Daily Archives: January 9, 2009

An Appreciation of English: A language in motion

This is the text of a presentation I made at the Editors’ Association of Canada Conference in Vancouver, June 10, 2006. It came with a handout, “A brief history of English,” which is available as a PDF. It traces the history and development of the English language and the nature and function of language change.
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The introverted sibling of outlandish. None of this shouting out here; while the first syllable of outlandish combines with its sense to encourage an expansive [æ] in the land, the high front vowels and alveolar nasals and liquid combine with the sense of inlandish to keep a rein on the land. Those n‘s spread their nasality to the proximate vowels, too, giving the whole first two syllables a comfy sinus hum. The ish these days tends to have an iffy tone, thanks to its free use to signify mere approximation and similitude (prettyish, fortyish), though some may also remember the negative tones of such words as popish and swinish. There is an extra bit of delight, however, in the presence of dish, a generally welcome word. The land is such a widely used word that it carries a very wide variety of flavours, with a general orientation to home and soil and realm. The in sets the tone; it even gives a containing n to contrast with the open u in out (and it is inside the i rather than being outside a t). Of course, those who see this word will instantly think of outlandish and may well consider inlandish a necessarily humorous word simply meant to contrast, like clement weather and gruntled employees. But it is attested quite ingenuously – in a literal sense: pertaining to the interior of a country; domestic, native. One simply does not see inlandish behaviour. Pity. Evidently such behaviour would be as unremarkable as the phrase would be remarkable. As to the roots of this word: purely inlandish themselves, as long as you consider Anglo-Saxon inlandish (before the 7th century, it was outlandish in Britain, but then the Celts were conquered, and much water has passed under the bridge since then). And their senses have not really changed, either (though land has broadened its meaning some). In short, it is quite a conservative word – and not an especially xenial one.