English Without German


This is prompted partly by the recent enthusiasm of some friends for Og – The Caveman Roleplaying Game, and partly by my never-ending love affair with the English language.  It’s a bully and a thief, stealing words from across the world and torturing them into new meanings. It disobeys its own rules, or makes them so complex that not even born English speakers can necessarily follow them. I am daily thankful that I don’t have to learn it as a foreign language, and that I was taught grammar at primary school.

And I love it. I love the history behind it, the ridiculous sayings and the poetry that can be found in the most mundane conversations. I love what it becomes when you peel back those layers, too, as demonstrated in this fantastic piece of work by Rick Harrison. Here’s how the Atomic Theory works when you replace just the words based on German. Read it and enjoy.

To me, it sounds almost like another language. Use this as a world-building device in fantasy and you instantly have a feel for the world, the people, the magic and the history – all without having to explain much. It gives a very distinct voice, is clear and yet different. I regret that I don’t know enough about the origins of my own language to be able to do this for myself, but it is beautiful and I’d love to know of any books that do something similar well. Does anyone have any recommendations?

History of the English language

History of the English language

5 responses »

  1. As one who read English at university rather than sensibly studying some vocational degree, I’m also in love with our wonderful language and have a ridiculous fascination with etymology.
    An excellent book on the subject which I’d recommend (or could lend) you is ‘The Adventure of English’ by Melvyn Bragg. Slightly less scholarly – but undoubtedly more entertaining – is the wonderful ‘Mother Tongue’ by Bill Bryson, which also sits in my bookcase.

    • Aha. Re-reading your post, I’ve just realised that wasn’t quite what you were seeking recommendations for; that’ll teach me to read too quickly. They’re very good books anyway! 🙂

  2. I’ve not seen any other examples of using this in fiction, but I did run across it in a work writing context. In a plain English course I went on the tutor gave us a list of pairs of words in English that mean the same thing, where one has Saxon origins and the other French. The Saxon versions were always simpler, the French ones the ones you’d expect someone to use when trying to sound smart or official. The lesson was to use the Saxon ones if you want to make your writing easier to read and more relatable.

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