Thursday, February 16, 2006

Verbing weirds language

Note: What follows is purely speculation based on impressions of Swedish and English. I have not done any systematic review of the two languages. And this should not be taken as saying anything interesting about the world views of Swedes versus Americans.

Last week Boredom and I were discussing an interesting difference between Swedish and English: in Swedish it’s much more common to use a verb for a concept that in English is expressed as a verb + noun.

For example, Swedes say bila which means travel by car. The verb bila is derived from the noun bil, meaning car; Swedes also say luncha ‘to lunch’ while we often do lunch. In fact, the Swedish Word of the Year (WOTY) list this year includes blinga. A loan of the English noun bling, but made into a verb:

  • Blinga: adorn oneself with glittery items, such as jewellery, with the intention of displaying wealth.

Since English and Swedish are fairly closely related, it’s not clear why the difference.

I have some theories.

  1. American prescriptivists have a shit fit anytime someone tries to verb a noun. Swedish grammarians are looser

  2. English is highly influenced by French. fair le  shopping anyone?

  3. English is more of an isolating language, while Swedish is more of an inflecting language

  4. Americans are all about things, while socialist Swedes are all about community

Wait, scratch that last one.

2 comments:

boredoom said...

I must say I bust a cranial vessel when I see "impact" used as verb in any context other than dentistry and possibly astronomy.

I think it has to do with the fact that in Swedish, it's clear from the ending that the word you're using is a verb. In "Jag bilade hem", you can't confuse the verb with the noun "bil."

English verbs either don't have an ending in the present tense, or the ending is an -s, which coincides with the ending of a plural noun. This can cause confusion or at least an esthetically displeasing effect when nouns are turned into verbs. Examples from financial jargon: "The charges impact our results somewhat." "He impacts the team negatively."

liberal elite said...

This can cause confusion or at least an esthetically displeasing effect when nouns are turned into verbs.
In Natural Langauge Processing, they call this effect a 'garden path' sentence since it 'leads you down the garden path.'

Examples from financial jargon: "The charges impact our results somewhat." "He impacts the team negatively."
The first one seems like a garden path-you might think it's "the charge's impact", but the second one is clearly a verb.

There was an error in this gadget

Site meter

Search This Blog