Fantastic Features We Don’t Have In The English Language


Most monolingual speakers think that other
languages are basically just their language with different words in a slightly different
order and maybe a different way of writing. Turns out, though, that there are lots of
interesting features in other languages, some of which English would really benefit from
having. I’m going to talk about four of them. Number one: Time independence. If you want to describe an activity in English
you have to say when it happened, or when it will happen. You have to. That’s how verbs
conjugate. I danced — past. I am dancing, I dance — present. I will dance — future.
There is no way in English to describe the concept of a person and dancing, but not to
mention anything about time. Chinese, on the other hand? Verbs do not conjugate. In most cases, the meaning is obvious from
context. I don’t mean to imply that Chinese doesn’t have a tense system, just that it’s
not a requirement. It’s not baked into every single sentence. Side note: tenses aren’t as simple as past,
present and future, and there’s some lovely subtle tenses in other languages. More on
that in a later video. Anyway, if you want to write poetry with a
more vague sense of time: Chinese is one of the languages to choose. Number two: Clusivity. The word “we” is confusing. Imagine going
up to someone and saying “we’ve just won the lottery!” There are two possible meanings there. Number
1: “we” refers to the speaker and the listener. We’ve just won the lottery! Brilliant! Number
2: “we” refers to the speaker and the speaker’s friends… but not the listener. We’ve just
won the lottery! But you haven’t. In languages with clusivity, there are different
words for “we”, depending on whether you’re including the listener or not. It shows up
in languages in South Asia, Australasia, and all over the world… apart from Europe. And
I really wish English had clusivity, because once you describe it, it’s a blindingly obvious
missing thing that we — er, we all — could really use. Number three: Absolute directions. This isn’t all that useful, but it is cool.
In a few languages, notably a couple of Australian ones like Guugu Yimithirr — that’s the one
that’s been extensively studied — there are no words for left, right, forward or backward.
Instead, you always use cardinal directions: the equivalent words for north, south, east
and west. In this studio, north is that way, so right now, I have a north foot and a south
foot. If I turn, I now have a west foot and an east foot. I think. I’m having trouble
tracking something simple like that: but if you’re a native speaker of a language with
absolute direction, your brain just handles it. You always know which way you’re pointing
— and if you don’t, you have trouble speaking. As a language feature, I’d say relative
directions are a lot more useful, particularly for those of us that go on the London Underground
often — but it’d be great to always know which way was north. Number four: evidentiality. In the same way that time is baked into English
sentences, there are languages all over the world where evidence is baked in. If you’re
reporting something that happened, you have to include whether you personally witnessed
it or not. You can do this in English, of course: “I saw that”, “I heard that”, but
it’s not required. Some have five or more different categories of evidence, based on
whether you saw it with your own eyes, experienced it firsthand but it didn’t involve seeing
anything, whether you’ve inferred it from something else, whether you’re reporting what
someone else said… all these concepts, which are complicated to explain in English, are
expressed just by how you change the ending of a word. These fantastic features are one of the reasons
why keeping minor languages alive is important. If English had dominated the world and stamped
out every other tongue, then we’d lose not only these rich languages, but we’d lose the
insights that we gain of what the human mind’s capable of. So here’s my question to you: can you think
of a brand new language feature. Something that every language should have, but doesn’t. Next time: why things aren’t always black
and white. Or blue and green. [Translating this video? Add your name here if you’d like credit!]

100 thoughts on “Fantastic Features We Don’t Have In The English Language

  • we should remove c and x. C can be replaced with a k in cool, and by an s in ceramic. X can be replaced by eks but remain a symbol in cases like x-ray

  • It would be nice to have a language feature that naturally incorporated how you would relate yourself to a particular person or situation with more clearly; like when describing the comfortable feeling you get when relaxing with someone close that I personally relate to how it feels getting out of the shower after a long day, or maybe having a more streamlined term for ones family in arms.

  • Maybe a way to distinguish between plurals, ownership and plural ownership without using words that sound exactly the same?
    The dogs bark.
    The dog's bark.
    The dogs' bark.
    Good luck trying to convey that efficiently.

  • your becomes the only your. we dont really need the whole you're bit because if you read "your" and then the context after it, its obvious what your trying to say.

  • Spelling is just… Bad, for example Slavic languages don't have any spelling. And many people find learning English difficult because of that

  • it’s because english didn’t develop as long as the other languages. if we had more time, we’d have more features and words for things such a hindi and chinese. but this was still a very interesting video and i’m curious how it’ll develop further

  • I think we need to add words that differentiate different types of intelligence. Because IQ doesn't directly identify intelligence, someone may not be intelligent in material subjects like math, science, and history, but they can be intelligent socially. So to speak, they're intelligent enough to know how to give good advice and can manipulate people easily if they want to.

  • Feature request: Abstractiveness.
    i.e. How literal is the idea being communicated. I feel like a vast majority of literature would benefit if metaphors, analogies, and euphemisms had indicators of how concrete or abstract their meaning was. It would certainly change how people think, share, lie, and cooperate.

  • This isn’t exactly a feature, but the English language should ditch the letter c, the letter x, and silent letters in words. Because c just copies s and k’s work, and x copies z and ck. Also silent letters are just annoying.

  • Another good one is modle participles. You use them in Chinese at the end of a statement to make it a question, way to change the subject, or a way to clarify certain things like a rhetorical sentence.

  • In Chinese (even though word order is mostly the same as English) you cannot just say "one black cat" as you have to include measure word i.e. 一只黑猫. Here 只 is a measure for certain animals. Other measure words are more concrete such as 听 for a can i.e. 一听可乐 one can of cola

  • So in a language with absolute directions, how would you communicate, say, whether you’re right or left handed? I suppose you could say something like “when I’m facing north, I’m west-handed” but that’s a very clunky way to communicate such a simple concept.

  • English needs a more sophisticated subjunctive mood, like the one Spanish has, along with verb conjugation for each person.That would make it a much more interesting language.

  • I mean there's nothing to stop us saying north south etc but it's not practical as people travel now and so aren't going to be aware of which way is which.

    Is there any language which tells you the age of an object when walking about it (one word only, not sentence) i.e not old tree but say treev which means 50 year old tree or whatever..

  • Grammatical plural version of you. In indonesian they have kamu – you and kalian – a plurul you or yous if you would.

  • A thing I like of my language is the ease of using the same words in a lot a ways to create a sentence, like, the word "coisa(thing)" transform in a verb (Coisar) and:
    A: Já coisou aquele coisinho coisado?
    B: ainda estou coisando essa coisa

    (Have you done thinging that thing'ed lil thing?
    No, I'm still thinging that thing.)

  • A: Do you dance or eat?
    B: Yup I dance, and I eat.
    A: Oh me too! When do you dance, and when do you eat?
    B: Oh that's obvious from my sentence above because all verbs like Dance or Eat have to carry that information in English … watcvh the video.
    A: When should I watch the video?
    B: "Watch" is a verb so therefore you should watch it whenever watch is.
    C: Hey, you two. English needs a way to refer to time when using verbs.

  • You don't even imagine the confusing gramatic rules that these „amazing features” bring with themselves in other languages

  • In Filipino, there are three I can think of for the clusivity.

    For listener inclusive its, "tayo".
    For listener exclusive its, "kami".
    And for speaker exclusive its, "kayo".

  • Possibly future tense? If you are in a dark room no idea of cardial direction, does that mean if a lever is on the left to open the door, they have no word for it?
    Possibly different levels of expression how much you want to undertake something? It's always so cumbersome to be like 'is like to but I feel like staying in' it we find all these ways to say no 'i don't feel up to it' but also ways to say yes even when we don't want to 'i can come in for some overtime if it's absolutely needed but if rather not' … A level of enthusiasm in taking on an activity would be interesting. Many nuances converted in time, body language and expression as well as knowing the person…. Could be conveyed

  • In my language (isiZulu) we append prefixes to verbs that indicate who you are talking about as opposed to using pronouns.

  • It would be interesting to have a language with built-in emoticons, so you couldn't say just "I" but had to say "the happy I", "the confused I", etc…

  • The german language lacks the antonym to thirsty. Does English have this? Also, wonderful german word: "Schilderwald". Word by word: forrest made out of signs. Something only people living in small cities without traffic lights can understand.

  • In Norwegian there's this great feature where you say "mormor", "farmor", "morfar", or "farfar" for your grandparents (mor = mother; far = father). So as to clarify if someone's your mother's mother or father's father etc. I'm often very confused by the English language idea that someone says grandma, but I don't know who's side the grandmother is on.

  • while in English there's only one "you", in portuguese we have two: one for singular (você, only the listener) and other for plural (vocês, the group of listeners)

  • What about a feature where the speaker's words convey absolute emotion which is obvious and cannot be contorted in meaning?

    This would completely remove passive aggression and unnecessary analysis!

  • If someone came up to me and said, "We just won the lottery." I would think that person is stupid. That sentence obviously doesn't make sense unless you have context. English already has clusivity. Simply use 'you' or 'I' and you negate having to use we. It's that simple. Using an example where you are intentionally unspecific doesn't mean the language is missing some special nonessential word. It just means that having an inclusive 'we' is unnecessary.

  • I am going to add some interesting features of the Czech language.

    In Czech there are verbs meaning “to put on shoes”, “to take off shoes”, “to have breakfast / snack / lunch / dinner” and it is also possible to say with a single word “last year”, “this year”, “from where”, “since when” and “until when”.

    In Czech is it also usually possible to write a less usual name or other word when hearing it without the need to spell it, because the spelling is mostly phonetic. If one Czech person wants to tell another one how to write a foreign word, it is often faster to pronounce it according to the Czech phonetic rules than to spell it.

    The Czech language has two distinct words meaning “where” (the same for the words “nowhere”, “somewhere”, “elsewhere” and “anywhere”). One of them concerns a location, the other one concerns a direction.

    In Czech it is possible to say any of the expressions “two socks”, “one pair of socks”, “two pairs of socks”, “two peanuts”, “one packet of peanuts”, “two packets of peanuts” etc. just with two words, because there is a special kind of numeral for counting sets of objects instead of individual objects.

  • I just wanna say "the day before yesterday" in a word like a bunch of languages have. I know we have "overmorrow" for the day after tomorrow but even that has red lines on it at the moment xD

  • Oddly enough, a lot of native English speakers complain about how hard English is but English is my second language and it's the easiest language I've ever learned. It's not complicated.

  • Something to distinguish between something that didn’t happen and did: for instance “and then the horses turned into corpse monsters” is weird if it’s not referring to fiction or a dream

  • We need words that better describe rotation, especially if we're going to spend much time to come in outer space. For example you can "turn" a book so it's cover still faces you but is upside-down (axis of rotation is oriented toward/away from you). Or you can "flip" a book so that you're looking at the back cover with the text or author's picture right-side up (axis of rotation is oriented up/down). Or you can flip it the other way so that the back cover's text or picture is upside-down (axis of rotation is oriented left/right). There should be a concise and brief terminology for exactly how an object is to be flipped, and what it's current orientation relative to you is. Maybe borrowed from how game developers use quaternions to model rotation?

  • The fact that verbs need time doesn’t suck. It makes it so that we can express more things in less words, which is good for me since I’m lazy.

  • Dedicated words for inclusive or and exclusive or. Consistent rules of pronunciation.
    Different pronouns for singular and plural second person.

  • 1. We do, we have the word “to dance”
    2. True
    3.We do: North, South, East, and West, those languages fail to account for relative direction
    4.Also something we have, we just use more words, inefficient, but existent.

  • In Filipino, “kami” is an exclusive we and “tayo” is an inclusive. I’ve never even thought about how english never had it despite having it as a second language.

  • I though this would be interesting….but ….(there is no word in the English language to describe the level of how lackluster this video is)

  • dang, languages are wierd. The consept of coming up with nouns, verbs, and adjectives are quite easy, but it's crazy how our minds have put together such complex systems of how these words specifically relate to each other.

  • "We" could always add a new word to the English language to differentiate "we" from "we". Although given that people don't know "ask" from "axe" or "your" from "you're", I think we've reached the limits of what humans are capable of remembering and using from a language perspective. 🙂

  • All languages should have the same spelling as slovenian
    Pros:
    Every letter in this language has its own sound except e,o and some more witch have wide and narrow variants
    Cons:
    There is no xqwy and there are other letters like čšž

  • this may be a thing for multiple languages, but how come we don’t have a punctuation for and exclamation point and a question mark used at the same time? (for example, “Are you okay!?”) The !? looks so immature and inappropriate.

  • Clucivity

    Tom: "It shows up in languages all over the world… apart from Europe"
    BSL users and learners: Erm… We (exclusive) have it.

  • That and this, those and these, them and ???

    I don’t like those shoes
    I don’t like them

    I don’t like these shoes
    I don’t like… them?

    I think there should be separate worlds but are they even the same kinda thing?

  • The english language needs a punctuation mark for sarcasm!! You can type a sentence and cause WW3 if someone doesnt know you're being sarcastic Haha.

  • Something I think English needs is a consistent way to say "twice a week/month/year" and a (separate) way to say "once every two weeks/months/years" because what's the point of saying biweekly (/bimonthly/biannually) if you always have to explain if you mean twice per or every two

  • In Arabic we have a feature that I can't help but miss when speaking English or German. The same way there is Grammar for Singluar and Plural in English, we have Grammar for Singular, Plural AND Pairs. Basically, you have times that apply for when you're talking about a thing with the number of one (Singular), multiple things that are 3 or more, and finally "Pairs" for anything that is exactly 2. This gives a certain flavour for Pairs that I don't feel when talking in English

  • in my mother tongue (farsi). we have different words for maternal and paternal relatives.

    paternal:
    kaakaa= uncle
    amai= aunt

    maternal:
    maamaa= uncle
    khalaa= aunt

    this helps because i have an aunt on both sides of my family named karima. i can’t really explain how the language works for cousins because there is kind of a hierarchy for male cousins that are older than you that you call uncle. i usually have to ask my parents what to call my older cousins because you want to keep the formality.

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