Features I Wish English Had

DISCLAIMER: I AM NOT A PROFESSIONAL LINGUIST!

Tonight I had originally planned to write about some abstract programming concept, but it quickly got scrapped when I saw a video by Tom Scott (check him out, he makes some awesome content) detailing features from other languages he wished we had in English. After pondering things I’ve read about various languages and their grammars, I decided this topic was a little more interesting than some of the programming stuff I planned.

Much like the video, I came up with four distinct features I wish English had. Remember that these are features that would be interesting to have, and I realize they wouldn’t actually be practical for real English. Also note that each feature has advantages and disadvantages, and my judgements are purely based on curiosity/interest. These are features in the grammar, writing system and pronunciation:

1. Greater information density in the English writing system.

If you don’t already know, information density is the concept of measuring how much information a sound, written symbol, etc represents. Take the written Japanese word for “dog,” which is represented by the character “犬” (inu). The written Japanese has greater information density, because it takes three written English characters to get the same meaning as one Japanese character. It allows text to be shorter, and if you’ve memorized the writing system well, more convenient to read. Modern technology like Twitter and SMS make the ability to write text with as little characters as possible even more convenient.

People are already trying to make English more convenient with greater information density. For example, popular texting slang shortens “you” to “u,” “because” to “cuz/cus” and so on. Another popular way of doing this is through abbreviations like “lol.”

To have this feature in English, one way think we’d have to adopt something like the Chinese writing system. This gives the impression that information density would make English much more complex. The true reality is something like the Korean writing system would be much better for English. Koreans use a writing system called Hangul, which organizes words into little blocks for each syllable. A Hangul-like system would make English have much greater information density, since each character is a syllable. It would even make English easier to spell/read, since Hangul has proven to be one of the simplest writing systems. There’s even a comic that can teach you Hangul in fifteen minutes!

If you’re interested in Korean Hangul, check out Hangul-English. It’s an attempt to write English using the Hangul writing system, and it was created by a friend of mine!

2. Drop subjects, objects or verbs based on context.

In languages like Japanese or Polish, it is easy to drop elements of a sentence based on context. In many English sentences, it would sound very unnatural to drop a subject, object or verb.

As an example, let’s imagine I’m introducing myself in Japanese to someone on the street:

Watashi wa Kurisu desu.

(私はクリスです。)

This would translate to the complete sentence “I am Chris.” But, because I’m in a context where I’m introducing myself (it’s obvious that the subject is me), I can simply say:

Kurisu desu.

(クリスです。)

This would translate to something like “Am Chris.” But, because of context, somebody who understands Japanese would see this as acceptable.

3. Name suffixes.

In Japanese, name suffixes are extremely common. They’re used to mark another person’s status compared to you. It may sound rude to mark someone with a certain “status,” but most Japanese name suffixes are actually used to make yourself sound politer.

A suffix like -san can be used to refer to another equal human being (for example, you could call me “Chris-san”). Likewise the -chan suffix can be used for the name of anything you find endearing, such as your girlfriend/boyfriend, pet (there’s a dog I call “Benny-chan”) or even inanimate object (sort of like how you might say to a small child, “Mr. Sun is shining today!”).

There are a handful of other Japanese name suffixes. If you want to read about all of them, visit the Wikipedia article.

4. Frequentative verbs.

English has this feature to some extent, but Finnish and other Uralic languages do it best. I owe my discovery of this feature to a Quora question.

As of my observation, frequentative verbs imply you’ve repeated an action with a certain frequency. For example:

  • The Finnish verb juoksen (“I run”) in frequentative form becomes juoksentelen (“I run around (aimlessly)”)
  • The Finnish verb hypin (“I jump”) in frequentative form becomes hyppelen (“I just jump around”)

Pretty fascinating eh?


Conclusion

I hope you learn some cool stuff about languages from this article (I sure did). If you have any other cool features you think would be interesting in English, be sure to leave them in the comments! 🙂