don’t think it matters what you actually put.

As the background discussion notes, titles of best sellers don’t always score well. A Dream of Red Mansions got a mere 10.2%, but the Chinese title (Hong Lou Meng) got 69.0%. The settings you choose can have a major effect on the outcome since my first analysis of Hong Lou Meng only got a 31.7% chance of success.

One problem I have with the program is the grammatical categories. It appears that “grammatically complete phrase” really means a grammatically complete clause.

Anyway, my best seller isn’t writing itself.

I’ve been trying to say this all week

How weird is that?

I’ve been trying to write this entry all week, but getting nowhere.

Our starting point is whether English is a remotely normal language. Of course it’s a natural language because it has a body of native speakers and is successively acquired by new generations as part of a natural process of language acquisition. Conlangs, on the other hand, can only approximate to natural languages if that is the intention of their creators.

But how normal is English?

The idea of markedness comes from the Prague School. If there’s a binary opposition, then of a pair one is more preferred (unmarked) and one is less preferred (marked). Thus voiceless obstruents are unmarked compared with voiced obstruents. Some languages only have voiceless obstruents. On the other hand, voiced sonorants are unmarked. In fact, voiceless sonorants are much rarer than voiced obstruents.

If we look at what is marked or unmarked cross-linguistically, would English diverge more from the norm, less from the norm; or do languages not show a sufficient range to ever have more than their share of marked structures? English could well be more marked with respect to one part of its grammar than others. British English and related dialects have a low back rounded vowel in hot (marked) and a mid-low back unrounded vowel in hut (marked). Syntactically English is a VO language, but like the other Germanic languages we prefer [Adj N] to [N Adj] which is often found in other VO languages.

(It should be noted that these are observations about tendencies. Marked structures are found less frequently, but they’re there. There’s nothing to stop a VO language having OV features, perhaps because the language is in transition. Mind you, [Adj N] has been in English since forever and doesn’t appear to be going anywhere; but the moment the adjective takes a complement, it follows the noun [e.g. clothes ready to wear].)

Of course, there are also areal similarities in the world’s languages. The languages of Western Europe (apart from Basque) tend to have minimal nominal inflection, a little more verbal inflection, and a preference for SVO word order. As you move into Eastern Europe, the amount of inflection increases and with the Uralic, Altaic, and Turkic languages you start getting agglutinating. By the time you get to the far east of the Russian Federation, things are getting polysynthetic, which then continues on the other side of the Bering Straits. (Yeah, I know. This is all a little simplistic.)

Compared with the languages at the far end of this “continuum”, English is weird indeed.

And so, by perverting (verbal adverb) logic, I can say that my original hypothesis was correct. English is not remotely normal, but when you’re near it, it is.

[Dude, you give me a headache. -ed.]