Saturday, November 11, 2006

An Inclusive English Tongue

I noticed this recent BBC article on Hinglish, which hints at what each tongue has to offer other languages and cultures. Since each language has a different way of understanding life, it has unique words and phrases that explore the world from that point of view. English has long been a promiscuous language that has blended with and taken from other tongues. Now, besides Hinglish vocabulary, we should also eagerly accept new words from Swenglish, Spanglish, Chinglish, and so forth.

One of my personal efforts towards the goal of having a more inclusive English language (and by inclusive I mean that there are more words from more languages to describe more concepts), has been to try to see the Swedish word “sambo” transferred to English. “Sambo” comes from “tillsammans” (together) and “bo” (live) and it means partners who live together without being married, as is much more common in Scandinavia than in other parts of the world. Another possible Swedish candidate is “lagom,” which means, more or less, “just right.”

What other words should the English language absorb? Maybe Christopher Moore’s book In Other Words: A Language Lover's Guide to the Most Intriguing Words Around the World has some ideas for us.

6 comments:

shoko said...

"Sambo" might be a hard sell, considering the word already exists: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/sambo

There are some really unfortunate homophones between languages...

Brett Jocelyn Epstein said...

Yes, I know, but "sambo" is rarely used in that sense today. Also, why not reclaim/reuse the word for something other than a racist term? We can't erase that former meaning, but we can move on from it. Plus, the Swedish word is pronounced differently, even if it is spelled the same.
So I still want to make a case for "sambo" -- English could use a word for unmarried couples who live together. "Partner" sounds like you work at the same firm, I think, and "boyfriend/girlfriend" makes you sound as though you are a teenager.

Best wishes,
Brett

shoko said...

Ah! I wasn't sure how differently it could be pronounced, since it looked pretty straight forward. Thanks for the clarification! I grew up with a children's book, which ostensibly used the word in a non-derogatory way, that raised some controversy, so my experience with the word is probably biased. And I do agree that English could use a word along those lines. I've been confused more than once by the mention of a "partner". ^^;

Brett Jocelyn Epstein said...

Right, "partner" needs to be replaced. It can definitely lead to confusion. If someone says, "I run this company with my partner," what is meant? It could be a couple that owns the company, or it could just be two business partners. And sometimes it's awkward to ask for clarification, too.
I taught English in Sweden for years (living together without being married is much more common in Scandinavia, by the way) and many of my students wanted an English word for "sambo" (or for the related Swedish word "särbo," which refers to partners who don't live together). I usually explained that we didn't have a good word in English, and I offered "partner," "girlfriend/boyfriend," "spouse," "common-law husband/wife," etc. as possibilities, but then encouraged them to try using "sambo," adding a short explanation when needed.
So if in some years "sambo" has become a common English term, everyone knows it was because of me and my efforts! ;-)

Best wishes,
Brett

kevin grimes said...

my partner and I live on different continents and have considered the term "särbo" although we do not intend the meaning that we are committed to being apart.

B.J. Epstein said...

Thank you for your comment, Kevin. It is hard to live in another city as your partner, much less on another continent! But at least you have "särbo" to describe your situation!

Best wishes,
BJ