Today, I saw–not on a T-shirt or sign-board in Korea or Japan–but on Facebook, an image with the concept of ‘a lot’, spelled, a-l-o-t.
You may think this is harmless. It isn’t. I find errors in English–not only all around Korea and Japan; not just as cute marketing–but in textbooks and even in Western newspapers.
Human error is nothing to make great bones about when it is to be expected, but perpetuated ignorance is a different and egregious issue–not only in situations of say, public safety, but in language use, too. Here is why. Indulge me, please:
First, there is no word in the English language spelled, a-l-o-t, which means ‘a lot’. However, ‘allot’ means to set something aside for a predetermined purpose.
‘A lot’ refers to an undefined “large” quantity, after the amount of ‘one lot’, which is a defined quantity.
The ‘a’ in ‘a lot’ is an indefinite article denoting–in this case–the numerical value of one, and signifies that the lot in question is (in the case of space) not a special lot.
Second, the reason all this matters is, there are now more non-native English language speakers in the world than native-speakers. In fact, there are more people learning English in China than speak it in the U.S.
Assuming the spelling error in question was made by a native English speaker, you can see that native speakers don’t speak (or write) their language properly, all the time. The non-native speakers in the world both learn from what they see and hear, and are actually diluting and bastardizing Standard English as well, so how native speakers use English really matters.
Many people–including teachers of English–feel this doesn’t matter, saying that language is a flexible element of culture and that cultures are blending, so language is evolving. True, but the English language is also devolving.
A linguist I know has told me that he feels, for example, that due to second-language usage (and I might add, ignorance among native-speakers) in ten years, the singular, present-tense of verbs in the third-person, will no longer employ–or take–an ‘s’ to signify the ‘number of person’.
In other words, like the Chinese, we’ll soon be saying, things like ‘She go to the store on Saturdays’, instead of ‘She goes….’ This may not sound important. After all, certain, very poetic ethnic groups and others adopting their speech habits in our American population, have adopted this and similar grammar and style; or they created it… or popularized it in the inner cities… and in the ubiquity of rap music the world over. It likely began in the country, due to the educational repression during the era of slavery. Who knows? Maybe it was started by an ill-educated slave-owner.
This and other forms of broken English (now dialect?) are understood, and their meaning comprehensible in what is meant–in most situations of conveyed context, however–meaning is lost in this way of speaking English, and it will be lost to greater degrees with limited contextual conveyance, or where context is missing… and that’s a bad thing.
‘Context’ refers to the situation and surrounding ideas and expressed language components in a communication scenario.
English is one of the most precise and accurate languages known to humanity, affording its users the intricate, detailed, and accurate conveyance of ideas and nuances of meaning with a high degree of understanding afforded to the listener who understands how the language functions best–and here’s the kicker–in low context situations. That is a major accomplishment in linguistics.
In some language–North Asian ones being those I am most familiar with in this case–it is ingeniously easy–due to the use of simple grammar and style–to convey meaning with very few words. This can be augmented by the use of honorifics, qualifiers, and quantifiers, different word-endings, phrases, and special words–that signify the social status of the speakers, the listeners, and the subjects, as well as indicating conditions, number, and even shapes. This is an achievement, too, linguistically.
Korean, Japanese, and Chinese (the latter of the three, when compared to English, has an amazingly similar syntax, but very few tenses) require a lot of meaning negotiation, because these languages require high-context information transference. That means it’s often harder, at times–even for native speakers of these languages–to understand one another, without their having to inject added information into a conversation component–than it is for speakers of English. That’s why English is called low-context and Korean, Chinese, and Japanese are called high-context–by linguists.
Simply put, you need to talk more in some situations–adding more context, or information–to convey meaning in Korean and these other languages.
All languages–being components of their cultures–are beautiful, artful systems of expression.
English is the language of maritime, aerospace, and medical professions the world-over, in my opinion, not because it is more beautiful, or simply because of historical imperialism; English is the language of these intricate endeavors for its accuracy and benefits in meaning-conveyance.
English is also, like all languages, a mother and tool for poetry and preserves in modern times–the Western cultural ideals of democracy, Greek logic, equality, and freedom.
Keep the English language as it is. Keep it right, so it can keep our ideas clear and free, too. Learn, teach, speak, and write proper, standard English.