Skip to main content

Some Interesting Features of Linguistic Egotism in English Language

Val is not a linguist, but an out-of-box thinker and observer.

English grammar is the easiest of all European languages -- but with a few irregularities.

English grammar is the easiest of all European languages -- but with a few irregularities.

The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.

-- Ludwig Witgenstein

The Question of a Capitalized Pronoun "I"

I have mentioned my thinking out-of-box in many of my articles -- whether it was stated in a context of a "bragging" or a disclaimer. However, it always denoted my tendency of giving a fresh look at a topic with an otherwise well established consensus.

And so it is the case with my spotting a certain peculiar features of egotism in English language, which is the second language to me after my native Croatian. That probably makes it easier for me to have seen it from a distance "as if for the first time" -- unlike those who were born into it and just use it, never giving it a second thought.

The very first thing that stood out as strange and unlike any other European language, was this capitalizing the pronoun "I". (Of course, I am talking about its capitalizing at places in a sentence other than at the beginning of it).

Being a kind of freak for human studies, I just had to notice how the language was giving this special significance to its user.

Now let's see how that capital "I" further accentuates its importance by the use of the second pronoun "you".

Not only that it is written with a lower case letter, but it also postulates a clear insignificance of the person being addressed -- as it is the same in singular and in plural, as if saying "just one of the crowd", and having no formal alternative like it exists in other European languages.

Meaning that it sound the same if I am saying: "you, Dr. Brown", and "you, my baby", and "you, my doggie", and "you, the people of England".

The formal and informal alternatives for the second pronoun in other European languages go like this: in German, formal=sie, informal=du; in Greek, formal=esy, informal=eiste; in French, formal=vous, informal=tu; in Italian, formal=lei, informal=tu; in Spanish, formal=usted, informal=tu; in most Slavic languages, formal=vi, informal=ti.

As we are talking about showing -- or not showing -- a formal respect to a stranger or a respected grownup in English language, note that royalties and some other dignitaries are not addressed as "you (one of the crowd), but as "Your Majesty, Your Highness, Your Excellency..."

Which altogether may make us wonder what those linguistic fathers of English language were seeing so important about themselves, and so unimportant about those they were addressing.

We have to assume that the distinction of importance was the case, after hearing from linguistic experts the connection between our mentality and our forms of verbal expressions.

Shouldn't we pronounce foreign words in their original form, rather than mispronounce them so that they sound more like our own language?

Shouldn't we pronounce foreign words in their original form, rather than mispronounce them so that they sound more like our own language?

A different language is a different vision of life.

-- Federico Fellini

Anglicized Latin

Since I studied Latin language as a mandatory subjects within my Croatian high school curriculum, along with other 12 subjects including geography, history and cultures of all countries in the world, sciences and art, music, philosophy, and psychology, and logic... -- how could I miss the fact that even English speaking scholars were pronouncing Latin in an Anglicized form.

Another example of linguistic egotism?

Thus, when pronouncing plural of "octopus", which is "octopi", that plural is not pronounced as "octo-pie", but as "octop-ee". The same goes for plurals like cacti, stimuli, viri (yes, plural of "virus"), et cetera, where "cetera is not "setera", but "tsetera" -- since "c" in Latin is pronounced either as "ts" (like in tsunami), or as K, depending on whether the next letters are vowels "e", or "i", -- or "a", "o", "u", or a consonant.

Even the names of the famous people are not spared of that mispronunciation. Take the name Einstein, for example. In German language in every combination of letters "s+t" that "s" is pronounced as "sh", like in "shadow". So, the famous genius' name is not "Einstein, but Einshtein when pronounced.

Scroll to Continue

Just think, if you were a sort of a world's celebrity, and your name Green was pronounced as Grun -- wouldn't it sound crazy to all those who know you, including yourself? Why not respect other language -- if we expect foreign folks not to mess about our language, and even our names?

Some words, like "homosexuality" became international -- but wrong, meaning nothing, other than "sexuality of man", with Latin for man being "homo". The proper word is "homeosexuality", like in "homeopathy", where "homeo is a Greek word meaning "same" -- homeosexuality then meaning "sex of same genders", as it should be.

Now, I do understand that all European languages have many words -- especially those "long ones" -- that are derived from either Greek or Latin, being mostly used in medicine, philosophy, theology, and law.

But even such words, for which there could easily be one typically sounding like our language, are not the only ones that could make us wonder about linguistic "complicating".

Like, why isn't English a phonetic language like Latin-based languages? Why do you have to know a word to know how to pronounce it? Like "put", and "but" are only different for one letter, but are pronounced differently.

And then you have those ridiculously long German words. Why? Or Mandarin short words that per se mean nothing until they are seen in a context with the whole sentence.

Well, I guess, people like complicating things.

It's one thing to not know how to express a feeling, but another thing to say it the way that it literally means something else.

It's one thing to not know how to express a feeling, but another thing to say it the way that it literally means something else.

To have another language is to possess a second soul.

-- Charlemagne

Case of "Linguistic Ignorance" in My Croatian Language

Now, let me water down this apparent criticism of English "egotism", by mentioning something peculiar in my own native Croatian.

You are about to see why I am choosing to call it "linguistic ignorance. Funny, during my all schooling in Croatia and 23 years of life that I spent there, I never heard of it. I am telling you, my mind just thrives on discovering this crap in every aspect of the world's cultural paradigm.

Namely, Croatian language has a certain wise form of expressing something -- but without Croatians being aware of it, rather just taking it for just another grammatical structure.

Let me explain.

We know from the modern psychology that we are making ourselves feel every emotion -- not that others are making us feel it. Like, no one can walk into our brains to press some buttons there and make us feel happy, sad, jealous, guilty, ashamed...etc. It's all of our own make.

And that's exactly what Croatians are saying when they say "Ja se srdim na tebe" -- meaning "I am angering myself with you" -- but they don't take it that way, to them it is only a grammatical figure of speech, while in their mind they are still saying "You make me angry".

Again, it is a psychological fact that we are using others' appearances and behaviors to produce our own emotions.

That's why I am calling it a "linguistic ignorance" -- because people are not aware of what they are literally saying -- for if they were, they just might give their emotions a different, healthier significance.

Now, for my last words here, while being a self-designed individualist, I don't like generalizing about the people or ethnical mentalities -- meaning that I don't see "all" English speaking folks as "egocentric", or all Croatian people as "ignorant" for their failure to think about what they are saying.

Albeit, in my relatively long life, I have seen enough egocentric and ignorant people, and trust me -- those traits had nothing to do with their language.

© 2022 Val Karas

Related Articles