FOM: decline of English

Adrian-Richard-David Mathias Adrian-Richard-David.Mathias at
Tue Feb 5 09:01:59 EST 2002

>         Latin has a richer arsenal of relative pronouns than does English.
> We
> have little choice beyond "this" and "that".  We used to have more, and our
> seldom used terms "former" and "latter" are remnants of a relatively richer
> population of pronouns.  (English hardly ever actually loses a word.)

I would have said that "this" and "that" were demonstrative pronouns, not
relative.  Even to my limited knowledge,  Latin has at least three
demonstratives,  "hic", "iste" and "ille".  What would the corresponding 
relaitves be ? 

But Sandifer's comment raises numerous questions. 

There is a tiresome vogue for avoiding the relative pronouns of English
and writing 

"Therefore 0=1, but this is ridiculous"

rather than 

"Therefore 0=1, which is ridiculous."

Even worse, subeditors of mathematical journals have taken to replacing
"advanced" English constructions by others that are "easier to
understand".  Were such people to be let loose on our literary heritage, 
we should find 

"This be the verse ye grave for me"

replaced by 

"The poem you wrote for me is as follows"

in all anthologies. 

On another front, grammarians themselves seem to be changing terminology. 
When I learned Latin, it was drummed into me that a gerundive ---
with the "nd" in the ending --- conveyed a
sense of a future obligation to do something: 

a memorandum is something that ought to be remembered; 
an agendum is something that ought to be done; 
a corrigendum is something that ought to be corrected; 
"Carthago delenda est" -- Carthage ought to be destroyed. 

But I hear and see that linguists of today use the term "gerundive" to
refer to words that I would have said were simple participles. 

France has the Academie Francaise; Iceland, I read, has a commission of 
scholars searching the sagas for words in desuetude that might be 
revived for use in a modern context; I am told that there is a society in
Germany dedicated to the preservation of the conjunctive mood; has English a
similar guardian, who might take steps to preserve such expressive
power as remains ? 

A. R. D. Mathias

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