Equal Partners
by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners

By Roland Ezri

"Women are the backbone of all societies. They do a substantial part of the work, and play a major role in raising the future generation yet they are largely powerless. The decisions that count are made by men and foisted upon women."

Writings by Roland Ezri

A Language for Our Age

My introduction to English  

I was a wee lad of 7 when English was thrust upon me.  These were the circumstances.

As far away as the 19th century, France opened French schools in my native country, Egypt.  The objective was obvious:  Spread the French language.  And they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams, for many parents (including mine) send their children to French schools, and French took an important place in Egyptian society.

Schools in North America today are the equivalent of spending time in a summer resort when you compare them with the schools of yore!  Why am I saying that?  Let me go back in time and take you to the early days of grade 1.

The first teacher taught us French, basic arithmetic, and the rudiments of science.  The second teacher urged us to forget the Arabic we knew, she was going to teach us the classical Arabic, and it was very different from the “street Arabic” we spoke.  But the worse was yet to come.

One day, a teacher walked in and started talking “funny.”  Eventually she informed us that this was English, and that she would be our English teacher.  We looked at each other for, as far as we were concerned, there were only 2 languages in the world:  French and Arabic!  This teacher stressed the importance of English.  It is language spoken and understood in many places in the world, and it is vital for commerce.  Were you to correspond with a foreign country, you would use English.  Now we were totally baffled; surely, we were not expected to write a business letter at the age of 7!

This therefore was my abrupt introduction to English.  I did in time reconcile with the English tongue and even managed to fall in love with it.

Like everything else in life, English has two sides to it:  It is very rich and extremely adaptable, truly a language for our complex world.  Alas, it is also a maddening tongue even if you were born into it;  as for the foreigners, they are never sure if they got it right.  And often, they don’t.  Witness these well-intentioned but hilarious efforts:

A sign in a Tokyo hotel invites you “…to take advantage of the  chambermaid.”

This Pakistani hotel suggests that you “…leave your values at the front desk.”

Finally this Zurich hotel posted the following sign:  “Because of the impropriety of entertaining guests of the opposite sex in the bedrooms, it is suggested that the lobby be used for this purpose.”

The great borrower

French tends to remain pure; the power that be felt that using foreign words tends to corrupt their beautiful language.  English has no such qualms; they “borrow” foreign words on a massive scale.

The results:

French has about 75,000 words as opposed to English which has a vocabulary of over one million words!

French retains a certain elegance; English is “messy.” But it is a glorious messiness, for it has resulted in an exceedingly rich and useful language.

French dominated for a long time; it was once the language of diplomacy, but no more. English because of its flexibility has become the first truly global language.  Go anywhere in the world, and you’re virtually assured of finding individuals who speak some English.  You my English reader is privileged indeed to count this language as your native tongue.

Since I have used French for comparative purposes, let me stress that it is a beautiful language.  If you want to learn a second language, French should definitely be your choice.  Why even the Queen of England speaks a fluent French!  Royalty for centuries have taught La Langue de Moliére to their children.

But it took more than myriad of foreign words for English to become the Lingua Franca of our planet.  Britain has had an eventful history, and this again is reflected in the language.

The impact of history

When Julius Caesar invaded Britain in 55 BC, English did not exist.  The inhabitants of the island, the Celts, spoke languages that survive today as Welsh, Gaelic, and Breton.

English started to take shape when Germanic tribes migrated to Britain.  They were made of the Jutes from Jutland (today Denmark), the Saxons  (today Germany), and the Angles (again Germany).  These tribes settled in the North and East and formed what we today call the Anglo-Saxon people

The Anglo-Saxons passed on their farming vocabulary; thus, words like sheep, shepherd, ox, swine, wood, and work came into the language.  Since some time must be reserved for enjoyment, they left us words such as glee, laughter, and mirth.

Christianity was next in helping enrich this budding language.  Monks were sent by Pope Gregory the Great to convert the heathen. Together with their faith, they added some 400 to 500 words from Greek and Latin; examples: angel, disciple, mass, shrine, and psalm.

England was a relatively peaceful land when it was invaded by the dreaded Vikings from Scandinavia; their plunder brought grief, but their language enriched English.  Many words with sk like sky and skirt came into the language.  Both Old Norse and English survived side by side; thus you can rear a child (English) or raise a child (Norse).  Other such pairs survive: wish and want; craft and skill; hide and skin.  All of which allowed English to become a subtle and varied language.  But the best was yet to come in the form of conquests and new vocabulary.

In 1066, the Normans invaded England and added French to the mix.  Over three centuries, English incorporated French, and by the end of the 15th century a rich and versatile language emerged; it included some 10,000 words “borrowed” from the French.

But It doesn’t stop there!  The Renaissance and the invention of the printing press brought a wealth of new words.  Greek and Roman classics were embraced by the educated class and words such as agile and catastrophe became part of the language.

Science brought new words such as atmosphere and gravity.

Colonizing North America brought settlers in contact with First Nations; this in turn added words such as hickory, pecan, raccoon, totem, moccasin, and tomahawk.

The modern age brought poker players, cowboys, jazz musicians, and computer aficionados; and they all took English in unexpected directions, and added more colors to this brilliant tapestry

A  sea of confusion

The other side of the coin is that English is devilishly difficult to pronounce and present the newcomers with oddities that exist in no other European language.

For some 20 years, my wife (an American) worked to improve my pronunciation! One can say that she succeeded – but only after considering where she started and where I am today!  In other words this battle is still ongoing and will not be won in my lifetime!

Words are pronounced differently depending upon the person, the place, and, yes, the time.  Think of the word “albeit.” How do you pronounce it?  How do friends pronounce it? That same word was pronounced differently 20 years ago!  Today, it depends on who you listen to!

French and Arabic words (and names) are totally massacred in an attempt to Anglicize them (an impossibility of course).

Then there is the “up,” “down,” and “out.”  In French if I was looking for a piece of information and found it, I would say: “j’ai trouvé…” In English:  “I found out…”  Who needs that extra “out?” Then you have sentences such as:  “Take up kick-boxing…” instead of just learning  kick-boxing.  Finally, when a house burns up (the direction of the flames), we say that it burns down.

And in what other language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Park on driveways and drive on parkways?

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same? How can the weather be hot as hell in the summer and cold as hell in the winter?

Odd indeed!


1) The Glorious Messiness of English

Condensed from a speech  by Robert McNeil at the United States Military Academy, West Point, N.Y.

Reader’s Digest

December 1995

[The Story of English is the title of an Emmy Award-winning nine-part television series, and a companion book both produced in 1986, detailing the development of the English language.

The book and the television series were written by Robert MacNeilRobert McCrum, and William Cran.

The book and series have been used in University courses.

You can borrow both of them from your local library.  If you do, you’ll never again look at your native tongue in the same way.]

2) It ain’t easy speaking English

Douglas Cornish

Ottawa Citizen

September 19, 2001






Comments are closed.