english is not like german
2015.08.28

if you don't know: compounds are called "put-together" or "placed-together" words in other languages, and the meaning will become clear from the examples when you read the rest of this page. someone, a "linguist", tried to argue with me that english is still "a compounding language", just like chinese, icelandic, swedish, japanese, german, and esperanto.

these languages constantly make and use more-or-less clear compounds like bookstore, except they also say opposite-good (bad), bird-offspring (chick), merchant-harbour (Copenhagen), half-island (inlet), winter-puke-sickness (norovirus), distance-taking (revulsion), small-money, round-money (coins), small-laugh (chuckle, giggle), on-puts (condiments) and so on.

i say no. we with english used to be like that, but not anymore - we just have a very tiny part left, compared to what we used to have and compared to the other languages that i know. nowadays we're mainly a borrowing language, meaning that we borrow words from other languages instead of creating our own from our own language.

to me the biggest proof is clear: if we compounded like these other languages, then we wouldn't feel the need to borrow so many foreign words, and so we'd have 50,000 words in english total, not 500,000 words!

(the linguist answered with something like "that's stupid, there's no limit to the number of words that can be in a language". no, it's not stupid, it's simply how languages naturally work. if you don't feel the need to borrow a word because you know you can already say the same thing, then the language doesn't end up with such a large vocabulary.)

swedish compounds far more, and has far less words, compared to english. japanese has less words than swedish, and esperanto has less words than japanese. out of all of them, esperanto compounds the most.

we'd be constantly making up new words on the spot in both writing and speech and they'd be seen as "words you could still put in professional scientific papers". it wouldn't be slang, or funny, stupid or childish - it would be normal.

for example, we have the word flexibility, made up of "flex + ability". now, why i can't i say writability (write + ability), dieability, sneezability, redability (the ability to be red), and so on?

why can't i say "a hundredyear, a texyear", why must i say a century, a decade?

i can't say humpdeer to mean "camel", or dogess to mean "a female dog" (compare with tigress, waitress). i can say undead, unoriginal, unhappy but not unalive, unhungry, unsad. if you've been around small kids lately, you know how they "mess up" language and say all sorts of things that adults then "correct".

there is no rule saying that i can't write these words, that i can't constantly make up new words, but if i did the entire english-speaking community would laugh at me, claim that i was butchering english, i'd fail my exam or my doctorate's paper wouldn't get passed or whatever. even if the meaning of the words were clear.

meanwhile, swedish has animals called stuff like shield-toad (turtle), it has words like un-grass (weed), and so did we in ancient times! here are some ancient english (called "anglo-saxon") compound words:

bearmhrægl = bosom-garment, an apron

hosebend = hosery-band, a garter

wætergyte = water-goat, a buffalo

bitmǣlum = bit-meal, piece-meal, piece-by-piece

dropmǣlum = drop-meal, drop-by-drop

stæpmǣlum = step-meal, step-by-step

lȳtling = a little-ing, an animal's young, a child, etc

frumbyrdling = forth-beardling, a boy whose beard has just begun to grow (a teenager).

wīfcynn = wife-kind, the female gender.
(like mankind, which is actually short for "humankind", words like that and "fireman" don't actually refer to males since it's just a shortening.)

words like etymology really aren't used in swedish, instead they say word history. see how easy it is?

one of these linguists asked me, "have you ever actually studied english?" as if i was being stupid.

did you know that the "berg" in "iceberg (īsbeorg in ancient english)" means mountain? so we're really saying "ice-mountain". in fact, we used to say fire-mountain (fȳrbeorg)" for volcano too, which is the same construction for "volcano" that icelandic, japanese and indonesian use. our modern word "volcano" comes from the non-english word "vulkan -> the name of the god of fire". see a connection here?

we still have words like youngling, gosling, earthling which is the same construction as beardling - gos meant goose. but, unlike in those days, we're not constantly making up new words with this. no one's going around saying "computerling, internetling, hospitalling, angerling". or "firemountain, moneymountain, sadnessmountain". we've started almost-always saying things like "a mountain of money" instead, breaking up the words. this is the first step in stopping to compound.

people have thrown modern, new words at me to try and make me see that we still compound. yes, we have frenemy (friend + enemy)", but then why can't i say frenemster (friend + enemy + sister)", frient (friend + parent)", frenin (friend + cousin)"? and by the way, frenemy isn't a word you could write in your professional, scientific paper - it's slang.

if we were a compounding language, it would be seen as a proper, real word. we would be creating and using more words like remote-see, far-see, distance-see instead of television, and by the way, we can say "television" but not telehear, telesee, teletalk which is what we'd be saying daily if, again, we truely compounded words. teletalk would of course replace our current terms for things like voice chat, online conference, telephone call.

yes, we CAN create random new words and they'll make sense, but people DON'T except for in the most experimental of fiction stories, and in names for products and brands (the word "product", by the way, i should be able to say as something like sell-stuff). people aren't creating new words on the fly in every conversation, book, newspaper article, etc - and that's what these other languages that actually compound do.

that's how other languages get "the word for when the sunlight filters through the tree leaves" because they're actually literally writing "through-leaf-light". we, english-speakers, borrow the end-result words without knowing a thing about the language they came from, without trying to just copy their construction, believing them to be utterly unique words that we can't say in english. that's how our vocabulary has gotten so large.

we just stick to set phrases and set compound words, and sometimes someone makes a new word and it gets popular. in fact, many of these words (in internet slang at least) come from people who don't have english as their first language, or from people who were directly translating things from another language - the net slang "(item) GET!" for example, came from directly translating japanese (which was, in turn, borrowing the word "get" from english).

our lack of modern compounding is so much the case that we are forced by society to use the "proper" words even when we could use much simpler ones.

for example, when i wrote "the theory of pronunciation" on another page on my website, i had the same (types of) people who said "yes, english compounds!" come to annoyingly tell me "that's called phonetics" as if no one can possibly ever use an overall simpler, clearer, whatever-other word or phrase to describe something when we already have a word for it.

if we can say eye doctor or eye healer, which everyone will instantly understand, why are we supposed to say opthalmologist which makes zero sense to a 10-year-old? if we can say sick-people-place, cure-place, cure-house or all number of similar constructions and phrases that foreign languages use, why must we say hospital? why are we so special that we need separate words for everything?

because we stopped compounding. why did we stop? because knowing a ton of nonsensical words stolen from other languages became a sign of being elite, just as knowing how to spell those foreign words did.

we in english aren't concerned with being understandable, we're concerned with sounding smart. that's also why we still haven't fixed our spelling so that we spell in the way that we actually talk (english is, according to one study, the second-most nonsensically-spelt language in the world.) spelling is just a system to write down spoken words, it shouldn't be a language of its own. once it becomes to the point where you can't just write how you talk, or know the pronunciation of a new word from its spelling alone, the system has failed.

this separates the "literate, learned" people from the other people, and makes becoming literate and learned very difficult in the first place.

kids in other countries learn how to spell and read entirely in school, their parents don't teach them at home because spelling fits the spoken language enough so that the extra help isn't necessary. depending on the language they can read and write at an advanced level years before or with years less practise compared to english-speaking kids.

i've met more than one person in the USA who was born and raised there but was also illiterate. these guys couldn't even read their own emails, they ran businesses and hired people to read aloud papers to them. most people, they think of a third-world country when they hear this, and that the school system of a first-world country shouldn't possibly allow this to happen to anyone. my little american cousin could barely read simple sentences even at age eight, children from a fair number of other languages can read anything they want by that time.

people apparently wonder why countries like the USA are so bad at school compared to other countries. this lack of compounding is just a tiny, tiny part in that. various things have been proven like how when you can see something like a scientific term and know exactly what it means even without ever having seen it before (because the compound is so logical), you do better in science and/or in understanding what you're reading. that means you automatically do a little better in school. that means countries like china and iceland and finland, that largely make up their own words for all these terms, have an advantage already compared to english-native kids.

in contrast, we have words like "conjugation, hypotenuse, lexeme morphology, pædiatrician, declination, genitive, palæontology, dipthong". in elementary school, i had to learn the word "onomatopœia". other languages say things like word-bending, sound-words, two-vowels.

someone who only compares test scores on reading or math exams between countries doesn't think of anything like this. (yes, our teaching is bad too, but like i said, this is just a small part of the whole problem.)

note: this page was mainly written because me and a few other people i know (who are natives of languages like german that do compound, unlike me) were thoroughly shocked at the certain words of a certain person. they were claiming some nonsense about how just because we theoretically can compound words, that means that we are still a compounding language.

no, in practical use we stopped being one hundreds of years ago. we only have the small leftovers that our language absolutely needs in order to survive, since all languages have to be able to make a few new words somehow. there's a reason why english uses the most unique words in the world, and this is it.

this is also why i'm not a linguist. i don't like people who think you can study and form opinions about language without looking at how it actually works in the real world.