Idiomdrottning’s homepage

The World Language

In Lojban there is an expression, “malglico” (c pronounced as sch) which etymologically means “English can go to hell” (but as a lexicalized phrase means when people overapply English idioms, like having the gismu “xajmi” (funny) in a word for “comics” / sequental art as opposed to something like lisxra or pirpoi).

(L1 means first language, the first language a given person has learned (“mother tongue” as it used to be called), and L2 means all other languages.)

But English is the world’s most widely spoken L2; four times more people know it than the second most common L2, the MSA variety of Arabic. Though that’s just a written language, and we were talking about spoken L2. Hindi in that case, also about a quarter of English.

If you add L2 and L1 together, English still wins though Northern Chinese is not far behind.

(On the other hand, if we’re going to pick the world language from whichever has the most L1s, completely ignoring the L2, English doesn’t have a snowball’s. Far behind both North Chinese and Spanish, and since Urdu and Hindi can understand each other (about as well as Scanian and Smålandic though the written languages are completely different) it’s behind even that combination.)

Swedish, the world’s worst language, is in ninety-first place, so it’s a no-go. Thankfully it’s so similar to Norwegian, Danish, Dutch, German and French (although it is a Germanic language, but that’s because of the French hype in the eighteenth century). English is not so similar but they have many loanwords from us such as “window” (vindöga, although we have switched to the French “fönster”) and “band” and “both” and “bug” (bagge) and “cake” (comes from kaka. But then we took it back because kex is a variation of “cakes”) and “cast” and “call” and “club” and “crawl” and many many others.

Although the English orthography is one of the worst in the universe. “Enough” somehow should be pronounced “önaf”, how they got that right the heavens only know (positional digraphs, they called ‘em. By the way, “enough” is also a borrowed word from us, from “nog”). French has the second worst but somehow I think it has its charm and the third worst is (this is going to sound like something I made up because it’s a neighbouring country but it’s actually true) Danish. Even more so with the Copenhagen dialect cutting off words etc. Swedish has the fourth worst in the entire cosmos, thank God for the spelling reform because it was even worse before.

(But because of our orthographic depth combined with the spelling reform, we often have a pretty easy time with things like Latin, Lojban, and Romaji. If you’ve wondered why Romaji is so similar to English (apart from z, our most difficult letter), it’s because James Curtis Hepburn was a student of Latin as a young man.)

Old and established languages often have poor orthography because spelling and pronunciation develop in different directions. But one old language that is still quite clever and simple is actually also a neighbouring country: Finnish. But almost nobody knows it 💔